The Atlanta Journal Constitution today posted an article that discussed a poll conducted on DeKalb County residents’ views on change in structure of their county’s government. Residents according to the article, are ready for change in the government’s structure where it is suggested that the county’s commissioners choose a county manager versus the current form where a chief executive officer is elected. My issue is whether an investor or business person would do better in the current format or a structure where commissioners appoint a manager.
I’ve seen two counties strive under the appointed manager structure: Leon County, Florida and Fairfax County, Virginia. At first glance one would think that an appointment structure would be severely politicized. As one resident interviewed in the AJC article pointed out, a board of commissioners could drive a county manager daft.
It’s not to say that a county would suffer loss of growth potential under an appointed manager system. Fairfax County did quite well under former county administrator Anthony “Tony” Griffin. From 2000 to 2012, Mr. Griffin saw population in Fairfax grow to 1.08 million people and over saw a local government that maintained AAA bond ratings from Fitch Investors Services, Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s. So while having to create, nurture, and massage relationships with his board of supervisors, Mr. Griffin avoided the political milieu that running for elections can create, the one DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis unfortunately is enjoying.
Instability can occur under any county management structure, but I think that since an appointed county manager can deflect political noise to a board while maintaining an air of singular competence, the appointed county manager position would be best not only for DeKalb County’s citizens but for investors holding its debt.