CEO Mike Thurmond says positives outweigh negatives in DeKalb

DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond in an AJC file photo. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond said the top priorities of his tenure will be updating the county’s crumbling water and sewer system and expanding public transportation.

In his 2018 State of the County address, delivered in front of more than 300 business leaders, Thurmond spoke up his accomplishments and outlined his vision.

That his speech was made at Stone Mountain Park, a place that once stood as a symbol of racial animosity, made the moment special, he said.Thurmond noted people from different industries and political leanings had packed into a ballroom to hear him, the first black member of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association.

“A new day has downed in DeKalb County, and a new day has dawned in Stone Mountain, Georgia,” he said during Wednesday’s ticketed luncheon hosted by the Council for Quality Growth and the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce.

Thurmond joked about putting an end to smelly sanitation spills and later praised workers for the speedy repair of a busted 48-inch water main on Buford Highway. He said the county is working to meet the requirements of the consent decree with federal and state officials.

“We have $78 million already contracted in work that will improve and upgrade our sewer system over the next two years,” the CEO said.

Thurmond said he supports efforts at the state level to expand access to public transportation, but complained that not all of DeKalb has benefited equally from its investment in MARTA over nearly 50 years.

“We are proud that we are the backbone of MARTA, but MARTA has not treated south DeKalb fairly,” he said.

He highlighted Stonecrest as a place that could benefit from mass transit, to the delight of Mayor Jason Lary who stood up and pledged to work together on a solution. A comprehensive transit plan for the county is in development.

During the speech, Thurmond touted highlights from his first 15 months in office, such as increasing the budget surplus, removing of tons of litter and debris and hiring staff to investigate high water bills. He also praised first responders for bringing positive attention to DeKalb during emergencies like the Avondale Forest Apartments fire.

“Our fire and rescue men and women literally caught babies that were falling from the sky,” he said.

He encouraged attendees to talk up the positives about DeKalb instead of focusing on the negative.

Thurmond will make a similar State of the County speech at a free public event on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Lou Walker Senior Center at 2538 Panola Road in Lithonia.

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