By Tad Leithead
Recently, metro Atlanta voters have pushed for more local control. But we know from examples across the country that successful regions are founded on cooperation. So we find ourselves asking an important question:
Does regional cooperation require loss of local control?
The Atlanta region is comprised of 10 counties: Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale. The political leadership of these counties, and their respective municipalities, are committed to local control. They are elected by the citizens of their jurisdictions, and they are dedicated to serving their constituents.
These officials also recognize that some of their challenges cannot be addressed on a county-by-county basis. Water supply, aging populations, transportation and workforce development must be addressed in a cooperative, multi-jurisdictional manner. Just as roads and water lines cross county lines, so must the dialogue on solutions cross these same boundaries.
That dialogue, and planning for our common issues, is the purpose of the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). The 39-member ARC board consists of 10 county commission chairmen, mayors representing cities within these counties and citizens who live throughout the 10-county area. This board is committed to tackling issues that cannot be resolved individually.
This summer, the regional referendum on transportation failed to pass. Many have translated this as a failure of our regional leadership’s ability to work together. I argue the opposite. The “Regional Roundtable,” made up of these same elected officials, and staffed by ARC, studied solutions and voted unanimously on a $6 billion project list to address regional road bottlenecks and enhanced transit. This was a pivotal moment for our local leaders, for regional cooperation and for ARC.
We must now build upon this evolution of our region. During the next 30 years, metro Atlanta will double to almost 10 million people. There will be millions more cars competing for road space. Our elderly population, those 65 and over, will double to 1.5 million people. Water consumption will increase dramatically.
To maintain the quality of life that Atlanta residents enjoy, we must address these issues. No individual or jurisdiction can do this alone. It is only by reaching across county lines that metropolitan Atlanta can compete successfully, both nationally and internationally.
Many have wondered if Atlanta has lost its competitive edge. My response is no. Atlanta has faced challenges, and will face challenges again. If we work and lead together, with local and state leadership cooperating around issues that traverse traditional county lines, then metro Atlanta’s best days are in our future.
I submit that local control is only strengthened by regional cooperation. Together, we are stronger and more competitive.
Tad Leithead is chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission.