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Putting Cities and GMA "In Play"

June 26, 2016  |  Boyd Austin, GMA President
Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin addresses city officials after being sworn in as president of GMA.

The following is Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin's prepared remarks after being sworn in as GMA President during GMA's 2016 Annual Convention. 

Thank you very much.
 
It is an honor to stand before you today as President of the Georgia Municipal Association.
 
It goes without saying that I follow a great legacy of leadership that goes back to GMA’s founding decades ago.
 
Our outgoing President and Johns Creek Mayor, Mike Bodker, has been an inspiration to all of us. Mike hit the ground running as the first mayor of a new city ten years ago, and has been committed to moving GMA and Georgia’s cities forward ever since. Thank you, Mike.
 
I’d also like to recognize our active past GMA presidents: Newnan Mayor Keith Brady, Vienna Mayor Pro-Tem Beth English, Metter Mayor Billy Trapnell, Columbus Councilor Evelyn Turner Pugh, Kingsland Mayor Ken Smith, Moultrie Mayor Bill McIntosh, and Vienna Mayor Hobby Stripling.
 
Each is a great advocate for their city, as well as a great supporter of our association. I’m here today because of what they’ve done to build and strengthen GMA, and I appreciate their leadership, counsel, encouragement and, most of all, their friendship.
 
These men and women deserve our utmost respect, and as President, I intend to honor them, and use their institutional knowledge to move the Association forward. They will be an integral part of my presidency.
 
If you’ve spent any time with me, you know that I’m a staunch defender of home rule. Home rule is the collective expression of the basic freedom of self-determination. For me, being elected president of the premiere home rule organization in Georgia is truly a great honor and privilege.
 
Again, thank you for this opportunity.
 
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I began attending GMA’s Annual Convention when I became mayor of Dallas twenty years ago. It’s something I look forward to each year. I hope you do as well.
 
I enjoy all aspects of the convention, but, most importantly, the opportunity to spend time and engage with you, my fellow officials and friends from across the state. I learn as much from you as I do in the sessions and classes.
 
And this year, when I began to think about what I would say, I had to look no further than the theme of this year’s convention for inspiration. 
 
Cities in Play.
 
Those three words provide a point of reference and foundation for my remarks relating to the collective experience, needs, and aspirations we share as city officials.
 
While the recreation, parks and community building aspect of this year’s theme is clear, if we take a step closer, and peer over into the well, we see that it goes much deeper than that.
 
As local officials our job is simple … it is to lead.
 
Whether we are loud or quiet, high-energy or laid-back, pragmatic or idealistic, in the weeds or at 30,000 feet, our job is to get our ideas into play.
 
If we’re not doing that, we aren’t leading.
 
Leadership, when boiled down to its most essential element, is action; it requires us to set a direction, build a vision and create something new.
 
And that’s exactly what the founders of GMA demonstrated when they came together to form this association 83 years ago.
 
In the face of efforts to limit cities’ ability to raise revenues to fund local priorities, and to severely limit home rule, officials from 35 cities banded together to ward off a legislative attempt to limit local decision-making. Imagine that!
 
Eighty-three years ago, those individuals made a decision to act … they made a decision to lead. And in doing so, they put cities and GMA in play.
 
More importantly, they created a foundation that allows cities, and GMA, to remain in play today and to work together to address the challenges and opportunities that face our communities and our state.
 
It’s a powerful legacy, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
 
There’s a catch, of course, with all of this.
 
For us to fully take advantage of this legacy, we must be willing to take action ourselves, just as those city officials did in 1933.
 
You see, being a member of GMA is not a passive endeavor.
 
There are three actions I have in mind as we look to our collective future.
 
Action #1.
 
It must be a priority for us, as an association, to actively, and purposely, engage and nurture our future leaders.  Every two years, between 400 and 500 new city officials come into office with new ideas, experiences and points of view.
 
This turnover in our membership is a strength, but we must be open-minded and embrace it. The diversity of opinion and experiences of local officials in this room has made us who we are today, and if we allow it, will ensure our success in the future.
 
As new officials take office, lift them up and encourage them to take advantage of what GMA can offer them through training, district meetings, workshops, participation in the policy committees and attendance at Mayors Day and the Annual Convention. 

Offer your expertise, mentor new officials, help them to understand that there are solutions to their problems that have already been forged, and are available to them.
 
Action #2.
 
I firmly believe that city officials need to take advantage of all the services and learning opportunities GMA has to offer. Too often, the problems we see in cities are the result of local officials who misunderstand their roles, and refuse to accept our assistance or advice.
 
GMA can help. GMA wants to help. I ask you today to let your association do so.
 
GMA’s services are designed to make cities stronger, more efficient, more effective, and more knowledgeable.
 
The insurance programs protect your property, your reputation and your employees, while GMA’s retirement offerings provide long-term financial security for your employees.
 
These are programs owned by cities, and operated by city officials.  By particpating in them, you are truly “buying local”--you are investing in your city.
 
No vendor, consultant, or service provider cares about the success of your city as much as GMA and its staff does. Take advantage of it.
 
We’ve all heard the adage that “learning is a lifelong process.”  This applies to our personal and professional lives, and particularly, our role in our cities.  Time marches on, things change, and we must evolve with the times.
 
I encourage each of you to pursue the educational opportunities afforded by GMA, and our partner, the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.  No matter how long you may have served, there is always something new to learn that will make you a better official, and will strengthen your city.
 
Training should be a prerequisite for leadership positions within the Association, and with the help of our officers and the Nominating Committee it will be considered.
 
This year, after 20 years of service, I participated in the John Knox Leadership Institute.  I went in thinking it was a requirement for my next certification, and that I would muddle through it.  Well, I was wrong. 
 
Those 3½ days were eye-opening and transformational for me, and I think that is a common sentiment of all Leadership Institute graduates. It gave me new insight, and introduced me to new friends that I may have never known, otherwise. 
 
At the conclusion, I stated that I wished I taken it earlier in my career, but I was glad that I hadn’t, because I would have missed out on getting to know this group of leaders—many of whom will lead this organization in the future.
 
Take advantage of every opportunity you have for training, and make it a priority in your city budget.  It’s a lot less expensive than attorney’s fees.  Look at your training transcripts, and take refresher courses to remain up-to-date on the subjects.
 
The benefit to taking advantage of our services and training is simple, the stronger you are, the stronger your city will be, and the stronger GMA will be.
 
Finally, Action #3.
 
Continue to work with GMA to promote and protect home rule and local control!
 
GMA was founded upon advocacy, and it remains the association’s core function. We have a dedicated and highly competent staff working on our behalf, but they need … they want … they deserve … our help.
 
Due to the nature of the legislative process, GMA is frequently viewed as an opponent to proposals, rather than supporting them. It’s unfortunate that we have to oppose legislation, but as you know, there are plenty of ill-informed legislators, proposing ill-informed legislation that we have no choice but to oppose.
 
And, rest assured that we will continue to vigorously oppose any legislation that infringes on home rule, or diminishes the ability of Georgia’s cities to meet the needs of its residents.
 
More than 75% of the members of the General Assembly are newcomers—having served 6 years or less.  And, very few have served at any level of local government prior to being elected to the legislature.  So, they have no experience, and very little knowledge of, the operation of local government. 
 
GMA needs you and city officials across the state to educate your legislators on what your city does, the challenges it faces, and what it needs to succeed.
 
Remind them that GMA is a member-run organization, and that our staff is carrying out the directives formulated by the members.  When the staff presents GMA’s position, it represents the position of all of our member cities. 
 
GMA’s Hometown Connection program is the keystone to this effort. We’ve seen good things come from this initiative over the last few years, and the number needs to grow.  Please make the commitment to hold a Hometown Connection, and be sure to include GMA staff.
 
Make a commitment today to proactively support GMA’s efforts to represent Georgia’s cities in Atlanta and in Washington D.C.  I am GMA! 
 
Let your legislators and policymakers know that you are GMA, and that we speak with one voice for cities, large and small.  Let’s all try that:  “I AM GMA!”
 

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From investing in, and building, the gas, electric and water/sewer infrastructure that helped propel the state into the 21st Century,--to policing our streets, providing affordable housing, building and financing our parks and recreation facilities, and planning for the future, cities are an integral component of Georgia’s economic success, and exceptional quality-of-life. 
 
But our past success does not lessen the challenges we face going forward.
 
When GMA was founded in 1933, Eugene Talmadge was the Governor of Georgia. He was a tenacious fighter for his causes, and sometimes used extraordinary or innovative means to achieve his goals. 
 
Well, in the Gene Talmadge spirit, I will continue to fight for GMA and Georgia’s cities with vigor and purpose.  And, I may employ unconventional means, yet, like the Wild Man from Sugar Creek, “I may surprise you, but I shall not deceive you!”
 
Water ... transportation ... water/sewer infrastructure ... continued growth ... protection of our natural resources ...  quality education ... poverty ... economic development ... these are the issues that will require our attention at home, and a commitment to work together through GMA at the state and federal level.
 
We must not hesitate to keep both ourselves, and our cities in play, and to do what is necessary to find solutions to our most vexing challenges. It's in our heritage. It's in our DNA. 
 
I look forward over the next 12 months to share that belief with all that will listen. My hope is that you will join me in that effort.
 
Thank you for the confidence you have placed in me. 

God bless you, GMA, our state, and the United States of America.
 

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