City Officials Need to Stand Up for Local Control

Billy Trapnell, GMA President

April 3, 2012

Billy Trapnell

Billy Trapnell

I hope you paid close attention to the legislative session this year. If you kept up with the weekly updates from GMA you would have noticed an all too familiar theme in many of the bills reported on … the preemption of local government authority.

Over the last few years GMA has had to spend an inordinate about of time fighting legislation that would impose state level solutions to strictly local issues. This is a significant problem that promotes a “one-size-fits-all” mentality which limits your ability as a local official to address the needs of your city based on local circumstances, now and in the future.

This year GMA had to work to protect the ability of cities to implement local zoning requirements that address resident and business needs. GMA fought for the ability of cities to decide for themselves if guns and other weapons could be brought into their own buildings. Local pawnshop ordinances had to be protected as well as the ability of cities to implement metal theft ordinances, both of which have been effective in assisting local law enforcement across the state. And the association’s resources were spent fighting efforts to severely limit the ability of cities to invest in local broadband networks when those investments are wanted by local businesses and residents.

It’s ironic that legislation is introduced each year to limit the ability of cities to manage their affairs when, in fact, cities are seen by many Georgia citizens as the answer to more effective and responsive government. Six new cities have been created over the last few years and the creation of a seventh, Brookhaven in DeKalb County, will be voted on later this year. The unfortunate truth is that the ideal of local control is easily pushed to the side when it conflicts with an individual legislator’s personal preferences, or those of special interest groups.

We have a fundamental question before us; how do we counteract or even better, end, this annual referendum on “local control” played out under the Gold Dome?

First, I believe we must continue to articulate to our state leaders the vision we each have for our cities. I believe it is a future characterized by good access to jobs, vibrant downtowns, recreational and cultural opportunities and safe streets.

Cities are vital to the state’s economy and there is a clear link between healthy and vibrant cities and healthy and vibrant businesses. The concentration of activity, leadership, creativity and infrastructure in our cities should be nurtured and lifted up, not restricted.

Second, we should respectively challenge any assumptions that local leaders are not in the best position to know and understand the needs of their communities and to make the day-to-day and year-to-year decisions to see our visions come true.

Finally, while we understand and value the role of the state in creating broad parameters for local governments to work within, we must continue to forcefully advocate for a system of rules and regulations that looks to the future and builds communities up. It should not constrain or micro-manage local government day-to-day operations.

What local governments and the state can do together is what’s important. We can’t afford to play a political game of winners and losers, but should rather seek to lift high our common purpose, making Georgia and its communities a place we all would be proud to call home.