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Council for Quality Growth brings the region’s mayors and county chairs together

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.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


1 Comment

  1. ACC 12 Booster March 25, 2010 9:17 pm

    I’m glad to hear that the region’s political leaders can come together in the interest of improving the quality-of-life in the Atlanta Region. Seizing on your discussion about greater cooperation in regional affairs (like, lets say for example, WATER and TRANSPORTATION) and taking into account your considerable knowledge of local civic affairs I’d appreciate your input to a question that has been on the minds of myself and others, especially since the population of the Atlanta Region eclipsed the four-million mark and moved towards and beyond five-million: Do you think that it would be to either the Atlanta Region’s benefit or detriment for all residents of the Five-County area (Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Cobb and Gwinnett) to be able to vote for the Mayor of Atlanta in the future?

    Alot of residents in the Atlanta Region are of the mind that what goes on in the inner urban core, especially the City of Atlanta, affects the much of the rest of the region, especially the five-county urban core and the ten-county urban/suburban core. Alot of residents across the Atlanta Region would also like to have more input into the governing decisions made in the inner urban core that directly affect them. Many Atlanta Region residents would also like to have more of a unified front representation in state affairs than between just the City of Atlanta Proper, the dozens of county governments, the tens-of-dozens of town and city governments and the Governor of the entire state.

    As it stands now, even with the umbrella organizations like the Council for Quality Growth and the Atlanta Regional Commission, its still is just very difficult to get all of the balkanized local governments throughout the entire region, which has grown to cover at least 30 counties thoughout North Georgia to agree on a single benefitary course of action ahead of time unless they’re under the threat of a powerful and potent political gun (like the judicial ruling that cuts off much of Metro Atlanta’s access to Lake Lanier in 2012). Because of Georgia’s erstwhile county-unit system and because urban and Metro Atlanta have grown so large so as to engulf or threaten to engulf these once far-removed outlying balkanized local governments that were not-so-long ago isolated rural areas, it often seems that the default “mayor” of the Atlanta Region is the Governor of the State of Georgia as we’ve seen recently on issues of water and transportation.

    Some entities of the five-county urban core of the greater 30-county region while wanting to vote for Mayor of a “Greater Atlanta” would also like to retain control over their immediate local affairs like zoning, public safety and education. In other words, under this system of governance, all voters of the five-county urban core would be able to vote for mayor of a “Greater Atlanta” while retaining their own existing incorporated city and town governments. For voters in currently unincorporated areas, control over local zoning matters would be transferred from the county to a smaller more local level of government called a TOWNSHIP.

    Townships, which are most commonly found in the Great Lakes and Northeastern states, are a popular level of government that is a scaled down version of an incorporated city, but is a sub-unit of county government. The functions of townships can vary depending on which Great Lakes or Northeastern state you’re in, but for Georgia voters it would be best for them to have primarily zoning powers and maybe public safety powers if they so choose, especially in urban areas where local communities like Sandy Springs and Dunwoody battled for many years to have control over zoning and public safety before finally recently winning cityhood status. Township status would especially be beneficial for communities like Buckhead, which has frequent disagreements with the City of Atlanta over zoning (and budget) matters to the point where the concept of cityhood for Buckhead is frequently openly tossed around. The Peachtree Corners Community area of Gwinnett County would be a prime candidate for township status as well because it is a community that would like to have exclusive control of all of its zoning decisions, especially in the unincorporated Technology Park industrial area that backs up to the city limits of incorporated Norcross, residents of Peachtree Corners also fear being annexed into the City of Norcross when they would like to remain semi-independent.Report


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