DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis is back on the job, but a much-anticipated appearance at Tuesday morning’s commission meeting didn’t happen.
Ellis was expected to attend his first commission meeting in years after his July 2015 extortion and perjury convictions were overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court last month. Commissioners did not discuss Ellis in the public meeting, but did weigh in with reporters.
“I regret that he had to spend 8 months in prison away from his mother, wife and children, but I really think he can move on now that his law license has been reinstated as well,” said Mereda Davis Johnson, who represents District 4.
Kathie Gannon, like most of her colleagues, said she’s glad Ellis was reinstated and insists his brief return; followed by the imminent arrival of newly elected CEO Michael Thurmond will not disrupt the governing board’s operations.
“We do what we do. We’re the legislative body and that’s the executive branch. I’m sure he’ll speak to assistants to figure out if there’s any significant impact he can make in 3 weeks,” said Gannon. “I am glad he’s back and I look forward to working with him and with the new governing authority.”
Gannon also believes the county should reimburse Ellis for the legal fees he mounted fighting allegations he tried to extort campaign contributions from vendors with county contracts. Other commissioners aren’t ready to go that far just yet.
“I don’t think that the issues has been resolved to the point where it would be right for us to consider that,” said District 2 Commissioner Jeff Rader. “That hasn’t been put before us and I don’t know what we are responsible for in that area.”
County officials have said Ellis is entitled to receive compensation for the pay he would have received, since his 2013 suspension.
Ellis’ was reinstated Monday after the Georgia Supreme Court issued a “remittitur” -- a transfer of the case back to DeKalb County Superior Court -- thereby finalizing the overturning of his conviction. A motion to reconsider filed by the DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James was denied by the Georgia Supreme Court. James was one of the key players in the prosecution of Ellis—even delivering closing remarks in the 2015 trial.
The Georgia Supreme Court, issuing a statement on its decision on Ellis’ case, said that despite enough evidence to convict the county’s CEO on allegations surrounding a 2012 attempt to extort campaign contributions, “technical errors” led the court to reverse his conviction.
Ellis’ term is set to expire December 31, 2016. Incoming CEO Michael Thurmond is set to take the position in 2017, adding a complicating element to a transition of power between the interim CEO, Ellis, and the incoming CEO.
Commissioner Nancy Jester said she hopes county employees and residents can now move forward, close the chapter of a several-year-long bitter legal battle, and work to focus on county issues.
“It’s polarizing. It’s traumatizing for the community, whether you were on one side or the other,” Commissioner Jester said.
“Maybe some of the distractions over the years have really hurt the county, in that folks weren’t focusing on the basics... how do we address blight in the community that needs to be cleaned up? How do we put more officers on the street?” Commissioner Jester said.
The decision to prosecute Burrell Ellis a second time is now in the hands of the Sherry Boston, the Solicitor-General who beat District Attorney Robert James in a bid for the D.A. seat. She issued the following statement to FOX 5 News:
“The Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision reversing the conviction of DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis has understandably raised questions regarding next steps. I am certainly sensitive to those concerns. However, as this is a pending matter, it would be inappropriate for me to comment regarding my intentions prior to January 1, 2017 when I officially assume the position of DeKalb County District Attorney.”
Ellis will hold a news conference at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, December 14, 2016 at the Manuel Maloof County Administration Building in Decatur.