By John Schaffner
The mayors of Sandy Springs, Roswell and Johns Creek made their case April 14 for why the time is right to divorce from Fulton County and reform the old Milton County, but Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said such a move would be imprudent and too costly for all parties involved.
The forum for debate was a luncheon sponsored by the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation (FCTF) at 103 West in Buckhead.
FCTF President John Sherman kicked off the debate by saying he and his organization oppose the succession of the northern part of Fulton. But after an hour and a half of discussion, he seemed to be shifting on the issue.
Sherman said he decided personally to check out several departments of Fulton’s government after hearing how poorly run the county is and how ineffective and inefficient the department heads are.
He said he found several “heroes” among the leadership at the county. Four were at the luncheon: Magistrate Judge Doris Downs, Sheriff Ted Jackson, Chief Tax Assessor Burt Manning and Library Director John Szabo.
Sherman said the county needs to get rid of some of its 6,600 employees, especially since the new cities of Sandy Springs, Johns Creek and Milton now provide services the county formerly delivered.
Eaves, who spoke first among the public officials, said that in his two years as commission chair, the county has made cuts and implemented strategies. But he said the state mandates that the county provide certain services: health and human services, the library system, and the criminal justice system.
“The creation of Milton County is a lose-lose situation for everyone,” he told the group of about 100 people.
First, he said the new county would need to purchase Fulton County’s government facilities in the north part of the county. That cost he said has been estimated at $1 billion. He said the new county also would have to hire personnel, another big cost.
Eaves acknowledged areas of the county government could be improved, but he said the breakup of Fulton is not the answer.
Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos kicked off the argument for changes in the Fulton government.
She attacked the concept of giving tax breaks to wealthy developers just to get them to produce a certain development. She said someone has to make up for the lost revenue and suggested that money comes from taxpayers in north Fulton.
Galambos also pointed to a blue-ribbon study commission’s report that offered a number of valid concerns and suggested solutions to the way the county government operates. She said the report has gathered dust since it was presented, and she doesn’t think the county commissioners ever read it.
Among the recommendations, she said, were reductions in the size of the county government and the Board of Commissioners. The report also recommended giving more power to the commission chairman.
Galambos questioned why the county jail should be run by an elected sheriff. She said there is a need to consolidate jurisdictions, and that might lead to two counties.
Roswell Mayor Jere Wood said he was born in Fulton County, has lived here all his life and practiced law in the county’s legal system. But he supports the rebirth of Milton County.
“The residents of north Fulton County believe it is time for this partnership to divorce and come to an end,” Wood said.
He pointed out that a large portion of county services have been transferred to the new cities, “but the county has kept the same budget and same bureaucracy and overhead.”
Johns Creek Mayor Michael Bodker said there is no trust in Fulton County’s governance. He said the county has seven elected officials, and his city has seven elected officials. The difference, he said, is that the officials in Johns Creek are working every day for their constituents and the overall good of the city.
Bodker emphasized the disconnect and distrust between the county and its officials.
Sherman suggested the place to start is for the officials in the north and south parts of the county to start talking to each other. Maybe instead of holding all the Fulton meetings at the county’s Pryor Street building downtown, they should occasionally be held in Buckhead or Sandy Springs or Alpharetta.