As volunteers in Brookhaven anxiously await the appointment of a governor’s commission to begin creating their new city, leadership in neighboring municipalities say Brookhaven may face a time crunch.
According to Brookhaven’s charter, Gov. Nathan Deal will appoint a five-member commission to oversee the city until a mayor and council members are elected in November. Deal has until Sept. 1 to put the commission into place.
Brian Robinson, Deal’s deputy chief of staff for communications, said the governor’s office has received many letters from people interested in serving on the commission.
“Of the five members, four have to represent certain districts, so we’ll need folks from different parts of the city,” Robinson said. “The governor is going through applications now. He’s looking for civic-minded community leaders who won’t be running for any of the city offices in its first election.”
J. Max Davis, who led the pro-city movement Brookhaven Yes and is a candidate for mayor, said volunteer task forces are already meeting.
Davis said the zoning task force, for example, is looking through DeKalb County’s zoning code to see where updates need to be made to fit the city of Brookhaven. The parks task force has begun assessing the state of Brookhaven’s parks and visiting parks in other cities, Davis said.
“There’s been a lot of work going on,” Davis said.
But volunteers are waiting to receive direction from the governor’s commission, Davis said.
“We hope this commission gets named as soon as possible,” Davis said. “We have a lot of work to do and we want it to get done. It’s hampering our efforts.”
Oliver Porter, who chaired the governor’s commission for Sandy Springs, said in each of the new cities that has formed since Sandy Springs incorporated in 2005, the role of the governor’s commission has become clearer.
“In terms of responsibility, the governor’s commission has no real responsibility or authority. A lot of people don’t understand that. It’s just to be an advisor and helper in starting the city,” Porter said. “We’ve learned a little as we’ve gone along and the Brookhaven bill did recommend some things the governor’s commission should do.”
Porter said the governor’s commission for Brookhaven has been tasked with opening negotiations over services with DeKalb County, beginning the search for private contractors, and conducting training for political candidates.
Porter, who acted as a consultant during the formation of the cities of Dunwoody and Johns Creek, said the role of the governor’s commission has been different for each city.
“There’s no rules for them. They have to decide what their job is and how they’re supposed to do it,” Porter said.
He said the governor’s commission for Dunwoody was not as involved with the implementation of the city as commissions have been in other cities. Johns Creek’s commission was very involved in putting out requests for proposals from city contractors, Porter said, and Milton’s commission had a strong chairman.
Ken Wright, the first mayor of Dunwoody, agreed the commission appointed to help set up that city was not as active as others have been.
“From what I recall when we went through it, it was a completely different situation. We had been going at it for a while, deeply in the trenches for three years,” Wright said.
Wright said there was a group of volunteers who met almost daily for years to hash out the details of starting a city of Dunwoody. He said several months before Dunwoody opened its doors, he was already deeply into the budget process and looking through bids from private contractors to provide city services.
“The governor’s commission didn’t do anything for us,” Wright said. “On our standpoint, I had a human resources consultancy group and we started meeting to cure a group of 400 candidates down to a few. That was going on while all the city council folks were running elections. We had the huge advantage of me running unopposed so I could get going immediately.”
Wright said with Brookhaven’s elections scheduled for Nov. 6, it doesn’t leave much time to get the city ready before the official start-up date of Dec. 17.
“If you have runoffs, especially for a mayor who’s got to get a city manager in place, I don’t know what you do,” Wright said. “I’m just not sure how you do it.”
Porter expressed similar concerns. He said the July 31 referendum to create the city was held later in the year than other cities.
“They may be depending on their governor’s commission too much. They need to be out there doing these things themselves,” Porter said. “From the outside looking in, it does appear they are behind the schedule we had the other cities moving on.”
Porter emphasized that he is not critical of Brookhaven. But the biggest issue he sees is that the city may not be able to offer a full range of services on day one.
“They may have to contract with the county for those services and that may be very costly for them,” Porter said. “We in Sandy Springs could not initially set up our own police and fire departments. We paid through the nose during that period for those services. You really don’t expect the county to lean over backward to help you out on these things.”
He said with less than 100 days before the city of Brookhaven is scheduled to begin operations, there is little time left to put out requests for proposals, review candidates and find office space.
“It’s still doable. They just have to really get their act together,” Porter said. “I’m very, very, supportive of Brookhaven. I very much want to see it succeed but because of that I have some concerns about it.”