By Tova Fruchtman
Even while she was working a day job and volunteering in her community, Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos made a home cooked meal for her family nearly every night.
Sure, there was a time, she points out, when she was working on her Ph D in economics at Georgia State University and had a class at 5 p.m. two days a week. Those nights, she made dinner early, wrapped it up and put it in the oven for her family to eat later on.
The meal was usually dry by the time the family ate it, she said.
“I don’t think they appreciated that,” she said, with a laugh that quickly chips away her robust stature..
But that time soon passed, and as her children, Tobae, John and Michael, grew up she continued cooking dinner for the family. It was important, and still is she said, for a family to sit down and discuss how their day went each evening.
“We always cherished having everyone sit around the table at dinner time,” she said.
In some ways the small dinner table environment is analogous of what Galambos, 78, has brought to Sandy Springs residents with the formation of the city.
Galambos knows well the change. In fact, her intent wasn’t always to start a new city, just to ensure her neighborhood was not zoned for high-density building and that Roswell Road got cleaned up.
As a young mother who grew up in Athens, Ga., graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in economics, she had not intended on getting involved in government when she moved to Atlanta at all.
For Galambos everything started with a zoning hearing sign posted on the street where she was building a new home in 1960.
“That was my first exposure to having to go downtown to the Fulton county commission and not finding it to be a very friendly place,” she said. “I learned through the years that it was a battle and that they didn’t’ care about us. “
With one commissioner representing 160,000 people, Sandy Springs residents like Galambos couldn’t effect the election. To that end, they were lost in the shuffle, she recalled.
But even still., Galambos often made the trek to the Fulton County Commission. She started the Sandy Springs Planning Council — now still operational as the Council of Neighborhoods (see related story on page 11) — to examine every zoning proposal on the table at the county and approve or disapprove them on behalf of the citizens.
And she lobbied and lobbied and lobbied to have them clean up Roswell Road.
“If you think it’s ugly now you should have seen how much uglier it was 30 years ago,” she said.
Then Galambos started researching where the tax dollars of Sandy Springs residents were going. She realized there was a major gap between how much they paid and how much was being spent in the area.
“I felt we needed to keep more and more of our money at home,” she said.
In December 1988 some 200 people showed up to a meeting about submitting a bill to the Georgia General Assembly to make Sandy Springs its own city. Just one month later, in January 1989 the group submitted the bill for the first time. It came up every year until it finally passed in 2005.
Galambos said even her children didn’t believe Sandy Springs would ever become a city. And one Fulton County commissioner felt so sure, he once told Galambos, that Sandy Springs will be a city “when pigs fly”.
Joe Wilkinson, the representative to the Georgia House of Representatives for Sandy Springs, gave Galambos a flying pig when the bill passed the General Assembly.
She now has a growing collection in her office that she points out with a laugh. One of them even made a television special about Sandy Springs that aired in Tokyo.
But while pigs are flying in her office, Galambos is getting down to business to make sure that Sandy Springs new government meets the needs of the citizens.
Her schedule is different every day.
Some days she meets with Sandy Springs citizen groups in her office. Other times she’s meeting with developers looking to build in Sandy Springs.
Sometimes it’s evening committee or City Council meetings.
Or the one part of her job she did not anticipate:
“I couldn’t believe at first that everybody wanted me to cut ribbons,” she said with a laugh. “But you learn that’s a part of the job.”
Often, she said, she finds herself at the computer communicating with citizens by e-mail.
“The e-mail is just an absolute salvation,” said the grandmother of six. “I can’t answer all of them, but I answer a good many of them.”
And even as she’s driving to work, or just around Sandy Springs, she’s always paying attention to what can be improved.
Galambos always saw the missing signs, the potholes, the full trash cans, but before Sandy Springs was a city she couldn’t do anything about it. Now, she makes sure not only she can have the problems fixed but any citizen can call the 24-hour help line to report a problem.
“I guess that’s one of the biggest changes,” Galambos said. “In the old days I could gripe, now I can get results.”
But even with all of her mayoral duties, Galambos still makes a dinner for her husband, Dr. John T. Galambos, almost every night.
Tova Fruchtman is an Atlanta writer who contributes articles to several local publications.