Election slowing Brookhaven’s transition to cityhood

When the state panel overseeing Brookhaven’s preparations to become a city first met two months ago, members had to pledge allegiance to the flag using a picture on a smartphone.

Georgia’s newest city now has a proper flag. But, with six weeks to go before it officially begins operations as a city, Brookhaven is still awaiting a government.

In Tuesday’s election, just one City Council seat was filled for the city of 50,000. The battle for three other council seats, and the post of mayor, will continue for another four weeks until a Dec. 4 runoff election.

That means it will could be at least May before Brookhaven is able to provide its own police protection and park upkeep.

“I was personally more hopeful we’d have more candidates (win) so we could hand decisions off and just be here to help,” said Ben Vinson, the head of the governor’s commission tasked with laying the groundwork for the new city.

Instead, commission members are likely going select an interim city manager who will work for free. That person would help organize vendors now bidding to provide everything from computer services to legal work.

When a City Council and mayor are chosen in the runoff, they will decide on those contracts.

They also will hire the permanent city manager, who is expected to lead the creation of a police department by picking the city’s first police chief.

Voters, though, were only able to winnow the field of 24 candidates down to eight finalists and councilman-elect Jim Eyre, the owner of a real estate investment firm.

While the commission expects it will be May before the city can take over its own services, commission members will push to get some up and running sooner, said Bill Riley, the attorney providing the panel with free legal advice.

Toward that end, the commission expects to announce its recommendations for vendors on Dec. 1.

“I think you’ll see those vendors preparing to deliver the services, even if they may not get the contract,” Riley said.

That is how Sandy Springs and Johns Creek launched, though both of those new cities had more elected officials when vendors were selected. That gave firms more comfort in the final outcome.

Brookhaven, though, will need to rely on DeKalb County to provide most services as it slowly takes the reins. Vinson has had conversations with county officials about handling police, animal control and other services, though formal negotiations have yet to begin.

“DeKalb County is ready to meet with the city of Brookhaven leadership to work out the specifics of an intergovernmental agreement as soon as they are elected,” said county spokesman Burke Brennan. “We knew in July that there would be a tight time frame.”

Its first municipal election aside, Brookhaven does have one major milestone completed. The commission on Wednesday approved a report that documents all the planning that the commission has done in the past two months and details what the elected officials must yet do, such as hire a city manager.

The commission will update the report once it recommends vendors early next month.

“I think this is wonderful groundwork,” Eyre said. “I think people know it will still take time, but they have put us in a position where we can start off Brookhaven right.”

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