From George Chidi. I (Elisabeth Shields, aka plcharterreview) have interpolated a few comments, which I have signed. Anyone present should feel free to comment.
George Chidi’s notes on August August 26, 2010 meeting for Pine Lake Charter Review
About a dozen people attended the meeting Thursday evening at the Pine Lake courthouse. Elisabeth Shields, a former city councilmember opened the meeting with introductions and a statement of purpose, describing the process for determining how the city charter might be changed. Shields presented a multimedia projection showing different governmental forms and the main issues at play.
“The things that are on here right now are the things that we’re starting with,” based on previous interviews with city officials and employees, and interested parties, Shields said. “We’re at a starting point, where we really want to have open minds, not closed minds.”
Bill Cotter asked whether those interviews had been done with a pre-existing set of questions, or if it had been an informal exchange, and asked if a set of, perhaps, 20 questions might be drawn up and distributed to every citizen of Pine Lake. Bill expressed a concern that the process should maximize citizen involvement. A couple of dozen people providing input “doesn’t strike me as a lot of people,” and that greater distribution of information will have a qualitatively different result.
Both Shields and city councilperson Kathie Denobriga responded. Shields said she had asked people what parts of the charter had caused problems in her initial inquiries. deNobriga noted that the arc of the process could be more inclusive than initial meetings, and that the meetings are open and publicized.
Dennis proposed that changes to the city charter be subject to a city referendum.
I noted that we should be realistic about how many people will attend meetings and really grow involved with the process, and that, proportionately, a couple dozen people are a relatively large proportion of the city’s residents.
Kathie then began to dive into the process of change in detail. Kathie noted that there have been two meetings to identify basic issues to be discussed in the charter. Small groups of discover and research teams will then dig into the individual issues identified. These groups will then converge in September, to report and discuss, she said. In October, two council meetings will convene to discuss the findings of the study committees.
The council will hold a town hall meeting on November 11, after its first pass at the results of the study committee. Approval of changes, if changes will be made, will follow, she said.
Assuming the city council approves the changes presented by the committee, the Department of Justice will have to review changes to electoral rules, as will the Georgia Legislature of those and some other changes. Pine Lake’s legislative delegation will be kept in the loop during the process, so that they might be champions for our potential changes, Kathie said.
Dennis expressed a concern that the process of change should take longer, perhaps a year, questioning why things appear, to him, to be rushed. He also asked about the motivations behind proposing changes to the city charter. “What is the council actually planning, since you seem to have an agenda here for what you want?”
[Two people expressed their view that the length of time and level of effort should be appropriate to the scope of the proposed change – Elisabeth]
The individuals on the council have their own ideas about how to change the charter, Kathie replied. The council as a group has not said that there are things to fix, she said, relating the review of the charter to a regular medical physical.
Kathie then dove into the five areas of concern in earnest:
Should we keep the current strong mayor – weak council system [the formal name for this is mayor – council (strong mayor) – Elisabeth], change to a council-city manager system, a strong council-weak mayor system [formal name mayor – council (weak mayor) – ES], or another system entirely? Should we consider creating more administrative controls, such as a chief financial officer reporting to a chief operating officer? How much detail should the charter present on city management positions and other governmental elements? Should we consider changing Pine Lake’s fiscal year to coincide with the receipt of state taxes on September 1? Should we change our electoral system to provide for representation by district?
(Essential elements about the strengths and weaknesses of each of these questions is part of the mind-mapping tool presentation, and the notes are better captured there.) [It’s taking me a long time to turn that mind map into an outline – Elisabeth]
I [George Chidi] spoke briefly at the meeting about my concern that Pine Lake, to remain viable long-term as a separate political entity, must be able to demonstrate a clear reason to exist, one that provides suitable advantages to offset the disadvantages of its small size. Governance may be a way to achieve that.
My interest in the charter is twofold. First, I have a longstanding literary curiosity about governance issues, particularly experimental governance.
But my greater interest is a pragmatic one – mercenary. As I mentioned at the meeting, I fear that Pine Lake harbors a serious structural inefficiency — economies of scale work against us. Cities that are ten times our size don’t have to offer ten times as much service. Their leaders don’t have to do ten times as much, nor are they paid ten times as much. Pine Lake has one of the higher property tax rates in metro Atlanta. I believe that the difference between cost in Pine Lake and outside of Pine Lake must come with an articulated advantage. We must be unique, in ways that matter. If we are not, property values will fall until the cost to a home owner or renter is otherwise equal here to that of one in unincorporated Dekalb County. I’m serving on the committee to preserve my investment in my home.
Perhaps we could organize under the New England town hall form of government. Or perhaps we could dedicate ourselves to artistic freedom, or environmental stewardship. Perhaps the court system, coupled with our police force, might provide that advantage. This morning, I was mulling over the possibility of a set of charter articles and bylaws promoting home businesses.
I honestly don’t know. I look forward to meeting with other Pine Lakers to discuss the matter in detail.