Operations taking shape in Brookhaven

Brookhaven will take a huge step toward cityhood this weekend when it expects to announce requests for bids from private firms to run most government operations.

The requests for proposals, as they’re called, should be made public by early next week at the latest. That would give vendors until mid-November to pitch providing everything from administrative work such as accounting to traffic engineering and designs to park maintenance and programming. Not covered are police services, which the city expects to handle on its own, and leadership posts such as attorney and city manager.

The incoming City Council and mayor still would need to review the bids and recommendations from the Governor’s Commission. But with just two months before Brookhaven begins operations — and amid expectations of a runoff election because of the large number of candidates — getting the RFPs done should ease Brookhaven’s first days.

“With this, we certainly will have what they need on day one,” said Ben Vinson, chairman of the Governor’s Commission.

With the Dec. 17 start date looming, the commission has yet to offer an estimate of Brookhaven’s first budget, publish job descriptions for critical jobs such as city manager, or offer details on popular services such as police and parks.

Todd Lantier, the commission member in charge of the budget, said he was reluctant to release his committee’s spending and revenue estimates until the bids begin to come in. Seeing those figures will provide for a better budget projection, he said.

The most recent study by the University of Georgia projected Brookhaven would spend $25.1 million on revenues of just $25.2 million.

Cityhood advocates note those calculations don’t include Brookhaven’s projected share of a countywide sales tax. But the commission has made it clear it wants to build on that small cushion.

One strategy: structure the RFPs so that they call for the minimum level of service in, for example, providing a city website or hiring a parks director. That will give a base price expected to be the most conservative estimate for city operations.

The requests also include a “task order” option. That allows city leaders to add staff or services — and also spend more — if there is citizen demand or more cash available.

“We can be very confident we are well under projections and will also strive to give the mayor and council the ability to see where they want to spend money on enhanced services,” said Bill Riley, the attorney providing free legal help to the city start-up.

Incoming officials also may reshape the bids. For now, though, the commission recommended three specific requirements: not allowing a single vendor to bid on services in one large package, as CH2MHill did for the start-up of Sandy Springs; not allowing vendors who bid for finance or IT services to run any other service; and creating an after-hours phone line for public works emergencies.

The commission did not require vendors to submit any financial disclosures. Mayoral candidate J. Max Davis has received criticism from other candidates for accepting donations from potential vendors, an admission he made in a recent forum without naming any specific firms.

The RFPs will be posted on the commission’s website, www.brookhavencommission.com. The commission next meets at 8 p.m. Thursday at St. Martin’s Episcopal School on Ashford Dunwoody Road.