Brookhaven’s city government is growing.
The young city has expanded from the four employees originally called for in its charter, not counting police, to eight, in an attempt to save costs and add more accountability to municipal services, said City Manager Marie Garrett.
Brookhaven has recently hired managers to oversee the city’s departments, which are staffed by contractors.
Garrett said shortly after she was hired, she reviewed all of the contracts with the city’s vendors, and found that there were some things that the city, still in its start-up mode, didn’t yet need.
She also determined that the city could save money by hiring department heads in-house.
“Just cutting unnecessary services and bringing on department heads instead of vendors being department heads, we saved $1.6 million,” she said.
Sandy Springs was the first in a wave of new cities to be created in metro Atlanta since 2005. All have been structured as public-private partnerships, with private companies bidding to provide municipal services like parks and recreation and public works.
But each has structured its contracts slightly differently.
For example, Sandy Springs started out with a single contractor who provided all of its services. Dunwoody split its services among several contractors.
Garrett, who worked on the start-up of Johns Creek, said Brookhaven is the first city to employ what she has described as a hybrid model, with city employees managing the services provided by contractors.
“If not, we would have vendors managing their own contracts,” Garrett said. “This makes [department heads] more accountable to the city when they’re city employees. It really provides that check and balance.”
But Oliver Porter, credited with creating the public-private partnership model when Sandy Springs incorporated, said he wouldn’t encourage the hybrid model Brookhaven is now using.
“One of the main benefits of the model most have adopted is flexibility to not only move people between departments but also in the budgeting process,” Porter said. “I certainly don’t want to criticize anyone who’s making an effort to find a better way. But I think the model works best when everyone below the city manager is in contract mode.”
Oliver said one of his main criticisms of traditional governments is the tendency of department heads to want to build up their departments. “Department heads become sort of defensive of their territory, and the pressure is on them to produce, and they’ll build their department to do that,” Porter said.
Porter said he worries that mentality may still be there for department heads in a hybrid model.
“Even though the people below them are still in contract, they could still say ‘we need to enlarge this contract,’” Porter said. “But I hope it works for them very much. I think it’s only natural that everyone would want to tweak it a little for their situation.”
Garrett said in some cases, the cost savings for hiring a city department head were substantial.
“We probably saved, on average, between maybe 60 and 65 percent on department heads themselves being brought on as employees,” Garrett said.
Garrett said the exact figures from the task orders, which were part of the competitive bidding process, are not available to the public.
She said the reason for the savings is that the managers employed by the vendors often bill hourly, which can be much more costly.