Fulton County Commission: New priorities and potential delivery of services

Moderated by Rick Badie

Thanks to the May 20 primary, the Fulton County Commission will be more Republican will it takes office in January. The dynamics and composition of the board will likely mean new priorities and delivery of services in a county long fractured by a north-south divide. Today, the commission’s Democratic chairman and a Republican incumbent board member lay out their expectations for governance in the future. Finally, the Atlanta City Council chairman recaps a recent delegation trip to Philadelphia.

Spirit of collaboration is key

By John H. Eaves

When the Fulton County Board of Commissioners meets in 2015, the board makeup will be much different. As a result of redistricting and retirement, at least three of the seven seats will be occupied by new commissioners who will likely come to the table with new concerns and priorities. If I am fortunate enough to return to this position, I would offer one piece of advice to these new representatives: Collaboration is key for achieving anything.

The board will contain at least one new Republican member and one new representative from north of I-20. I expect some shift in priorities. Many priorities are shared, and those priorities are the most pressing. All county residents care about their families’ safety. For that reason, police and fire need critical tools and manpower. Also, ongoing issues with the Fulton County Jail should remain a top priority, including efforts to eliminate overcrowding and end the ongoing lawsuit and subsequent consent decree oversight of the facility. That doesn’t mean simply looking for other places to house those awaiting trial, but working harder to ensure nonviolent offenders don’t become repeat offenders. We must continue to seek opportunities for the formerly incarcerated to transition back into society as productive members, rather than being wards of the state over and over again.

We also need to remember the county’s responsibility as a provider of services to enrich lives. Fulton’s continued support of Grady Memorial Hospital is one area where collaboration between north and south, Republican and Democrat, is absolutely essential. Grady’s trauma care is essential to the safety of us all in times of crisis. Its mission to serve our indigent population provides a critical safety net that needs protection. In combination with the Fulton health department, the county has a huge role ensuring the health of residents.

The county is a critical provider of services. We need to work together to provide these services to residents efficiently and effectively. Care needs to be provided to the seniors who built our community. Our libraries need to remain open and available to our citizens. Parks and recreation facilities need to provide activities to people of all ages. Arts programs in our county continue to enrich our lives and serve as a growing sector of our economy. We also need to redouble efforts to ensure growth in other areas so that Fulton is a regional leader.

John Eaves is chairman of the Fulton County Commission.

Crisis creates opportunity

By Liz Hausmann

Thanks to the action of the Georgia Legislature, Fulton County will have three new commissioners in 2015, including a new district in North Fulton that brings a better geographic balance to county government.

Our North Fulton citizens have experienced significant growth for decades, but have long been under-represented. For the last 20 years of tremendous growth, there has been only one commissioner north of the Chattahoochee River. The complaint has long been that the balance of services favored the mid and southern end of Fulton, but relied on the positive economic contribution and expanding tax base of the commercial real estate, businesses and high-end home values in the north.

This new commission will change that balance of power and perspective. For the first time in history, there will be equal representation from all areas of Fulton. North Fulton will have more influence on the priorities of county government than ever before. It is time for the petty squabbles between the north and south ends of our county to cease.

For far too long, Fulton has ignored the looming financial crisis we knew was coming, but did little to prepare for. With a $100 million dollar shortfall in the 2014 budget, the answer to the problem seems inevitable: a millage rate increase. The problem with that is the Legislature also enacted a millage rate freeze until the 2015 commission is in place. This proposed millage rate increase sets up another legal challenge the county cannot afford to defend.

Crisis creates opportunity. Fulton must seize this opportunity to modernize and restructure in order to survive.

As talk remains surrounding the possible re-creation of Milton County, I believe Fulton is worth fixing. I believe in our future and our possibilities. But we must make the right decisions now. Our opportunity is to govern in a manner each citizen can be proud of. The goal is attainable to be the best steward of our tax dollars while providing excellence in the delivery of services for all of Fulton County. I look forward to a more collaborative commission to achieve those goals.

Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann represents District 3.

Baby steps to working as a region

By Ceasar C. Mitchell

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” — Lao Tzu

The gumption to take that first step is more difficult to muster than the patience and stamina needed to complete the journey. Such is the case with regionalism.

With scarcity of public resources, interjurisdictional cooperation is increasingly essential to a competitive and prosperous region. Regional collaboration is also central to the utility and effectiveness of government. More bluntly, the very relevance of local government as a collective-service delivery mechanism withers where balkanization continues without structural regionalism.

Recently, regional partnerships have surfaced. But there are miles to go and promises to keep. Setting aside the grandeur and appeal of big and lofty ideas, the Atlanta Regional Commission’s annual LINK trip to Philadelphia in May taught me a subtlety: Our journey to regionalism may begin with a few simple steps.

In Philadelphia, we engaged our counterparts in government, business, academia and civic leadership to learn about their successes and challenges as a region. While the format of this 18th annual expedition was typical, this year’s experience was markedly different. 

First, former Governor and Mayor Ed Rendell, in addressing our group, offered an honest perspective on regional collaboration. Having served both as a mayor who dealt directly with regional politics and as a governor who arguably sat removed from regional concerns, his insight was credible and instructive. He urged us to pursue functional integration of strategy, planning and implementation — a difficult task when parochialism and personality trump practicality and vision.

Second, the ARC team allowed interactive feedback after most sessions. These sessions explored the good, the bad and the ugly in metro Atlanta. Our dialogue covered lessons learned, existing initiatives and ideas.

One lesson learned regarding T-SPLOST was that regionalism cannot be top-down. A groundswell of support is critical. We also learned that a path to regional transit has begun with one profound, yet incomprehensibly simple step — a unified website providing route information from every agency. The brainchild of a committee formed by state Sen. Brandon Beach, this step may become a stride with the creation of a unified fare system.

The most unexpected development came from Jim Rhoden of Cobb County. After touring the art mural program in inner-city Philadelphia, he proposed this concept as an initiative to galvanize and unify our region. The idea got more than praise; he raised $75,000 on the spot. Amazing that art in Philadelphia could spark such a profound step toward collaboration.

These simple notions can be key to tangible regionalism. We first must courageously believe baby steps are OK if we keep moving, and that immediate gratification is neither necessary nor reasonable. Our singular, but steady steps toward regionalism may be felt by the next generation. Big things of legacy usually have small beginnings. And regionalism is a big thing.

Onward and upward Atlanta!

Ceasar C. Mitchell is president of the Atlanta City Council.


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