Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Last summer’s transportation sales tax defeat and a series of divisive political feuds has set back the idea of effective regional solutions for metro Atlanta. Yet proponents say regionalism is an appropriate and necessary approach to solving big problems that local jurisdictions cannot. Opponents remain suspicious of appointed — that is, unelected — regional commission leaders making important decisions for so many.
There are three columns today. Commenting is open below.
By Mike Bodker
For me, regionalism is the recognition that problems do not respect jurisdictional boundaries.
A healthy and growing metro Atlanta is hinged on a reputation for excellent quality of life. That reputation will ultimately depend on our ability to work together to support the reality.
A great example here in Johns Creek is the Ga. 141 corridor. This road is the primary gateway between our residents and those north of our border to metro Atlanta. It is plagued daily with stop-and-go traffic. Unless we work with the five other jurisdictions that road traverses, the problem will only worsen.
The same is true on State Bridge Road, which touches on Ga. 120 in Alpharetta and becomes Pleasant Hill in Gwinnett.
Without the proper coordination, our moving traffic more swiftly through Johns Creek will only get it to the next traffic jam faster. We need a regionally coordinated traffic plan, or we are all just spinning our wheels.
Like our Northside neighbors, Johns Creek believes in innovation. By working together with Sandy Springs and Dunwoody, we launched Chatcomm, a regional 911 service that has resulted in reduced response times in those municipalities.
When appropriate, Northside police and fire departments coordinate and pool resources.
Johns Creek shares significant borders with Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, including joint safety responsibilities along the Chattahoochee River. When a person needs to be rescued and the swift water team is called in, no one is checking residency.
Finally, a successful regional transit plan is imperative.
While a one-size solution will not suit each individual in metropolitan Atlanta, we all must realize the issue is collective. Citizens simply will not use public transportation until it becomes convenient, safe and cost effective.
Without a reasonable way to get more workers out of their cars and into some form of transit, we will continue to be the traffic capital of the South. Failure to act regionally on this issue has put a stranglehold on jobs growth.
While we continue to attract businesses, we could do far better if we could all come to the table and work together to hone and implement a coordinated solution.
Regionalism is essential. We should and must come together to solve great problems with even greater solutions.
Mike Bodker is mayor of Johns Creek.
By Catherine Ross
The Atlanta region is a crosscutting confluence of economic, social and environmental challenges and opportunities.
Depending upon how “region” is defined (that is, by the Environmental Protection Agency, Atlanta Regional Commission or U.S. Census Bureau), the area may contain as many as 28 counties, 140 municipal governments and 5.5 million residents.
This complexity, alongside the mounting fiscal crisis and increasing global competition, means we must rethink our governance structure if the region is to remain competitive.
Regionalism focuses on the mutual interests of geographic areas that may include multiple towns, cities, country subdivisions or subnational entities. The objective of regionalism is to increase the collective prosperity, influence and political power of not just one, but multiple locations.
Metro Atlanta contains multiple political jurisdictions and as such, is well-suited for a regional approach to governance. David Kocieniewski pointed out in The New York Times, “The crazy quilt of municipal governments that ring the metropolitan area (usually) grew for an assortment of personal, cultural, economic and political reasons, most having little to do with the best use of tax dollars or the reality of services.”
Political fragmentation has made it difficult, if not impossible, to address multi-jurisdictional economic development, service provision, infrastructure needs and finance. This is not uncommon in locations where a regional voice and institutional foundations are weak or nonexistent when considered more broadly.
In recent times, areas have responded to this fragmentation by creating inter-municipal cooperation or functional consolidation agreements. These regional pacts are often focused on the delivery of a specific service.
While these more restricted solutions have proven helpful, they often lack the ability to engender “broader multi-functional coordination.”
As such, regionalism is now being considered as an effective and evolving platform. It has the potential to achieve seamless transportation and greater connectivity between people, places and economic activity.
For metro Atlanta, this approach to regionalism is not only possible, it is desirable.
Catherine Ross is a professor at the School of City and Regional Planning, and deputy director of the National Center for Transportation Productivity and Management, at Georgia Tech.
By Field Searcy
The nice thing about local government is that citizen voters can control it. People know who their local city councilmen and county commissioners are because they live nearby, and they were elected. If citizens do not like local government decisions, they simple elect someone who will serve them better. Now, try asking your neighbor, “Who serves on the board of our Regional Commission?” and watch the puzzled look on their face. Most citizen voters are unaware who is serving in these positions of authority because the members are either appointed or don’t run for the position.
Regionalism as implemented in Georgia is an unelected and unaccountable form of government that dilutes the power people have over government decision-making. The U.S. Constitution guarantees each state a republican form of government, which means sovereignty rests with the people, and representatives are “chosen by the people.”
Regional governance lacks these checks and balances because regional commissions are in essence appointed by an operation of law. For example, 15 of the 38 members of the Atlanta Regional Commission are appointed citizen members who have absolutely no accountability to voters. Also, most of the elected officials on regional entities have no accountability to your county or city. You can’t control the actions of regional governments, because you can’t control most of the regional board members.
Many of the appointed members have their own agendas.
The rise of regionalism, like what we get from the Transportation Investment Act (TIA), comprises another layer of government between the local city-county and state government. This new layer of bureaucracy diminishes the local control and authority of city and county governments for self-government through “home rule” as provided for in the Georgia Constitution. Local control is further buttressed by the founders’ belief, “That government closest to the people governs best!”
Creating a regional tax base or regional equity is a form of central planning. The problems created in one county are paid for by taxpayers from another. The Georgia Constitution requires that state-level taxation be uniform and equal across the state. Citizens across the state will be furious when they discover their tax dollars — $8.6 million so far — are being used to subsidize bus fares for Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Xpress service that serves metro Atlanta commuters.
Regional cooperation is necessary, and flexible solutions need to be developed to allow counties to work together to solve problems of mutual interest. However, regional governance and taxation as implemented in Georgia means more bureaucracy, more taxes and less accountability. The majority of metro Atlantans and voters across the state said they don’t like regional power grabs or mandated regionalism. Regional taxation and governance needs to be repealed.
Field Searcy, a Cobb County resident, represents RepealRegionalism.com, an education campaign by the Transportation Leadership Coalition. The coalition led the grassroots effort against the Regional Transportation Tax (T-SPLOST) in 2012.