Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Brookhaven: Learn from Dunwoody

Brookhaven is well along in fulfilling its destiny as the next city to incorporate in DeKalb and there is much to be learned from its slightly older sister to the north.

First, it is inevitable, don't fight it. You don't have to blindly embrace it, but fighting will be like swimming in quicksand, but with a peanut gallery rooting for the sand. In the end you're going down and all you will succeed in accomplishing is adding your name to the list that includes "Shrill Jill" and "Farmer Bob". But again, you don't have to just sit in the corner, eat your cookies and drink your milk. You can think. You can analyze. And...if you are very careful, you can criticize.

Your CVI study is complete. In terms of content this is relatively insignificant, but as a milestone it means that the dominant power structure is in place. Just check out the assumptions underpinning the foregone conclusion that "shows Brookhaven would be viable". Then pull that string. Who insisted on these assumptions? Is it the same group that paid for the study? Just who are these people--not a group--real, flesh and blood, money makin', power-hungry people? Who the hell are they? They need to be outed. Early.

These are the folks who will run your city for the first few to several years. And they will run it to their benefit, not the benefit of the Citizens of Brookhaven (see, now doesn't that just sound right?). They will be pulling the strings of council and mayor, but even before, it is these, the few, the empowered, that will draft your ordinances, set the rules that dominate your life, and unlike the benign neglect of DeKalb, these folks will see to it that you toe the line. Or else. If you're in a HOA and hate it, think of this as a HOA on steroids, with the power to tax, condemn, and compel with an armed force. If you're in a HOA and just love it, then you're probably one of the assholes that will be running the city anyway.

When it comes time to vote, not for the referendum--that will be rigged, but for mayor and council, you might want to pretend it is the second or third election, not the first. By the time you get to the third election you will have become thoroughly disillusioned with all the pompous asses that promote themselves as having been some kind of great contributor to the cityhood movement or who played patty-fingers with other power-hungry frat boys in one of the unavoidable string of "non-profits" that foisted this city upon you. Those are the people you'll certainly vote against then. Cut to the chase. Vote against them now.

And you might just want to look at the financials. See, the proponents of cityhood are gonna tell you how "we can have the same or better services for even less money". Maybe. And they love to point out the elimination of the bifurcated "Special Services Tax District" which covers two of the much ballyhooed "3-P's" of new DeKalb Cities: Police and Parks. Fact is, these have to be paid for, and you will have your own overhead to cover down at the newly minted city hall. Expect "parks bonds" to be floated within three years of incorporation. Expect a police force that is twice as large as you will be sold on pre-referendum and a never-ending stream of budget increases backed by little more than flag waving.

As you dig down into the revenue side you'll see a big chunk o' cash: franchise fees. Turns out the county gets virtually none of this money as it is not incorporated but your newly incorporated Brookhaven will, so any financial comparison that ignores this disparity is intellectually bankrupt. Now much of this money comes from folks in unincorporated areas of the state, including yourselves at this point, but it largely/only goes to cities. Some folks, often those in unincorporated areas, find this morally reprehensible. But, as has been pointed out by leaders in Dunwoody, this money is necessary to support the city, and in your case it helps eliminate that SSTD assessment. So it's OK, right? After all, you've been on the downside of this great moral divide and now it is your turn to reap the rewards. This is how "situation ethics" works. All you need to bring to the table is a very flexible moral spine and an equally firm sense of self righteousness.

But wait! There's more!

You're gonna start this city, so you're gonna need "City Services". One thing Dunwoody did right (really, you finally read it here) was to ignore the siren song of the "Shills for CH2M Hill" who were advocates of Whole Hog "P Three Uh Oh", otherwise known as "privatization". Clearly many services should not add head count to the city payroll with its generous benefit package--and yes, you will find one of the first things enacted will be generous benefits. If you have a janitor, electrician, HVAC tech, mechanic, or even an IT guy, on city payroll then you're an idiot. By the same token, you'll probably NOT want to contract for police services. But there is much grey in between. Fortunately there is a simple rule to follow in deciding whether to outsource or not: if you can envision requesting information under the Open Records Act, then you want that function in-house. Otherwise, you're screwed. Well, you're probably screwed anyway, but if they can throw up the "sorry, private business information" roadblock, then you're screwed, glued and tattooed.

And finally, don't let your guard down. You're gonna have yet another set of politicians that require constant watching and frequent changing. Buck up. You gotta do both every chance you get.