By Amy Wenk
A distinctive feature of Sandy Springs is that most of its governmental functions (except for police, fire, 911 and human resources) are outsourced to Denver-based CH2M Hill. When the city incorporated in December, 2005, privatization was a less expensive and less time-consuming way to form the new government.
Today, the public-private partnership, city officials have said, continues to help Sandy Springs’ structure since the five-year contract is renewed annually and standards are in place.
But on Oct. 5, Sandy Springs election candidates took the stage at North Springs Charter High School for a two-hour forum and shared their views of CH2M Hill and its future role with the city. Next year, the municipal services contract will be rebid.
Nearly 200 people attended the event sponsored by Sandy Springs Civic Round Table, Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods and the League of Women Voters of Atlanta-Fulton County.
Sally Fitzgerald of the League of Women Voters moderated the forum, asking the 10 candidates nine questions. Her fourth and most disputed inquiry was about CH2M Hill and its contract.
Dist. 5 City Council candidate Deborah Hull was first to respond and said she was “not a big fan of CH2M Hill.”
“I think we should run it ourselves,” said the Georgia Perimeter College student. Taxpayer dollars should go back into the local community, not to Colorado, Hull said.
But Dist. 5 incumbent Tibby DeJulio defended privatization he helped to set up.
“We have taken bureaucracy out of the city,” said the senior vice president and branch manager of Wells Fargo. “We run lean. We run mean. We are financially sound.”
Chips Collins, Dist. 3 City Council candidate, said he believes privatization is working.
“I am in favor of maintaining it,” said the 19-year attorney, noting CH2M Hill offers a “more professional level of service.” Collins added his legal expertise would be useful in the contract renegotiation.
His Dist. 3 opponent, Bill Cleveland, said he would consult residents about the CH2M Hill contract.
“We have to be advocates for the taxpayers,” said the financial program manager and long-time volunteer.
Dist. 1 City Council candidate and franchise executive Jim Squire said, “We have a model here, ladies and gentleman. In general … it works.”
His competitor, John Paulson, said CH2M Hill had so far been “responsive and responsible.” But the engineer suggested the city look into how it measures performance.
First to answer for the Mayoral candidates, Warren Hull seemed skeptical of the company.
“CH2M Hill is a good start for the city,” the automotive fabrication and repair technician said. “I feel like it will get where it’s gradually not very good. I’d have to look into it more.”
Mayor Eva Galambos said she supports CH2M Hill because she “strongly believes” in competition.
“The miracle of the American economic cycle is built on competition,” said the retired economist and labor arbitrator. Sandy Springs runs with “fewer employees and it costs less.”
Bob Brown, owner of Red Baron Antiques, said, “I am not that comfortable” with CH2M Hill although they are presently “doing fine.”
Lastly, Donnie Bolena said he opposes CH2M Hill or any private company.
“I’m completely against it,” said the motivational speaker and writer. “People in Sandy Springs need jobs.”
Other topics at the forum included spending priorities, neighborhood protection, changes to the city charter, diversity and the purpose of the Target site the city purchased last fall.
“Since voting is said to be the first duty of democracy, the candidate forum was an important opportunity for the citizens of Sandy Springs to be informed before casting their ballots,” said Gail Cohn, chair of the Civic Round Table.