Editor’s Note: Sandy Springs Together periodically publishes letters or comments from community members who raise a concern we feel should be considered by the broader community.
By Mary Baron
“Until we have responsive government close to home that is accountable to us, it is not representative government.” ~ Eva Galambos, The Atlanta Constitution, February 17, 2005
The movement for Sandy Springs’ cityhood was fueled by a sense that the representatives of the Fulton County Commission were not being responsive or accountable to the Sandy Springs residents. Sandy Springs residents were also paying more in taxes than they were receiving in dollar value for services.
Residents felt ignored and were frustrated by zoning decisions, haphazard development, and perceived corruption by Fulton County Commissioners. Many activists, like Eva Galambos, fervently believed that local control was the remedy and fought persistently for several decades to achieve the goal of incorporating Sandy Springs into its own city with a governing body closer to home.
Government that is close to home CAN be held accountable, but ONLY if it’s easier for us, as citizens, to see what our local government is doing.
Georgia State law sets the standards for the transparency of city councils. There are rules regarding open and public meetings, the advance notice of agendas and the publication of minutes.
However, it’s not enough to just live up to the letter of the law. Government transparency requires a true commitment to informing and involving the public.
There is more that could be done to achieve meaningful transparency in Sandy Springs.
In July and October of 2018, the Sandy Springs North End Revitalization Task Force, made up of appointed members by Mayor Paul, held two public events purported to gather input from the community about revitalizing the north end of Sandy Springs.
Attendees were asked at the first meeting to brainstorm ideas for their vision of the north end, and at the second meeting, were asked to express their preferences by placing stickers on posters with proposals gleaned from the prior meeting.
There were no opportunities to ask questions at either meeting. When several people raised their hands or stood to be heard at the second meeting, they were told, “this is not the appropriate forum for asking questions” and that the agenda for the meeting did not include time for questions.
The final Task Force plan was completed and presented to the city council in January of 2019. Since then, there have not been any town halls explaining the contents of the plan, nor any opportunities to allow citizens to weigh in on the final recommendations.
It’s imperative that the city hold town hall meetings where decisions can be explained, and citizens are given ample time to ask questions. Public meetings CAN and SHOULD be a genuine two-way dialogue.