Thursday, September 17, 2009

A year of good governance in Dunwoody.

A year ago today the Mayor and Dunwoody City Council (including myself) were elected to start a city from scratch and as we start to prepare for our second budget year, I look back and am very proud of our many accomplishments. As a humble public servant, I truly recognize that we couldn't have gotten to this point without the guidance of the residents and the many hours of service from hundreds of volunteers. Thank you.

Below is an editorial written by the AJC prior to anyone announcing their candidacy for the new city and in rereading it today I can only say that I am very proud to serve with the Mayor and my fellow Council Members and that I believe that Incorporating the City of Dunwoody was a very wise decision. I hope you believe the same.

Dunwoody's destiny - Good leadership will be crucial in sorting out thorny issues in newly incorporated DeKalb city

The overwhelming vote Tuesday to incorporate DeKalb County's first new city in 71 years -- Dunwoody -- is but the first step those citizens made toward taking control of their community's destiny. The harder work begins now. Given the success of recent incorporation efforts across the county line in northern Fulton County, Dunwoody's decision was not unexpected. And the structure and form of the new municipal governments in the two counties will likely be similar. But there are major differences between the method for financing Fulton's cities and that for Dunwoody. And that's where Dunwoody's 37,000 residents will have to pay close attention, so that the decision they made Tuesday does not wind up costing them more in taxes.

Dunwoody's first step will be to negotiate the thorny issue of how DeKalb County disburses its 1 percent sales tax for government operations. The tax, unique to DeKalb County, funds some of the services that will now become Dunwoody's responsibility. Dividing it up is going to be politically tricky since DeKalb County government actively campaigned against Dunwoody's incorporation. Moreover, the County Commission -- in apparent violation of the state's open meetings law -- voted last year to contest a 2007 state law stipulating the method for distributing the sales tax money to all its cities. Dunwoody incorporation backers tend to downplay the dispute, contending that the law is clear and would impact only a small amount of dollars. But it is indicative of the political atmosphere in which the new city will be operating. County government officials have characterized the affluent Dunwoody area's incorporation effort as shirking its responsibility toward paying for services in the poorer parts of DeKalb. It may be true that Dunwoody promoters disagreed with some of the county's spending priorities. Other residents of the area were put off by the imperial style and volatility of the county's chief executive officer.

But the incorporation vote passed because the community wants to decide for itself how many police and firefighters it needs; whether to enact tighter controls on planning and zoning; and how to improve other basic government services. The process for doing that has already begun, in anticipation of the first election of city leaders in September. Among other things, working groups are looking into privatizing some of the city's basic services -- as Sandy Springs has done -- and negotiating intergovernmental agreements with the county and other cities. The more Dunwoody residents participating in the process, the better. With the economy in turmoil, it won't be easy to predict what the new city's tax revenue will be. Other new cities have had to increase business fees to pay for services.

And in towns large and small, personality conflicts can flare up and get in the way of good governance. Ask residents of Marietta -- one of the oldest cities in metro Atlanta -- about the constant warfare between the mayor and some council members. Or look at the charges of unethical behavior that diverted the attention of the new city of Milton's leaders earlier this year, prompting the need for conflict-resolution therapy. Dunwoody residents have made their choice. The outcome of September's vote for new city leaders will help determine whether it was a wise one.

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