Where does this New City movement stop? With a new City of Mike, when every person is their own munici-personality divorced from DeKalb County?
No taxation without representation
Such was the battle cry of colonists resentful of a distant and arbitrary King and Parliament unresponsive to their happiness pursuits. The shot heard round the world at Lexington and Concord launched an American revolution in self government largely defined by state and local control of most affairs with a federal government limited to defense, foreign affairs, and regulation of a national currency and interstate commerce. The 20th Century has seen an explosion of federal power concentrated in Washington, D.C., but We the People still rightly crave a more responsive government closer to home.
Before the massive growth of the national government, Georgia enshrined responsive local government by carving up the Peach State into 159 counties with none being so large geographically that a citizen couldn’t travel to the county seat and back in one day in the sunshine, with the median size being Murray County at 346.9 square miles. DeKalb County, at 270.9 sq.mi. ranks 113th in size. Georgia has no county larger than 906 sq. mi. By contrast, nine of neighboring South Carolina’s 46 counties are more than 1000 square miles.
Clearly, Georgia has a head start when it comes to responsive local government before one even considers adding a municipal layer of government on top of its compact county governments. Of course, cities naturally developed over time, here in DeKalb, as elsewhere, but the geographic fact of a relatively small county remains. The population has exploded in Metro Atlanta and the needs of certain sections of the the county have fluctuated over time. At times in the past, South DeKalb has been a net taxpayer supporting North DeKalb.
Of late, the opposite is true, but no matter how the Dunwoodys and Sandy Springs of the world try, they can’t wall off an even smaller geographic area within DeKalb and escape the facts on the ground in the county outside their municipalities. Even if you produced another Garden of Eden government with new city boundaries, one will be traveling for work, business and play into that scary non-new city world that less of their tax money supports.
A conservative case against the New City Movement
Enter, the new City of Brookhaven Movement that lately conceded that the tax trade-offs may be only “a wash”. But not to worry, the “quality” of police and fire services will make it all worthwhile? Missing is any persuasive evidence that police and fire response times are inadequate. What is clear is that conservatives, of which this writer is one, have not made the case for their own election to direct county government and that some self-described conservatives desire to add a layer of government in a county already suffering a dearth of unincorporated areas ripe for economic development.
Is it conservative to desire smaller government very close to home? Yes, but at what point does the slicing up of a population become more about walling oneself off from ones inevitably interdependent neighbors, rather than more efficient and responsive government? I think DeKalb County long ago reached that point. If you want to escape Metro Atlanta’s problems, you will not do so unless you move away from Metro Atlanta. Do Brookhaven Yesites think their quality of life is going to get better with a wash on taxes that may improve sidewalks marginally, while the rest of the county they travel through has less to do more?
And if Brookhaven Yes carries the day later this month, will the new Powers that Be in a City of Brookhaven be receptive to new cites being formed in their midst? If not, why not? Does any principle of conservative self government obtain, or will a new city merely be a plaything for those elected and hired with taxpayer money?
DeKalb County needs all of its citizens to support the county and work to improve the quality of life for all. Diving up an already small area is not the answer. Holding DeKalb County’s elected officials accountable in contested elections is the answer in our conservative opinion.
[Originally published in the Times News (Atlanta, Georgia)]
“One man with courage makes a majority.” – Andrew Jackson
Atlanta Law & Politics columnist – Examiner.com
Charlotte Observer and Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-eds archived at Townhall.com.