By Mike Davis
As a member of the group which helped lead Dunwoody to its incorporation, I thought often about what we would be like as a city. Throughout our process, I was often reminded of a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
I believe the new citizens and the eventual elected leaders of the city of Brookhaven would benefit from adopting the same approach.
Simply put, our goal was to help make the will of the people paramount. Today in Dunwoody, we make choices based on the desires of our citizenry. And, like Brookhaven, would not be here today if not for the choices, desire, and perseverance of those who fought to make Dunwoody a city and now benefit from smaller localized government.
We’ve experienced firsthand that part of the challenge of helping to create a new city is understanding and meeting citizen expectations and creating a municipal operation that serves the community and its needs. This is all possible only because we prepared early, established a vision for our city and are committed to that vision.
The very first step in the planning: Get the house in order. Apart from the mayor and city council election process, a first priority should be to recruit and select an experienced city manager who will help guide the fundamental municipal operations and functions required by a new city.
Second, attention should be placed on crafting intergovernmental agreements with the county. Working cooperatively with the county from the beginning on transition-type issues such as police services, building inspections and permitting, will aid in the long-term operations and developments the city will encounter.
If you take a look back at our first fiscal year (2009), the figures for property taxes were close to our initial projections. In addition to property taxes, actual revenues for Dunwoody overall similarly matched projections for the city thanks mostly to smart and thorough planning.
Our forethought helped Dunwoody establish a fiscal resiliency. First, staff has done an excellent job being conservative with our projections for both revenues and expenditures. Each year since incorporation, our expenditures are under budget while our revenues come in over budget. And second, the council has worked slowly but methodically to increase the services provided to the citizens as our revenue sources began to materialize.
We’ve communicated clear expectations to our citizens that it would take time to build our financial position to the point where we could begin making noticeable differences to our parks and infrastructure. By not trying to do too much too soon, we have been able to deliver a responsible level of services that continues to increase as our means have increased.
However, citizens should not expect Brookhaven’s growth and creation to be the exact same as Dunwoody’s. Governments are different and each has a unique character that determines its sources of revenues and uses of those revenues.
Following the elections, it will be critical for the mayor and elected city officials to establish trust, transparency, credibility and integrity with the citizens of Brookhaven. At the same time, residents and city council will need to exercise patience. It takes time for a city to do what it needs and city leaders need to be given a chance to gain momentum and get their plans going. And for the citizens, they will begin to learn how to best interact with their local government and become civically engaged in a way they have never had before.
The newly elected leaders must take a close look at what citizens expect and set plans and revenues sufficient to meet those expectations, or work to reconcile the expectations to resources. Brookhaven does have the advantage of inheriting knowledge from cities like Dunwoody about details of a new municipal structure, its operations and the revenue sources it will receive.
Last, we placed an importance on customer service and service delivery, and saw the need to build a “citizen-first” approach to city services. Dunwoody illustrated and proved a service-delivery model can improve services with multiple private partners while staying within the limited budget that exists for cities without additional revenue sources. Seeing that we’ve achieved stability and growth using this model should be very reassuring to Brookhaven citizens and it leaders.
Instead of failing to plan, the city of Brookhaven and its residents have a once in a lifetime opportunity to plan and succeed. As long as the plans and actions of the citizens and government remain transparent and true to the established vision, success won’t be too far behind.
Mike Davis is the mayor of Dunwoody.