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Who should fill DeKalb County's long-vacant District 5 commission seat?

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  • Courtesy Mereda Davis Johnson, George Turner
  • Either Mereda Davis Johnson and George Turner will be DeKalb County's next District 5 commissioner.

Before next week is over, DeKalb County residents who live in District 5 — the southeast part of the county that spans from around I-20 and I-285 past Lithonia — will have a new representative fighting for them at county commission meetings. For the approximately 140,000 people who live in the district, the election is of particular importance given their lack of full representation over the past two years.

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Following the indictment of DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, Interim CEO Lee May had refused to vacate his District 5 seat, well after Gov. Nathan Deal appointed him to the top county spot in July 2013. On multiple occasions, DeKalb commissioners squabbled over naming a temporary replacement so that May wouldn't occupy two positions. Amid pressure, May resigned in early May from his original southeast DeKalb post, paving the way for a special election.

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Ten candidates entered the highly contested special election. Out of the crowded field, longtime family law attorney Mereda Davis Johnson and retired MARTA manager George Turner received enough votes to advance to a runoff scheduled for July 14.

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Davis Johnson is making her first bid for elected office after a lifetime filled with politics that includes registering voters with her father when she was young and working behind the scenes with the political career of her husband, longtime Congressman Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia. She never considered running until hearing about the commission's vacant seat.

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"I couldn't sit on the sidelines and hope for change," Davis Johnson says. "We have not had representation for the last two years. It clearly, clearly shows in the fifth district."

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Davis Johnson, who received 27 percent of the vote in the May election, says the district needs to take care of beautification issues like picking up litter in the streets or paving potholes to help spur future economic development. She also says her experience running a law firm, where she's been a good financial steward of that business, will help restore potential investors' confidence following the county's ethics scandal.

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"The work on ethics starts from the top-down, not from the bottom-up," she says. "We, as leaders of DeKalb, have to set the example for others. You can't use taxpayers' money for personal expenses, that's just common sense. ... You need transparency and oversight."

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Turner, a longtime resident who won nearly 16 percent of the vote, has recently focused much of his energy on volunteering in several neighborhood groups and at the Gold Dome, where he's helped state Sen. Ronald Ramsey, D-Lithonia. He says his past experience working on MARTA budgets will help him as a potential DeKalb commissioner.

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"I'm available," Turner says. "I have the time, I have the will, and I have skill. I've proven that I'll serve whether I'm elected or not. I'm not using this as a stepping stone. Those who voted for me, and know me, know I want to serve DeKalb and not myself."

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If elected, he says, District 5 would need to revisit how it handles zoning, code enforcement, and public safety. Like Davis Johnson, he'd someday like to see greater economic development in the area, including a revitalized Stonecrest Mall. But first, he says, DeKalb needs to start getting residents to believe in the county's vision rather than eye the formation of new cities.

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"We don't have a voice in the fight," he says. "They're seeing the services are being received from the county without a commissioner. … So they're taking it into their own hands. If you had a strong commissioner in that area, a city might not be necessary."

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The winner of the District 5 race will likely be chosen by a small number of residents. Despite the complaints over the area's lack of representation, only 4,554 residents — about 5.5 percent of the district's registered voters — cast ballots in the May election. Keep in mind, of course, that voter turnout in runoffs is typically worse than general elections.



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