ON THE RECORD/Atlanta suburb makes its cityhood debut
On June 21, 2005, 94 percent of voters in Sandy Springs, Ga., a suburb with nearly 86,000 residents located just north of Atlanta, approved a referendum to separate from Fulton County to become its own city. And, on Nov. 8, Eva Galambos, the “mother of Sandy Springs” who has fought for incorporation for 30 years, was elected as the city’s first mayor. American City & County talked with Galambos about her goals for metro Atlanta’s newest city, the decision to privatize most of the city’s workforce and her decades-long fight for cityhood.
Q: Why was it necessary to separate from Fulton County?
A: We did not have an accountable, responsive government. We were sending many, many millions of dollars that we were getting no return on. We understood that some of [those taxes were] justified, but when it came to police protection, other parts of Fulton County were getting twice the police protection we were.
Q: What are the benefits of privatizing city services, and do you anticipate encountering any problems?
A: We looked at how much it would cost to provide some of these functions in-house and then we looked at the bid that we received from private enterprise, and we feel we’re coming out ahead by letting the private sector do it. I’m sure that there occasionally will be disagreements, but we are entering into this arrangement with a desire to make it work. We’re going to evaluate how our contract works out, and we don’t envision any changes unless we feel that they’re needed.
Q: How will you measure the success of the privatization?
A: We will have output measures in terms of how many potholes did you fix, how many inspections did you do. Whatever you measure in government, we are going to measure. The ultimate test, of course, is going to be the electorate. If four years from now, the people feel this privatization didn’t work, they’re going to get a new set of council members and mayor. It’s the electorate that will decide.
Q: How has your background in finance and economics prepared you for your new position?
A: It’s the best possible preparation because I’m very much attuned to the fact that our revenues have to at least exceed our expenditures. I understand government revenues, I understand budgeting and I understand how you try to get the most for the buck. This is the language I’m familiar with, and I’m going to be watching from day one.
Q: Is there a plan in case the city does not have the expected surplus?
A: We fully expect it to happen. We do not have a plan in place for it not to happen. We’ve done very, very careful projections. We’ve done them three times in a row with the assistance of the Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, and there’s been no disagreement about what our revenues are going to be. We know what the price is of our contract. It’s a fixed price contract with the company. The only other numbers to plug in are going to be the fire, police and 911, and we have a pretty good idea of what they will be.
Q: What are your goals for the city?
A: One of the major goals is to improve Roswell Road. It’s an old strip, full of shopping centers, deteriorating apartment projects and the most antiquated bridge over I-285. We’re going to try to get some redevelopment by allowing incentives including mixed use. We’re going to put in a thorough inspection program for apartments, and they’re going to have to live up to the building codes.