New challenges ahead as Brookhaven gets off the ground
The Brookhaven community split on the question of creating a city, with the final tally registering 55 percent in favor to 45 percent against incorporation.
After months of campaign and controversy, the people of Brookhaven voted to incorporate a city.
So what happens now?
Just in time to clear out all those “Brookhaven Yes” and “No City Brookhaven” signs, a new set of campaigns will begin for the young city’s mayor and City Council.
Qualifying for the Nov. 6 election is Aug. 13-15 at the DeKalb County office of Registration and Elections.
J. Max Davis, president of Brookhaven Yes, a group that campaigned for creation of the city, has announced his intention to run for mayor.
Davis said he wanted to run for mayor to follow through with the Brookhaven Yes vision to implement better services, lower taxes and more accountable, local representation.
“It’s not going to be about ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ It’s going to be about who voters trust to provide the best leadership when it comes to forming a city and delivering on promises this charter and this model put out there,” Davis said.
Passionate voters make their support known at the Cross Keys precinct on July 31.
Jim Eyre, an Ashford Park resident and vocal opponent of the city, said the real work will be to reunite a community that split 55-45 percent when voting on whether to form the city.
“The city’s the new reality,” Eyre said. “It’s time to hunker down and see what we can make of it with the vote nearly split. We’ve got some things to do to bring the community together and I think that’s possible. Now I think it’s time to work for everybody.”
Eyre said he too is considering a run for office, but hasn’t made a decision.
“I’ve got to sit down and figure out which direction I’m going,” Eyre said. “We’ve got to figure out how we need to shape this thing and move it forward for everybody’s best interest.”
According to Brookhaven’s charter, the next step is for Gov. Nathan Deal to appoint a five-member commission to oversee the new city until the mayor and council members are elected in November.
The charter states that there must be at least one member from each of the four council districts and that none of the members may seek elected office.
Stephanie Mayfield, a spokeswoman for Deal, said the governor has yet to select the members of the commission, but he has until Sept. 1 to do so.
DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, who represents a majority of the new city, said once the governor’s commission is in place, members will work out an agreement with the county to deliver services to the city while it is in the start-up phase.
“They have the prerogative to ask the county to maintain an existing level of service or a different level of service over the transition period,” Rader said. “That will affect the degree to which the county has to change its deployment of services in Brookhaven.”
Eugenie Viener spells out her views in front of Brookhaven Christian Church.
DeKalb County’s budget is expected to take a major hit as a result of Brookhaven’s incorporation. But Rader said the true impact of Brookhaven will not be clear until after that agreement is worked out.
Rader said the important thing is that the governor’s commission notifies the county when services are no longer needed in Brookhaven so the county does not have to spend money duplicating services.
“The transition period is a very important period because if the city moves too quickly, they may not be prepared. On the other hand, the county also has to be prepared to deal with a reduction in demand for services and not fund excess capacity that would be difficult or expensive to maintain,” Rader said.
Earlier this year, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis asked department heads to cut 5 percent from their budgets to prepare for lost revenue if Brookhaven incorporated. The county is still in the budget process and Rader said Ellis will submit his budget to the commission no later than Dec. 15.
Some have predicted Brookhaven could lead to more than a $20 million hole in the county’s budget, but Rader is more optimistic.
“I think that’s sort of a worst-case scenario, if the city immediately began providing the services it’s chartered to provide,” Rader said.
Davis said they are fortunate to have other new cities nearby, like Sandy Springs and Dunwoody, to learn from as Brookhaven gets going.
“We’ve already heard from [Sandy Springs] Mayor Eva Galambos. She’s excited about public-private partnerships and partnerships we can have with her city,” Davis said.
“I feel a little bit of an advantage of having met all these people and talked to them in depth about how these cities operate. It doesn’t make our path any less challenging, but maybe a little less daunting having these neighboring cities willing to help us.”