|Chief Executive Officer
DeKalb County, Georgia
January 1, 2009
|Preceded by||Vernon Jones|
DeKalb County, Georgia
January 2001 – December 2008
|Preceded by||Ken Davis|
|Succeeded by||Sharon Barnes Sutton|
|Born||November 22, 1957|
|Political party||Democratic Party|
|Alma mater||The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania|
Professor of Law
Smart Growth and Urban Development Lecturer
W. Burrell Ellis, Jr. is the suspended CEO of DeKalb County, Georgia and is no longer the acting CEO. Ellis was recently charged with 14 felonies and awaits trial.  He was removed from office by the Governor after failing to step down.
He has been the target of a grand jury probe for alleged corruption. The investigation and court hearings are ongoing. In March 2013, the county denied his request to set up a legal defense fund.
As DeKalb County’s Chief Executive, CEO Ellis was responsible for administering the county’s $1.2 billion annual budget, managing its more than 7,000 employees and delivering services to its more than 700,000 residents.
At 10 years old, Ellis showed a keen interest in politics. Ellis’ pastor, the Rev. Channing E. Phillips, led the presidential campaign of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in D.C. in 1968. Later that year, Ellis sat in front of the television, watching intensely as Phillips became the first African American nominated for president by a major party during the 1968 Democratic National Convention following Sen. Kennedy’s assassination. By the sixth grade, Ellis' interest in politics translated into a successful bid for class president.
After graduating from John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Ellis earned a degree in economics and finance from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was schoolmates with other future notable elected officials such as Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and National Urban League President and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial. Ellis went on to earn a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from The University of Texas at Austin. While at the University of Texas, Ellis was elected to serve as student body president.
He relocated to Atlanta after law school and volunteered on several campaigns while building his law practice, including Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign in Georgia and the re-election campaign of Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson in 1989. A member of Young Atlantans for Maynard - YAMS - Ellis chaired the Issues Committee, which drafted several position papers for Jackson.
Ellis is married to Attorney Philippa V. Ellis, a partner with Atlanta law firm Owen, Gleaton, Egan, Jones & Sweeney. The couple have two young children.
Life in the private sector
Prior to becoming DeKalb County CEO, Ellis practiced law for more than 20 years, mainly in real estate development. Ellis also has taught courses in negotiation and collaborative problem solving at Georgia State University College of Law.
DeKalb County Board of Commissioners
When DeKalb County Commissioner Ken Davis made the decision to run for CEO instead of seeking re-election, Ellis threw his hat in the race to replace Davis. In November 2000, he defeated two challengers to serve the citizens in the commission's fourth district, and won re-election in 2004.
During his tenure on the commission, Ellis served five terms as its Presiding Officer, where he led the board through its most extensive reorganization ever, ensuring openness and transparency in the legislative process. His legislative accomplishments include authoring the county’s innovative Local Small Business Enterprise Ordinance and championing Georgia’s first comprehensive Clean Indoor Air Ordinance to protect the health of tens of thousands of DeKalb County citizens from the dangers second-hand smoke.
While on the commission, Ellis was actively involved with the National Association of Counties (NACo). He also served as chair of NACo's Large Urban County Caucus (LUCC), a bipartisan coalition of elected county officials representing the interests of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan communities on Capitol Hill and before the White House.
The Ellis Administration
During his first year in office, Ellis implemented a major restructuring of government by grouping departments by function into the following operating units: development, infrastructure, public safety and administration.
In response to the impact the downturn in the economy had on county revenues, Ellis reduced spending in every office under the supervision of the CEO, and made recommendations for reductions in other county offices and agencies, as well. Despite these changes, Ellis has still faced controversies over his budgets, and has been forced to raise property taxes.
On February 22, 2011, Ellis announced that DeKalb County had cut more in spending than any other local government in the Atlanta metropolitan region since he took office.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) decided to put the statement to the Truth-O-Meter test. By comparing DeKalb County’s budgets to other local governments, the AJC found that DeKalb County had indeed cut more than any other jurisdiction in metro Atlanta by slashing $107 million, or 17 percent, from the budget.
In addition, Ellis’ administration absorbed more than $30 million in increased costs from 2010 to 2011.
Providing citizens a voice in county government and furthering community involvement on a grassroots level in policy decisions and operations, Ellis:
- Created a neighborhood empowerment initiative - referred to as Our Neighborhood Empowerment or ONE - to bring the government closer to its residents. ONE helps residents solve disputes at a grassroots level, volunteer for community improvement and public safety projects and work to strengthen neighborhood stabilization.
- Established the DeKalb County Code Enforcement Task Force. The task force, which includes community leaders, county officials, and other key individuals, identified and assisted in the implementation of solution-driven recommendations to address code enforcement issues affecting communities throughout DeKalb.
- Launched the Revenue Enhancement Commission (REC), in partnership with the Board of Commissioners, as an initiative to concentrate on innovative ways to identify new sources of non-tax revenue. Chaired by Commissioner Kathie Gannon, the Revenue Enhancement Commission completed a report outlining recommendations to increase non-tax revenues and continue our high level of quality government service.
- Created the Green Commission, under the leadership of Commissioner Kathie Gannon, to help fulfill DeKalb's vision of being the Greenest County in America, by developing sustainable practices and policies that enhance quality of life for all county stakeholders.
In July 2012, Ellis was installed as President of the County Executives of America (CEA). CEA represents nearly 700 counties in 45 states that operate under a “county executive” government structure, and works directly with the principal decision-makers in all areas of the federal government to ensure the concerns of counties and their citizens are addressed at the national level.
In January 2012 DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James convened a grand jury to investigate allegations of corruption in the county's water department. There had been allegations of bid rigging and kickbacks involving the county and a contractor. The grand jury completed their report in January 2013, after searching Ellis house, as Ellis began his second term. The grand jury's report remained sealed for several months. On June 18, Ellis was indicted on 15 counts, 14 of them felonies, including extortion, theft by taking and several conspiracy charges. A state law requires the Governor form an advisory committee headed by the Attorney General to determine if Ellis should be suspended. On July 15, 2013 the panel unanimously recommended that Ellis be suspended. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal suspended Ellis and appointed Dekalb County Commissioner Lee May as interim CEO.
The Ellis administration has had several controversies. Accusations of poor financial management and growing debt resulted in repeated downgrades of the county's bonds.
Police officers and county commissioners have routinely criticized Ellis. The county commission went as far as approving with a 6-1 vote a resolution to eliminate the CEO position entirely. The effort, however, gained little traction. Ellis vetoed the resolution and the measure failed to garner the 5-2 commission vote needed to override the veto.
A Georgia State University's Public Performance and Management Group study commissioned by the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners in 2010 provided “an independent assessment of staffing and organizational design in critical DeKalb County departments to help the county’s responsibilities for taxation and spending”. It found that DeKalb had twice as many managers as comparable local governments, and recommended cutting over 900 positions.
Ellis' senior cabinet consists of the following:
- Zachary Williams - Chief Operating Officer
- Hakim Hilliard - Chief of Staff
- Joel Gottlieb - Chief Financial Officer
- Overtis H. Brantley - County Attorney
- Jill Strickland Luse - Chief of Public Affairs
Elected Offices held
- Elected to the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, 2001-2008
- Elected Chief Executive Officer of DeKalb County, 2009–present
-  DeKalb County Organizational Act
-  PolitiFact Georgia - DeKalb CEO says he wields a big budget ax
-  CEO's veto of DeKalb government study stands