To all of us deliberating the merits of a city of Brookhaven, consider this:
- A city council with the power to enact ordinances without public notice, to regulate land use and zoning, levy business taxes and fees, condemn property, and issue bonds.
- A Brookhaven Convention and Visitors Bureau "to promote tourism, conventions and trade shows."
- A committee already researching marketing and branding, the power of which is promised to lead to higher property values and larger revenue streams for the city.
The proposed city charter grants the city council enormous power, easily wielded, with little oversight. I understand the desire for local control of tax money, but by voting "yes" to cityhood, you will grant the city council the power to regulate just about every aspect of your property and the property around you.
In essence, the new city council can enact city ordinances and zoning regulations that will make our streets look like neighborhoods with restrictive covenants, backed up by a local police force.
Just ask anyone in Avondale, which regulates where you put your garbage can.
At least Avondale requires its council to post hearing notices on its website at least 48 hours beforehand. The Brookhaven charter requires monthly council meetings at a given time and place, but the council can recess and continue its meeting later, and the public notice requirements are not spelled out.
While the model municipal code requires 48 hours' notice to the mayor and councilmembers for special meetings, the Brookhaven charter requires only 24 hours' notice. The model code explicitly provides that all council meeting are public to the extent required by law and a state statute requires that notice to the public of special meetings must be posted at the regular meeting place and provided to the legal newspaper of record 24 hours beforehand, but the Brookhaven charter does not describe the required notice.
How would you feel about living under a new set of city laws that you don't see until after it passes? Avondale requires that proposed ordinances be published at least once in the city newspaper of public record, and the model code prohibits the passage of an ordinance the same day it is introduced, unless it is an emergency ordinance, which lapses in 30 days.
While the Brookhaven charter requires that the title of proposed ordinances be read at two city council meetings before it can be adopted, that requirement is waived for ordinances introduced at the first meeting of the first city council, during the first 90 days of the new city, and at the council's first business meeting in each calendar year, exceptions I found nowhere in the model code.
So the council can adopt a comprehensive set of municipal ordinances immediately, without any public review, and do it again every year.
Do not think that you can wait until the new city begins to speak up about its course of action. If the referendum passes, the governor will appoint a commission of five residents, which will conduct a training seminar for all qualified candidates before the general election. The commission will also present a written report to the new mayor and city council on candidates for city manager, city attorney, city clerk, and city accountant, a plan to privatize as many city services as practicable, and locations and pricing of leased city office facilities.
The leadership of BrookhavenYES has questioned who the people are who oppose the new city, as if the motives of people against the city are questionable. NoCityBrookhaven is a grass-roots organization of folks who support the presentation of an opposing viewpoint.
I'm a lawyer, too, but I'm not a politician, just a civil servant working for the state judiciary. My family has lived in our modest house on Drew Valley for my entire adult life, which is more than 30 years. I live on a quiet street. I like my neighbors and I don't want my property values to go up because I'm not planning to cash out and move. While I agree that county management needs improvement, I don't care that my property taxes might be $10 or $20 more in the county than the city, or even that some of my taxes go to less-developed areas of the county.
My family contributed to NoCityBrookhaven because we know and trust our neighbors who belong, and we have identified ourselves by putting up yard signs. I also spoke publicly about the legislation at the House committee. There's nothing underhanded about not putting our names online, which I generally avoid due to safety concerns. With the flame wars erupting out there, I don't want to debate the issues online either.
The insinuation that those opposing cityhood have unsavory ulterior motives and are aligned with bad old DeKalb County is a stretch, although I would hope our county commissioners and CEO support the county.
Those issues are red herrings anyway. They have nothing to do with whether voting yes and adopting this city charter is a good thing or a bad thing. Don't get bogged down in debating budget details that are subject to change; look at the charter. Figure out how this new city will operate, and decide whether you are willing to trust that whoever is already lined up to run for office will market Brand Brookhaven the way you think they should.