News - Incorporate aspirations

Sandy Springers long for what Atlantans already have

As I watched the folks in Atlanta proper knock on doors, put up yard signs and pin on campaign buttons for the mayoral and City Council races, it occurred to me that another group of people, just as deserving of representation for their tax dollars, didn't enjoy the same privilege.

Their roadsides were not festooned with political paraphernalia. They heard no empty promises, nor did they see the usual parade of empty suits. They had no candidates, no campaigns, no votes.

There are nearly 86,000 of us — the people of Sandy Springs, your humble columnist among them. After almost 30 years of struggling for cityhood, we remain unincorporated because Atlanta legislators, at the behest of myopic city leaders, have repeatedly frustrated the idea. The reason usually given for blocking Sandy Springs' incorporation is that, in a metro area sprawling across 20 counties and hundreds of other jurisdictions, the last thing we need is another government.

But if efficiency is our chief aim, I have a better suggestion: Let's just flat-out abolish the city of Atlanta. Nothing would strike a stronger blow for better government that getting rid of that bloated rat's nest of socialist incompetence, which is now poised for bankruptcy. Indeed, the alarming excesses and deficiencies of Atlanta government prompted north Fulton legislators several years ago to push through a law precluding the city from annexing even an inch of Sandy Springs. Ever.

But, of course, as bad as it is, Atlanta's government does provide a vehicle by which residents drawn together by shared history and common interests can govern themselves at a level close to them. We in Sandy Springs don't begrudge them that — it's exactly what we want.

I suspect that if Atlantans were at the tender mercies of the Fulton County Commission to provide services and govern zoning, they, too, would be crying out for local control. Just imagine the hullabaloo Billy McKinney and Emma Darnell would raise if elected officials from Ocee or Birmingham or even Sandy Springs were casting deciding votes on the allowable density for apartment developments in the West End or Niskey Lake.

We're used to it. Of the seven people who sit on the Fulton County Commission, not a single one lives in Sandy Springs. The Kosovars had more say in Serbia.

The main reason the city of Sandy Springs remains a mirage is because, like virtually everything else that touches Atlanta politics, the issue has become hopelessly entwined with race. Sandy Springers have been caricatured as a pack of lily-white Republican suburbanites seeking to escape the control of a black Democratic majority and hide behind the manicured laws in their cul-de-sacs. City political orthodoxy decrees that we mustn't get away with this.

But the recent U.S. census offers a new twist in this debate. It found that of the 85,781 people living in Sandy Springs (defined as all of unincorporated Fulton County between the Chattahoochee River and Atlanta), nearly 13 percent are black and 10 percent are Hispanic. That Hispanic percentage is more than twice as high as it is in the city of Atlanta.

So, if Sandy Springs were incorporated, it would not only be the second-largest city in metro Atlanta and among the 10 largest in Georgia, it also would be among the most diverse. We might even, God forbid, elect some Democrats.

And there's another new twist: Property owners in a swath of unincorporated territory in northwest Fulton are pushing for annexation into Alpharetta. If successful, Alpharetta and Roswell will have absorbed most of the land north of the river. Thus, if Sandy Springs became a city, Fulton County could get out of the business of providing municipal-style services for urbanized areas — something it has traditionally done spectacularly poorly and at great expense. The cities in north Fulton could, individually or collectively, take over providing such things as police and fire protection, zoning, roads, parks, and water and sewer service.

Sandy Springs' incorporation presents an opportunity for county government — but it's an opportunity that will never be realized if Atlanta city leaders continue their knee-jerk opposition. Let's hope the new generation poised to take power after this election will be more thoughtful, fair and small "d" democratic. After all, we only want what you already have.

Richard Shumate is a writer and Internet consultant living in Sandy Springs.??

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