On April 27, 2022, the Council for Quality Growth, DeKalb County, and the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce hosted another annual State of DeKalb. This year’s event was a packed house inside the Atlantic Aviation Hangar at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Chamblee. Over 450 people attended the luncheon to hear CEO Michael L. Thurmond’s State of the County Address and several more tuned in to the live stream. District 1 Commissioner and Presiding Officer Robert Patrick opened the program, followed by welcoming remarks from Brian Mock, the newly-elected Mayor of Chamblee. The crowd also heard remarks from presenting sponsors Bernie Tokarz, Vice-Chair of the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority, and Dorian DeBarr, President of Decide DeKalb Development Authority.
CEO Thurmond began by presenting two W.W. King Bridge Builder Awards to Patt Epps, Founder of Epps Aviation, and Dr. Gregory B. Levett, Sr., Founder and CEO of Levett & Sons Funeral Homes for their notable contributions to the DeKalb County community. After a short video showcasing how the event’s theme, “The Sky is the Limit,” is at play throughout the County, including a newly announced $685 million investment in the reconstruction of the I-285 and I-20 interchange. Other projects on the horizon include new express lanes, expansion of bus routes, and adding BRT lanes across the county. With a strong pandemic response, DeKalb has remained a hub of economic development, marked by a growing film and entertainment industry. DeKalb’s first ever SPLOST program has made road resurfacing, police fleet upgrades, a fire station replacement, and more investment in water and sewer infrastructure possible in the last year.
When Thurmond returned to the stage, he recognized the 6,000 public servants working for DeKalb County, half of which kept working the front-line throughout the pandemic. He praised the diverse crowd for gathering on common ground for a common purpose, living out Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream. “You all came to hear the CEO discuss, brag, and talk about all the great accomplishments that’s happened in DeKalb County,” he stated, “but rather than talking about all the successes already gained, I’ll use my remaining minutes on the work not yet done.” Pointing out his stance in the “deep in 4th Quarter of this CEO deal,” Thurmond wants to finish strong and finish the work not yet done. He called for action to solve the senseless bloodshed from homicide in his county. He explicitly asked the Board of Commissioners to set $1 million aside to strengthen the programs and organizations already in place to address violent crime. “If you want to reduce crime, increase your graduation rate,” Thurmond said, quickly transitioning to focus on the elephant in the room. DeKalb County School District Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris’ contract was unexpectedly terminated the evening before Thurmond’s speech. Without calling out anyone by name, he criticized the School Board for what looked to him like a political agenda. Denying knowledge about what’s been claimed, he pressed for the innovation and commitment needed to fix the schools and focus on the 100,000 children in DeKalb’s school system.
“I want you all to love [DeKalb County] enough to protect it, love it enough to defend it, and love it enough to put the ultimate outcome of this school district and of this county ahead of your own political ambition,” Thurmond concluded. After the program ended, the DeKalb County School Board held a press conference to discuss the sudden firing of Superintendent Watson-Harris.
Re-watch the recorded stream of the event below.
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