Get Mad and Get Moving!
I love serving in the Georgia Senate, but it’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster the last few weeks. I’ve been thinking about how the words “emotion” and “motivation” share the same Greek root, “moti,” which means “move.” I’m feeling moved into action, but the reality is that we don’t have enough votes yet to stop all the partisan bombs that are being hurled our way. Can you imagine if we won the Governor’s office and gained the power of the veto? We could stop these shenanigans in their tracks.
I’m seeing an increasing trend toward ignoring the voices of the majority. For example, the Permit-less Carry bill that will allow anyone to easily carry a gun in public, continued to move through the General Assembly despite a recent AJC poll showing that 70% of Georgians oppose such a law. This week it passed the House, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be on the Senate floor next week.
The midterm elections are now, and the Governor’s office, State Constitutional officers, and all the state legislative seats are up for grabs. We must win these critical positions so that we have more votes and more veto power.
All Politics Are Local
This old adage hit home this week with so much focus on local redistricting. Normally, local legislation starts with the county delegation of legislators that represent voters in those counties. In recent years, as Democrats won more seats in the metro Atlanta area, the Gwinnett, Fulton, and Cobb county delegations flipped from Republican to Democratic majorities.
But rather than respecting the will of the majority of voters in their counties, Gwinnett, Fulton, and Cobb Republicans have operated from a power grab playbook. In both the House and Senate, they are circumventing the local delegation process and filing their own county commission and school district maps that disadvantage Democrats and people of color. These maps are submitted as general bills and assigned to state government committees where they’re approved by Republican lawmakers from all over the state rather than those that represent the majority of voters in the county. There are so many redistricting bills flying around right now with different variations of maps and elections, that at one point I almost signed the wrong bill!
A bill to make the Gwinnett school board non-partisan, authored by the county’s lone Republican senator, reached the Senate floor this week. Lots of school boards in Georgia, including DeKalb’s, are non-partisan. However, changing how country school boards are elected should be decided by the local delegation, as has been done in every other Georgia county outside Gwinnett so far this session.
I spoke from the Senate well against this bill. Speaking from the Senate well makes my heart race. And it should — it’s one of the most public forms of speech there is, and it’s one of the most powerful. After making this speech I was interviewed by Fox 5 News. One thing about the Senate — you never know when you leave in the morning if you’re going to be on the news that night!
Dueling DeKalb Proposals
This week, the DeKalb House and Senate delegations considered two different proposals for the DeKalb County Commission. The DeKalb House delegation discussed maps submitted by the DeKalb Commission that equalize the district population with minimal changes to the current districts. The DeKalb Senate delegation discussed an alternative map with seven districts of equal size in lieu of five districts and two super districts. This would make each district smaller so that Commissioners could be closer to their communities and more responsive to their constituents. It is not unusual for the House and Senate to consider different ideas. In fact, our bicameral government exists for this purpose.
While these dual proposals caused some unease and debate, it is now a moot point. Late in the week, Legislative Counsel issued an opinion that Georgia law requires a voter referendum to change DeKalb’s form of government and it is too late for this change to be made for this year’s election. This means the Senate map shouldn’t advance for now, but we will continue to discuss DeKalb County’s governance. The county is long overdue for a Charter Review.
DeKalb residents will be able to weigh in on the maps at a Virtual Public Hearing via Zoom or Facebook livestream on Tuesday, February 8 at 6:30 pm and the next weekly DeKalb House delegation meeting on Wednesday, February 9 at noon. You can find more information here, and register to attend at https://bit.ly/3Hk95gx.
The idea of smaller county commission districts appeals to me because smaller districts mean elected officials are closer to the people. Perhaps if the number of commissions had gradually increased as the county grew, service delivery would be better than it is today.
When we think of cities, most of us imagine a picture book version with a downtown area, neighborhood fire department, library, schools, sidewalks and a nicely designed City Hall. But in Georgia, how services are delivered at the city and county level is much more complicated than this because of how it is spelled out in our Georgia State Constitution.
For instance, the whole of DeKalb actually began functioning as a city in 1972 with the passage of “Amendment 19” that allowed counties to deliver services such as police/fire, water/sewer, parks/recreation and garbage collection. Prior to that the DeKalb Commission was called “The Commission of Roads and Revenue,” because that’s about all the county did. Outside cities, services were provided by the state.
Further, the Georgia Constitution defines what a city is, and it says a city must deliver a minimum of three services. The Georgia constitution does not allow for a layer of government such as “townships” or “villages” that you sometimes see in other states.
Sometimes it feels like we’re trying to squeeze our new cities into the kind of box our constitution offers, but what we really need is a different sized box. This is why Sen. Elena Parent and I are considering authoring a constitutional amendment that specifically spells out which services need to stay with the county. Currently, every time a city forms the county services contract. This not only makes for difficult management, but there are some services that are just better off being managed county-wide. I’ll keep you posted on how this effort develops.
So when you think about cities in DeKalb county, and perhaps whether or not you want to live in one, I encourage you to think less about cities you might see in picture books, and more about how services are best delivered.
That being said, there are many cityhood proposals being batted around by the legislature this session. They are all far from the same, and must be discussed individually on their own merits and demerits.
The most visible is the secession of Buckhead, and it is not a pretty picture. It’s reminiscent of the 2018 Eagles Landing referendum, which was rejected by voters. Had it passed, Eagles Landing would have siphoned half the tax revenue from the city of Stockbridge while creating a new city one-third the size, made up of the neighborhoods with the highest tax bases. Not only does this Buckhead proposal put Atlanta Public Schools at risk, but the loss of bond ratings would put the entire state at risk.
Cobb county has several cityhood proposals: 1) HB 826 “Vinings”, population 7000; 2) HB 840 “Lost Mountain” in west Cobb, population 75,000 and 3) HB 841 “East Cobb,” population 60,000. These are being rushed through the legislature now.
During the last two years I have spent a significant amount of time discussing and researching the impact of forming a city in unincorporated DeKalb north of Decatur — which happens to be where I live. There are several reasons why this has become urgent.
A new city in north DeKalb would protect DeKalb County Schools by permanently defining school district lines relative to cities that have their own school systems (Decatur and Atlanta). This keeps them from annexing commercial areas that have a strong tax base and few students, which would drain revenues from DeKalb schools.
Second, surrounding cities with their own police departments are actively annexing unincorporated neighborhoods, which enlarges their city police force. A recent study conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute on Government concluded that expansion of city police departments in north DeKalb is significantly and adversely impacting the DeKalb Department of Public Safety. There is now a consensus that any new city will contract with DeKalb for police services.
Finally, residents of this area need a stronger local voice in regional planning. For example, the mayors along the 285 corridor have been working on adding Bus Rapid Transit to the 285 express lanes plan, but the residents in the unincorporated areas are not at the table.
In the past, Republicans have used their majority power to ram through cityhood bills without getting the consent of local elected legislators. Instead, DeKalb Senators will utilize the “local bill” process, which requires the support of the majority of legislators in the entire DeKalb delegation for passage. This process ensures that residents of the whole county have a voice in what is decided.
Stay Focused on the Finish Line
It’s time to take action and move out of your comfort zone — donate to candidates and volunteer on their campaigns. Send an encouraging email to a candidate that says you’ve got their back. Get involved in primaries to ensure the strongest candidate wins. Click here for an up-to-date list of candidates. We’ve got a lot of work to do!
Georgians Oppose Permitless Carry https://www.ajc.com/politics/ajc-poll-georgians-oppose-permit-less-gun-carry-repeal-of-roe-v-wade/AWT3EBPIY5GYLINCHDRERGIKSQ/
Georgia Candidates spreadsheet https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/18AB95CtoUi0BA7z0Vmi2txYaneobu6ALnnR0zMbGYrQ/edit?usp=sharing
Sally speaking against the Gwinnett School Board bill https://youtu.be/yOAcbaDyzeg
Sally on Fox 5 news about the Gwinnett School Board bill https://www.fox5atlanta.com/news/georgia-senate-approves-bill-making-gwinnett-school-board-elections-non-partisan
DeKalb House Delegation Meeting Info https://www.facebook.com/100066453410151/posts/281157930775985/
DeKalb House Delegation Zoom Registration link https://bit.ly/3Hk95gx
DeKalb County Service Delivery Strategy https://www.dekalbcountyga.gov/sites/default/files/2020-02/2019%20Service%20Delivery%20Strategy_VERIFIED.pdf
City of Atlanta Annexation of CDC and Emory https://www.ajc.com/news/local-education/dekalb-schools-sues-city-atlanta-over-emory-cdc-annexation/Zisg5mVVfisr0KGbcCpxXK/
Carl Vinson Study on impact of city police forces on the county https://www.dekalbcountyga.gov/chief-executive-officer/cvi-study-local-government-dekalb