So, nothing happened in the legislature this year for new cities in central DeKalb. There won’t be a vote for any cities. We can all be Cubs fans and say “Wait until next year”. For some folks, that’s a favorable outcome. Like any political question it’s not a universal one-sided issue. But some of us would have liked to have had a city government that would be more responsive and effective than the DeKalb County government.
Maybe it would be good to think of what happened, and try to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
First off, we all have to recognize that there’s no consensus in any of this. And clearly there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what government should do, and how it should work.
I made several posts about pot holes in different areas of central DeKalb. Several comments showed that people thought pot holes were normal, and eventually they would be taken care of. The same people might have sued Coca Cola if a can was dented badly. (But they’re a business, and are expected to do it right.) Unfortunately, people have very low expectations of their government. And a lot of people think there’s no way to do better.
None of us did a really good job of explaining that it’s possible to do a good job of government. It is possible to be effective. It’s possible to get things done. None of us did an effective job of convincing people that change was in their interest.
And then there’s borders! I’m not the only one who has said that there’s nothing magical about borders. They’re just a decision that people make. We can look all day for history, logic, appearance or “relationship”; unfortunately none of them are the point. The point is “What works for all parties”. What accomplishes the important goals of city creation? Is everyone included? Does it make sense? As soon as someone says “it has to be this way”, you know there’s a problem.
But one thing that is clear about borders is that no one understands why there should be a series of changes rearranging them. Those aren’t plots on a map – they’re people. You can’t say this neighborhood should be in your city one day and out the next -- or out one day, and in the next -- without having a broad feeling that this process makes no sense.
We all knew that there were competing views of the “best” way of designing cities. We knew it six months ago. There was ample time to discuss and come to an agreement in 2013. For various reasons members of different groups felt that they were better off to wait until they thought the time was right for them. Some people felt it was better to make a deal with one group rather than another. Some felt like they should talk to one group but not another. As a result all of us went into a legislature that had said in advance that they were not going to draw lines; they wanted an agreement among the groups. The one thing for sure is that next time there needs to be a consensus going in.
And we have a problem with an attitude among our government officials. They used a hypothetical “Let’s fix the county” as an argument against cities. But their idea of fixing things is getting more money – changing tax rules. They have argued against any real change in the way the county is run. They have spent our money in non-productive ways. They like things the way they are.
And let’s get serious about the question. The reason for creating a city is to have local control over local issues. None of the many “proposals” for fixing DeKalb County address those issues. They’re a completely different realm of problem. We would all like to fix the governance problem with DeKalb; we’re all citizens of the County. And if anything actually happens, we’ll still need sidewalks here.
I’ll try to discuss some of the issues and players in the future posts.