On November 3rd, I joined 370 other DeKalb County residents at the 4th annual Neighborhood Summit. I was excited to hear what the CEO and other County leaders had to say about the state of the County, where we have been, and where we are going.
We quickly broke up into groups to dive head first into your topic of choice. Groups included crime/ safety, recycling/ sustainability, and Community Cabinet. Community Cabinet was billed as a discussion with elected officials.
I chose the cabinet group. It was led by Commissioner Stan Watson and Representative Howard Mosby. We also had CEO Burrell Ellis join our group for the better part of the time.
As we made our way to the room, with about 50-60 other residents, I started to think about all the ways DeKalb County is going to improve the life of residents within unincorporated DeKalb. I thought about how DeKalb is going to show us the ways they are going to diversify and re-strategize there approach due to the recent Charter school discussion and cityhood movement. I was thinking that this could be where DeKalb is going to shift the model.
And then they begin...
Commissioner Watson writes one word on the flip chart in large red letters - 'CITYHOOD'.
And then continues to write down the nine cities within the boundary of DeKalb County, informing everybody that the county has lost 20 million dollars from Dunwoody becoming a city and an estimated 25 million dollars when Brookhaven becomes a city in January.
Commissioner Watson continues to drive the point that this type of revenue shifting is going to kill the County of DeKalb. He told numerous story about how the county is bringing multiple suits against these cities in hopes to repeal there cityhood. These cities were created because the citizens were tired of poor zoning, slow government actions, and slow if any progress public works projects. The county is creating suits that admittedly cost the county substantial time and money.
Commissioner Watson shifted gears and started to outline economic development.
I thought, this is where the rubber is going to meet the road. This is when DeKalb is going to make a stand and really show that they are doing (fill in blank) - draw people to this County.
Commissioner Watson starts to outline the two big benefits of the County: cheap land and cheap housing. He then went into the issues that we all are painfully aware of – issues like public schools not making the grade, DeKalb leading the state in 17 year olds being arrested, poor transportation system, no sidewalks where we have bus station, and even basic services like street sweeping not taking place.
Great, we all know this – what’s the County's plan to change this? The answer, nothing.
There is no plan. Watson went right back into the issue of cityhood, and the money they are losing.
Cityhood was the crutch of the talk. Rather than saying where they are investing what money they do have - the whole discussion was on what they did not have. No vision, no plan, and no idea of how to be proactive about the situation they are in.
The leaders of DeKalb have no plan or vision for the county. The county has instead invested so much time and money to fighting cityhood that they seem to be exhausting what resources they have on it.
These reactive struggles could have been avoided if DeKalb was proactive to begin with.
Finally, someone asked a granular question. How many street sweepers does DeKalb have? Commissioner Watson answers, zero. The resident replies back, "Why don't we get one, that an easy thing to do. What's the five or ten year plan for the County?" Commissioner Watson answered that they do not have one because cityhood does not allow us to forecast out.
Even in the worst of economic environments, a businesses or government must plan for the future with what is known and what is estimated.
DeKalb has chosen not plan for its future, rather the county placed their efforts into suing and fighting with the communities that have decided to drive their own success.
Our area is unique. We are primarily made up of 65+ and 20-30 year old's that are looking to start their families, and live within a developed and aging infrastructure.
We need a strategy to sustain smart grown, improve / create amenities, and create a reason for families to want to move into this area.
If we continue on the track we are on, we can look forward to carrying the burden of financing DeKalb's legal battles, watch other communities grow prosper, and watch our community- as we know it - dissolve.
Cityhood isn't the problem, DeKalb's lack of involvement and vision is. It's not more government; it's a chance to make your government proactive.