Bridging the Distance

Lamar Norton, GMA Executive Director

August 6, 2012

Lamar Norton

Lamar Norton

There are 248 miles between the city halls in Atlanta and Savannah. Along with distance, there are other factors that separate these two cities: There’s the climate, the history, culture, the flora and fauna. But what connects Savannah to Atlanta is stronger than any differences.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed showed that when he went to bat for the city of Savannah on the issue of deepening the Savannah River to allow for larger barge traffic. For years, Mayor Edna Jackson and other city leaders there and all along the coast have made the case for deepening the port. Mayor Reed, hundreds of miles from Savannah and the port, saw the value of their argument and went to Washington, D.C., to add his support. Last month, the Obama administration announced it was placing the dredging of the Port of Savannah on a funding fast track, thanks, in no small part, to Mayor Reed opening the doors in Washington to Georgia’s Republican state leaders.

Why would Mayor Reed do such a thing? Because he recognizes the economic value to his city and the state if the river is opened to more traffic and was willing to use his own political capital and influence to make that happen.

He’s not the only mayor going to bat for the greater communities beyond a city’s borders. Boyd Austin, mayor of Dallas, which is 32 miles and more than 400,000 souls apart from the capital city of Atlanta, has made ensuring that the Atlanta metropolitan region properly manages the precious water resources it relies on in his role as chairman of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District. Why? He serves in this role because the region shares a common goal of managing water for itself and its downstream neighbors. And, Mayor Austin is not alone - mayors around the state have served ably on regional water planning councils for the betterment of their communities and the state.

At the time we went to press with this issue, the decision on the transportation infrastructure sales tax had not yet been decided. No matter the decision voters make around the state, though, we have proven that local leaders can come together and make decisions for the greater good.

This is a huge achievement. Conventional wisdom said that city and county leaders couldn’t put aside their own self-interests to find common ground. But not only did they do so, in the majority of regions, the vote by the transportation roundtable on the projects was unanimous.

We’ve seen greater connectivity between cities and counties – not necessarily in terms of transportation, but as it relates to communication. City leaders are talking to each other more than ever; county officials are often part of those conversations. There is a greater sense of “we’re in this together,” than there is “every man for himself.” No matter the vote on the referendums, we’ve achieved victory. We’ve shown that local leaders are not bound by city limits or county lines when it comes to the greater good for our state. That’s a win any way you look at it.