By Rusty Paul
By all measures, the city of Sandy Springs has been a smashing success. Services are demonstrably better. Infrastructure and capital improvements, visible in all sections of town, are gradually, but steadily, erasing 35 years of neglect.
Police arrive promptly when called and the more timely arrival of emergency medical services now saves lives that once were lost. In fact, five years ago EMS dispatch times were so slow it was more cost-effective to send a hearse than an ambulance to a cardiac arrest call. Then, cardiac arrest victims had a 1 percent chance of survival.
Yet, even great organizations require a culture of continual improvement to stay great. No matter how good you are now, you better step it up in the future. Success today raises the bar for tomorrow.
So, when the legislature created the city of Sandy Springs, it wisely built into the charter a periodic review of city operations and a mechanism for re-examining the fundamental structure of the city.
Hence, legislators decided that after five years existence, a group of citizens working as the Sandy Springs Charter Review Commission should assess the fundamental structure of the city to determine whether enhancements are necessary.
The charter is a city’s constitution. It outlines the structure of government, its duties, responsibilities and the delegation of decision-making power. In the main, Sandy Springs’ charter has worked very well.
But when it was drafted — roughly five years before the city’s incorporation — it could not anticipate every situation.
For example, the charter did not contemplate the city’s unique service delivery strategy that outsources virtually all services to private providers, except public safety. Even public safety probably would have been outsourced if Georgia law extended the same liability protections to municipally employed contractors that municipalities enjoy.
After extensively testing that public/private partnership model, does the charter need fine-tuning to make that arrangement more effective?
After working together for five years, what lessons have the mayor, council, city manager and our private partners learned that we can institutionalize going forward? After half a decade of receiving city services, do our citizens have ideas to enhance the value they receive from their municipal tax dollars?
These and many other questions will be asked over the next weeks and months as the Charter Review Commission methodically and carefully combs through the charter. We plan a minimum of two public hearings — more if needed — to gather public input.
Every meeting is publicized and open to the public and media; each meeting will offer citizens additional opportunities to offer written comments and suggestions. We want as much written input as possible so we can catalog and organize our information more quickly and accurately.
We will meet with mayor, council, manager and partners to get their input. We will ask the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government to summarize the latest research and innovations in local government structure and service delivery.
Finally, true to Sandy Springs’ commitment to optimize private sector strengths and insights in our operations, we will invite volunteer input from professional consultants on the latest in management techniques, financial controls, audit procedures, employee reviews and enterprise operations.
With all this input, we will make a written report to the Legislature, as the charter requires. We will also share this information with the city.
But in the end, we are a recommending body. We have no power to make the changes we suggest. It will be up to the legislative delegation to take our proposals and decide which ones should be incorporated into a revised charter.
However, we have but one objective — developing ideas that can make Sandy Springs the metro area’s premier community.
Rusty Paul chairs the Sandy Springs Charter Commission. He is a former member of the Sandy Springs City Council and the Georgia Senate.