A forum hosted by the Brookhaven Reporter about whether Brookhaven should become a new city drew more than 200 residents of the proposed city to Oglethorpe University on Monday, July 10.
The panel featured three proponents of cityhood and three opponents, and there was a nearly-even division among the crowd, pointing to a vote that is not guaranteed to go in the city proponents’ favor. The cities of Dunwoody and Sandy Springs saw overwhelming voter approval for incorporation efforts.
On the pro-side of the arguments were: Stan Segal, a resident, Glianny Fagundo, with Brookhaven Yes, and J. Max Davis, also of Brookhaven yes.
On the other side of the stage sat Jim Eyre, a Brookhaven resident with the Ashford Park Civic Association, and Jodi Cobb and Chuck Konas with No City Brookhaven.
Moderator Joe Earle, Reporter Newspapers managing editor, opened up the form by asking the crowd to keep it civil. The crowd mostly complied, but there were a few instances of crowd members shouting at panelists.
The dominant themes of the night included whether incorporation will lower taxes, as a study by the Carl Vinson Institute suggests, whether DeKalb County is behind a campaign to reject the effort and whether the citizens will have better representation by a smaller government closer to home.
Editor’s note: the comments that follow have been expanded from an earlier version of this article.
Some comments from last night’s forum:
Speaker Introductions: Who you are, and why are you for/against a city?
Stan Segal, Resident in favor of city: I’m a resident of Hampton Hall, and I have been for quite some time. The sort-of epiphany I had was one day I realized that I was one of 135,000 constituents of my local representative. I feel like we don’t have a proper sense of community here. There’s definitely a lack of community.
Glianny Fagundo, Brookhaven Yes: My epiphany came when I was trying to clean up the parks around the area. I couldn’t get any support for the project from DeKalb County. I love cleaning up the parks and helping my friends and neighbors, but I feel that if we had a city, services like this one would be handled with better efficiency, and someone would be there to get things done.
J. Max Davis: Brookhaven Yes: We don’t have the representation and the control we need. I trust you people, the residents of Brookhaven, more than I do those politicians down in Decatur.
Jim Eyre, Ashford Park Civic Association, opponent of city: I have lived in DeKalb County since 1985. I haven’t had any sort of epiphany, but I think there are so many things wrong with the current plan for a city that I can’t support it. At the end of the day with the city of Brookhaven, I can expect my taxes to be higher and my police force to be less.
Jodi Cobb, No City Brookhaven: My biggest issue is, why do we need this? Why do we need a city? How can we begin to contemplate a city when 2/3 of its historic district would be in the city of Atlanta? I understand the two major issues to be finances and safety. I know all about safety concerns; I live very close to Buford Highway, and I hear gunshots at night. In fact, the other night I heard a gunfight. But I have so many doubts about the plans for the new city. And my mama always said, if you have doubts, don’t do it. If you have doubts, vote no.
Chuck Konas: No City Brookhaven: The plan for the city is wrong on so many different fronts. From a regional planning standpoint, we’re fragmenting our area and decreasing development for businesses. We have 64 different mayors in the area, and they’re all representing separate interests. How does that present a united front to get more businesses to come to the area? Look at what other cities are doing: Athens and Clarke County are uniting their governments, not separating them, in order to make it easier for citizens. A city will be less efficient and will coast us more.
Q: The proponents of a city often cite better political representation as one of the benefits. For the opposition, how could a city not provide better political representation?
Chuck Konas: Better political representation? I don’t believe you’ll get any better representation. The way the structure will be set up is through four council members and a mayor. You may be able to convince one councilmember to agree with you, but how will you get everyone, a majority, with the mayor breaking the tie? I don’t think it would be any better than it is now. Whenever there’s a majority vote in a community, there’s always a minority that loses. We’ve already seen this in Johns Creek. The council voted to zone a bunch of new apartment buildings, and it was a unanimous vote, despite a huge crowd at the meeting protesting them to vote no. But they didn’t have any choice, they needed the revenue.
Jodi Cobb: I think we get a lot of attention from our government. When we ask for things, they listen, and they get done. They don’t always get done very quickly, but no government is very efficient, and that won’t change with a city.
Jim Eyre: I think government really is what it is. And it’s whoever screams the loudest will get the most results, whether that’s 10,000 or 100,000 people.
J. Max Davis: When it comes to a city, we’ll be able to vote the people who aren’t doing things right out. For example, when Dunwoody formed a city they wanted to have a big parks bond referendum. And eventually the commissioners who pushed that got voted out. But the question is, are we able to vote out the people doing things wrong in DeKalb? Are we able to vote out Burrell Ellis?
Glianny Fagundo: When it comes to government, people always say that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so whoever’s loudest will get their problems solved. I think in a city we’ll get representation on a fairer basis. I recently noticed a stoplight with a turn arrow that was out, and it was backing up traffic for a half mile. I sent a very nice email to the government of Sandy Springs, and it was fixed the next morning. It was done within 24 hours. Don’t we want that for our area?
Q: Opponents of the city argue that it will create a whole new batch of politicians and political problems? What’s the reaction?
J. Max Davis: I’m sure there will be fights. There are always fights and arguments in government. But my hope is that because the citizens of our community will be representing us, we’ll know our politicians. So there may be screaming, but maybe people will be a little more friendly if they know the person they’re screaming at.
Stan Segal: Think of a large corporation. Large corporations break things up into divisions, and they delegate. That’s a good idea. When I sit in traffic on Johnson Ferry at 3:30 when the hospitals get out, traffic is always horrible. I want my council person sitting in the same traffic. I want to look in my rearview mirror and see my council person sweating through it with me, because then he’ll understand where I’m coming from. The people who we’ve elected in the city will have to live next door to the people who are affected by the decisions they make.
Jodi Cobb: First of all, I want to set the record straight. The No City campaign is not being run by the county. The county is not running our campaign. Can we please put that to rest? It’s a lie. There are always going to be skirmishes in the government. People don’t always get along, that’s just how it is. I don’t want to be like Dunwoody; they’re dealing with things like firing their city attorney and wasting money on investigations and ethics hearings. The city of Milton had to bring in a professional therapist just so they could talk to each other. Let’s not pretend this is going to be any different.
Chuck Konas: Like I said before, all we’re doing is robbing from each other. We’re creating all of these separate communities, and we’re not growing regionally, we’re not growing as a region. And it’s fragmenting our communities.
Jim Eyre: the citizens of Brookhaven pay DeKalb county $24 million for services. If we switch to a city, 35% of that will go toward paying for the new government, including city hall, new employees, etc. So 1/3 of the money currently being used to pay for our services will go to other things.
For more on the forum, read the July 13 edition of the Brookhaven Reporter.