A new model for cooperation

Since 2008, DeKalb County has seen a growing interest in cityhood and annexation movements. For some communities, that interest is related to localized control and having more say on how taxes should be spent. For others, it is about obtaining additional revenue to support growing demands for services. Some neighborhoods are even now exploring options to incorporate merely as a defense mechanism from being drawn into other proposed cities where they lack “common interests.”

Meetings on this subject are being held across the county by cityhood alliances and neighborhood associations, without any coordination or full consideration regarding how these individual efforts might impact the quality of life of the county overall. Yet in each of these discussions, one question that is regularly asked is, “What is the position of the county?”

I support the right of citizens to determine how they will be governed. As chief executive officer, my preeminent concern is to ensure that all residents of DeKalb receive the high-quality services they expect and deserve from local government, irrespective of whether those services come from the county or from one of our cities.

Even if the entire county became incorporated, it would not relieve the county from the responsibility to maintain libraries, oversee elections, fund public health, run the judicial system and provide other essential services to all our residents, city and county alike. Our current process, and its resulting political fragmentation, is inefficient and unsustainable and does not enhance economic growth and prosperity. There has to be a better way to meet our collective objectives, as local governments, that is mutually beneficial and addresses the concerns we all share.

Across the United States, there are models of counties and cities working together to minimize service delivery costs, increase efficiency, identify revenue-sharing opportunities, and partner on issues that are not contained within our political boundaries. That is what I propose for DeKalb. There is no reason for the county and its cities to combat one another based on old arguments as to which form of local government is “better.” That is a scenario where no one, in the long term, ends up the victor. And in the end, we must acknowledge neither form of government is going away.

Last week, I met with the mayors in our county to discuss a process for developing a collaborative, efficient strategy for delivering quality services to all DeKalb residents. Within the next few days, I will convene an intergovernmental task force made up of mayors and appointees from the county commission; state municipal and county organizations; the school district; the county development authority, and the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. During a 90- to 120-day period, the task force will be charged with recommending an efficient service delivery strategy, effective policy integration, and a successful economic development strategy for all DeKalb citizens.

Through a series of meetings, interviews and research, a final report will be drafted. It will detail qualitative and quantitative information necessary to develop an intergovernmental plan and, if necessary, “rules of engagement” for future pursuits of incorporation and annexation.

My hope is that our citizens and elected officials will see this as an opportunity to have an informed and necessary discussion on the subject of intergovernmental collaboration and service delivery. Moreover, it should provide us with a new, improved model for achieving our one common goal: improving the quality of life for all citizens.

Burrell Ellis is CEO of DeKalb County.