By Maria Saporta
Two bridges were crossed Wednesday evening when the Council for Quality Growth held a reception for all the region’s mayors and county commission chairs at the Georgian Club.
The reception of about 300 people also included dozens of business executives, state elected officials, civic leaders and heads of metro organizations, such as the Atlanta Regional Commission.
The reception helped bridge the divide between leaders from the urban core and those from the suburbs and exurbs. It also helped bridge the divide between the region’s mayors and county commissioners.
This is the 6th annual regional gathering that the Council for Quality Growth has held, and only the second that included mayors as well as commission chairs. The 2010 event also was the best attended by both elected officials and the general public, according the Council’s Jennifer Head.
It’s hard to quantify exactly what impact such events have on building regional relationships, but they can’t hurt, and often they create a comfortable foundation for future interactions.
“You know how to throw a party in Cobb County,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said from the podium. “I’m glad to be here. I’m here tonight as your friend and your partner.”
Charles Bannister, chairman of the Gwinnett Commission, said the whole region needed to work together to revitalize metro Atlanta’s economy and help create new jobs.
Tad Leithead, a consultant who is chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said the region faces the same three challenges — water, transportation and education. Leithead said that the region’s leaders must “hang together” to work on those issues.
The Council for Quality Growth also paid special honor to Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens, who is stepping down from that post at the end of this month so he can campaign full-time in his race for the Republican nomination for Georgia’s Attorney General.
Olens was given special credit for helping foster closer relations throughout the metro area as chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission since December, 2004.
Unlike their predecessors, Olens and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin were able to develop a partnership that helped diminish the tensions that had plagued the region for decades. They found that the challenges that had faced urban Atlanta in the past 20 to 30 years had migrated to suburban counties, and that governments in the Atlanta region actually had more in common than they had realized.
Two other significant steps occurred in solidifying closer relations. Franklin, unlike her predecessors, lived up to her commitment to be involved in the region and attend ARC meetings.
Olens and Franklin also attended every one of the annual LINK trips, when a group of 100-plus leaders from the Atlanta region, visit a different city every year to learn how other metro areas are addressing similar issues. Those LINK trips also have become critically important in the development of regional friendships among diverse leaders.
Before Franklin, the mayor of Atlanta (Bill Campbell) almost never attended the LINK trip. The one year that he went on the Dallas LINK trip (courtesy of developer John Williams’ private jet), Campbell stayed for only one day, and he spent most of his time on his cell phone rather than interacting with other leaders or participating in the meetings.
Last year’s LINK trip to Minneapolis-St. Paul was Franklin’s last as mayor and Olens’ last as ARC chair. Two important leaders of the urban core — DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis and Fulton County Commission John Eaves — were unable to attend last year.
But both were among the first to sign up for the 2010 LINK trip to Phoenix, Ark. next month. The question is whether Mayor Reed will demonstrate the same kind of regional commitment as Franklin and whether ARC’s Leithead can continue to keep the region relatively united.
So far, everyone is saying the right things.
“I believe this is our moment,” Reed told the gathering. “I stand here absolutely confident that we are the people to get it done — the business community and the political community. Our brightest days are ahead.”
We’ll be just fine if our leaders can translate their words into constructive action.