Does it really make sense for every aspect of local governance in every neighborhood in unincorporated DeKalb County to be controlled from Downtown Decatur?
This is one of the issues we will discuss during my town hall meeting on local government reform to be held this Thursday, November 29, at 7:00 p.m. in the Talmage Room of the student center at Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road, in Brookhaven. The student center is best accessed using the side entrance to Oglethorpe located off of Woodrow Way. Another issue that will be discussed is reining in the excessive power of the DeKalb CEO via House Bill 899, House Bill 894, or Senate Bill 52 (click for more information on each bill). Please tell your neighbors. I hope to see you there.
Arguably, services like planning, zoning, land use, code enforcement, building permits, and alcohol licenses that can be controlled by local neighborhoods at a very low cost, and have an immense impact on the quality of life in our neighborhoods, should be controlled more locally than the county level.
Like the overwhelming majority of my constituents, I am fed up with listening to the county CEO tell us what must happen in this neighborhood or that neighborhood for the betterment of the “tax base” of DeKalb County. When we choose to live in a neighborhood, we choose the great neighborhood that it is, not the cash cow for county coffers that it could become.
I am working with Representative Edward Lindsey of Buckhead on a new township bill that would give DeKalb County communities local control over planning, zoning, land use, code enforcement, building permits, and alcohol licenses, as well as enable presently unincorporated communities to control — by public referendum, and without further action by the General Assembly — whether they would like to become a full-fledged city at a later date. Under this proposal, townships also would be allowed to exist within large municipalities, such as Buckhead in the City of Atlanta, but not permitted to subsequently form a separate city from the existing municipality.
If this township legislation passes in 2008, I am interested in introducing for the 2009 legislative session a bill to create a new Township of Brookhaven, which will include neighborhoods in the Brookhaven and Ashford Alliance/North Brookhaven areas. Here is a potential map of a Township of Brookhaven (click for map), although these boundaries certainly would be subject to extensive community input and revision before being finalized. I also am open to creating a township in Toco Hills, another area I represent, if citizens are interested in it.
While the possible funding mechanisms for townships may need to be flexible in order to accommodate the various communities that have expressed an interest in this new form of local government, what I am considering for DeKalb communities is a penny sales tax, or some fractional amount not to exceed a penny, rather than property taxes. Any such sales tax would have to be approved by public referendum.
A sales tax may result in surplus revenues. Citizens of a township also would be empowered to decide via referendum what would happen with any surplus revenues. They could be applied as a rebate on residential property tax bills, like HOST, or contributed to infrastructure improvements in the local community.
The amount of professional staff that a township could hire would be strictly limited by law, so that a township cannot grow its bureaucracy. The governing council of each township would elect a chair and vice chair from within its own ranks, rather than having an at-large chairman or mayor.
Townships originally were proposed by Senator David Adelman during last year’s legislative session. That proposal was a good first step, but is more limited in scope than the proposal outlined above, which will be specifically designed to address concerns brought forward by individual members of the House of Representatives who have specific locations for townships in mind.
The unresponsive and sometimes arrogant approach of DeKalb County bureaucrats who are too far removed from our neighborhoods can yield disastrous results. Consider the following nightmare that is occurring right now in Dunwoody Forest, which despite its name actually is located south of I-285 in the Ashford Alliance/North Brookhaven area, just outside the Chamblee city limits:
Patrick Ejike, director of DeKalb County’s planning department and an appointee of the CEO, made a unilateral decision to subdivide two lots into three using bizarre property lines. The neighborhood obtained a decision from the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBOA) that Ejike’s unilateral variance was improper and should not stand. Ejike then decided to disregard the ZBOA decision, and construction on the subdivided parcels continues to this day. The neighbors filed a lawsuit to enforce the ZBOA decision against the county and the developer, and now are defending against counterclaims by the developer for — among other spurious allegations — intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The biggest, but not only, benefit of a township is that each member of a town council will represent a small handful of neighborhoods, rather than one-fifth or one-half of the 710,000 people in the state’s third largest county. Those are the current, unwieldy population sizes of county commission districts.
Townships are not an additional layer of government, because the county no longer will exercise powers which are delegated to the township. Rather, townships will give local communities the exclusive power to shape and control their own destiny.