Andrea Arnold, who just completed her first week as Decatur’s city manager. She is only the second woman to hold the position in city history. Courtesy Greg White

Decatur city manager had impact before hired

Long before she became Decatur’s manager earlier this month, even before she became a city employee, Andrea Arnold had an influence on city policy.

She moved to Decatur in 1996 after getting hired by the Atlanta Regional Commission straight out of grad school. Soon thereafter she sought and received an appointment to Decatur’s all-volunteer Waste Management Advisory Board. During the fall of 1997 that board developed the “pay-as-you-you throw” trash collection program that survives to this day.

Though Arnold says the program grew collectively out of the Waste Board, it’s also true that she had recently completed a grad school research project examining “volume-based garbage collection.”

“Decatur had started its recycling program in the early 1990s,” Arnold said. “But in [traditional garbage collection] there was no economic incentive to recycle. With this program where you purchase [in Decatur’s case, yellow, blue or green] bags that are more expensive [than typical bags], it forces you to make a decision. The more trash bags you fill, or the more you send to the landfill, the more you have to pay.

“It also created some economic equity,” she added, “because now a family of five, for instance, pays more than one person. Before [pay as you throw] they paid the same amount for disposal, no matter the family size.”

Decatur implemented pay as you throw in July 1998. But months earlier, in November 1997, Decatur hired Arnold fulltime as an assistant to the city manager, which she describes as an “early-career type position” which no longer exists. She became assistant city manager in Feb. 2004, and now she succeeds Peggy Merriss as only Decatur’s third city manager since 1972 and, after Merriss, only the second woman.

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