Editor’s note: In the May 20 Republican Primary, Lee Morris received 57 percent of the votes cast in the race for the District 3 seat on the Fulton County Commission. The district, redrawn as part of a redistricting of the commission, covers Buckhead and a portion of Sandy Springs. By winning the primary over three other candidates, Morris, a former Atlanta City Councilman, in effect wins the seat as he has no Democratic opponent in the fall.
The Sandy Springs Reporter asked Morris why he decided to run and what he foresees for his new district. Here are his answers.
Q. After holding a seat on the Atlanta City Council, why did you decide to run for Fulton County Commission?
A. Remember that I stepped down from the Atlanta City Council many years ago. I chose not to seek re-election in 2001 after eight years of service, honoring a campaign pledge to that effect. I made that pledge because I believed in citizen-legislators, and I never had any intention of making politics a career. Indeed, I ran for City Council in 1993 in the first place only after being unable to find anyone else to challenge the long-time incumbent who I thought needed to be replaced!
After the Legislature re-drew the Fulton Commission district lines and created this Buckhead/southern Sandy Springs district, many people started asking me to think about resuming my public service to seek this seat. My wife Gilda and I thought about it for many months and decided last winter that my background could be useful to help fix Fulton County’s government.
Q. What do you see as the biggest issue facing Fulton County now?
A. The county must control and reduce its spending. Studies have shown that Fulton spends more per capita than other large counties in the state. The 2014 budget is not balanced, instead using about $40 million of reserves to meet a planned revenue shortfall. To make it worse, the budget assumes a 15 percent property tax increase, in the face of a state law prohibiting any increase in 2014. If the inevitable legal challenge reverses the increase, the shortfall in the budget will approach $85 million to $90 million.
Q. A decade or so ago, Fulton County government provided most of the local services in the northern end of the county. Now, with the creation of new cities in the area, including Sandy Springs, the county’s role is greatly diminished. What do you see as the county government’s role in north Fulton and Buckhead now, and as its role in the future?
A. One of the principal drivers of the incorporation of cities in the northern end of the county was the lack of adequate, efficient and responsive municipal-like services that the county’s special services district fund was supposed to be providing. Now the county’s role in the northern part of the county is the same as its role in Atlanta – providing for courts, jail services, tax appraisal and collection, elections, libraries, and health and social services. Now the cities’ role is to provide police, fire, zoning, code enforcement and similar municipal services. The interesting question for the future is whether the county and the cities can provide some services more effectively and efficiently by working together in a collaborative way.
Q. District 3 covers Buckhead and a substantial portion of Sandy Springs. What do you see as common issues among Buckhead and Sandy Springs? How do you think you can address those issues from a seat on the County Commission?
A. In addition to the universal desire for safe neighborhoods and good schools that is not limited just to Buckhead and Sandy Springs, residents in Buckhead and Sandy Springs also share a desire for effective and efficient government. While the commission has no direct role in the schools, its funding of courts and jail functions can have an impact on safety in our communities. And certainly the commission can and should work toward more effective and efficient local government.
Q. Atlanta and Sandy Springs at times have differing interests. What do you see as the major divisions between the two? Can the county government help bridge those differences.
A. While it is true that Atlanta and Sandy Springs can have major differing interests, the differences between Sandy Springs and the portion of Atlanta that is Buckhead, are not so significant. The county should and can work with, not against, Sandy Springs, as well as the other cities in the county. And clearly the county government needs to work on its relationship with Atlanta’s government, especially with respect to public safety issues and the chronic county jail overcrowding.
Q. What’s the first thing you hope to accomplish on the commission?
A. I want the commission to pass a balanced budget that does not rely on reserves or tax increases. I’ll be working on that goal in the coming months, even prior to taking office in January.