Teaching the State to Trust Local Governments

April 24, 2019

Auburn Mayor Linda Blechinger, GMA President

This article appeared in the April 2019 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
A ​s I write this, the 2019 Legislative Session is less than two weeks away from coming to an end. With fingers crossed, it looks like cities will come out in good shape.

As usual, we saw a number of bills introduced this year to limit the ability of city officials to make decisions in the best interest of their communities. While this may simply be the nature of the legislative process, we can’t ignore the fact that the dichotomy between local decision making and a top-down approach to problem solving represents a fundamental difference in how to respond to and address local issues.

The question is, ‘how do we as city officials get the state to learn to trust her local governments and not legislate to the least common denominator?’ The answer begins with us.

First, we ourselves must understand and embrace the fact that the pressing issues facing our nation are manifest, with some exceptions, at the local level. Let’s not be shy about this basic truth. The challenges confronting us as a state and a nation are essentially the challenges cities are wrestling with on a daily basis.

It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: it’s at the local level where we live, work and play. Consequently, it’s city officials and our county and school brethren, that must look inward to deal with our specific local challenges and outward at the demographic, cultural and political forces that impact what we do.

Second, we need to unabashedly advocate on behalf of cities. State leaders and those in our communities, need to know that the vitality of our state is found in its cities. In just nine percent of the state’s land area you’ll find 43 percent of the population and 68 percent of the jobs. Have you told your city’s civic and business leaders about the role of cities in our state’s economy? Did you speak with your House and Senate members about the bills this year that would have hurt cities? You are your city’s biggest advocate. Don’t hesitate to make your voice heard.

Finally, we need to point to the pragmatic, non-partisan approaches we take at the local level to meet our communities’ needs. I believe the fact city officials in Georgia are elected to non-partisan positions benefits us and is something we should embrace. Party affiliation and partisanship do not have a role in what we do in our cities’ day-in and day-out. The keystone to our strength lies not in party loyalty but in the collaborative efforts we forge across our communities to address the challenges and opportunities we face.

We may never completely stop the desire of others to pass laws that impede the ability of city officials and the residents they serve to plot their own course. We can, however, commit to lift high the value of cities, acknowledge the challenges and opportunities we face and with pride point to the successes we have in meeting the needs of our residents.

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