This was originally published in the June 2015 edition of Georgia's Cities.
After more than 20 years in office, I’ve learned that being a leader isn’t about power or the attention that comes with being elected to political office. It’s much more pragmatic than that. As civic leadership expert Otis White recently wrote, “A leader is someone who helps people get where they want to go ... by seeing the opportunity for getting there.” If we look through that lens, I believe GMA exemplifies that type of leadership.
Take for example the debate during the 2015 Legislative Session about how to fund Georgia’s transportation needs. Before the General Assembly met in January, GMA was the first to speak-up for the need to protect local revenue streams. City officials did not hesitate to advocate not only for the needs of cities, but for the needs of our schools and counties too.
More importantly, we weren’t simply the group that said “no” in response to the initial proposal that would have resulted in the loss of $500 million per year in local revenue. Rather, we worked collaboratively through a very contentious process with members of the General Assembly, and other organizations, to help craft a solution that got them, and us, to where we needed to be. I’m proud of the role GMA played in this important policy debate.
As we turn from assessing the past, a significant challenge we face is how cities and counties will share Local Options Sales Taxes (LOST) in the future.
Although the next round of LOST negotiations isn’t for another seven years, the General Assembly last year asked GMA and ACCG to find common ground on changes to the LOST law. Our two organizations created a LOST Task Force to do that and it has met on numerous occasions over the last year. Although the group has considered a proposal drafted jointly by two members of the task force, a city manager and a county manager, agreement has not yet been reached.
It is very important that we find common ground on this issue, as elusive as it may be. If we are unable to come to an agreement, the General Assembly will take it upon itself to make changes to Georgia’s LOST law that both cities and counties will likely be unhappy with.
We have time to find a mutually beneficial solution on this issue. It will take, however, the type of leadership that requires, as Otis White explains, “a saintly patience with people -- but a patience that's bounded by the resolve to do something meaningful.” If we were able to be part of the transportation funding solution, we can be part of the solution with LOST.
When I became president of GMA last year, I spoke of the need to reflect on whether our actions align with our aspirations. But before we do that, however, we must make sure our aspirations are focused on the right thing … getting us all to a place where we want and need to go. That’s the legacy of leadership I intend to leave behind and I hope it is for all local officials across the state too.