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Guest column: Responding to talk governance

The “Time to talk governance” column by Mike Dudgeon (Opinion section, Forsyth County News, Aug. 17) was very interesting. He raises three major concerns: 1) improving local county government; 2) ensuring checks and balances; and 3) efforts to create a new city or improve county governance.

I applaud his approach to move toward factual discussion on the best structure of government for Forsyth County. The county has a lot to be proud of: low taxes; transparent government with an effective website; great schools; and parks and recreational opportunities.

The growth of the county from 44,000 people in 1990 to “rocketing up” above 195,000 indicates that now is the right time to review existing governance structures.

His research statistics from other large Georgia counties shows no clear pattern for good governance. One concern is that Forsyth County operates with five commissioners elected by district and the chairman is elected by fellow commissioners. Most other large counties have more commissioners and countywide elections determine the chairman.

Investigating an increased number of commissioners and relooking the elections process for them and the chairman would be excellent first steps in bringing Forsyth County government closer to the people.

His checks and balances comments addresses a single city having “outsized influence on the majority of people in the full county.”

Citizens are aware of the negotiations between the county and city of Cumming on water issues, sales taxes and dam and street repairs with the Lake Alice failure the most recent. 

However, a second city in south Forsyth would divide the population, layer taxes on them and very likely exacerbate the fights over money, resources and turf among three entities: the city of Cumming, Forsyth County and the proposed city.

This does not read like a success. We want efficient government, not more levels and more complex bureaucracy.

He mentioned “a passionate group of residents … exploring a new city” in the southern part of the county. The term “vocal” might be a better description. I think we will find an equally “passionate group of residents” who oppose the new city idea.

The new city proposal is quite loose, lacks specifics and is based on misleading survey results. The lack of specifics was evident in an information session presented by the directors [of the Sharon Springs Alliance] to my local community last April.

Conclusions from that presentation were: 1) the SSA presentation was based on anecdotal situations, not facts and analysis; 2) the SSA representatives were poorly informed on many issues and how the County operates; 3) the presentation was misleading, incorrect and projected innuendos to try to make the case palatable; 4) presentation and discussion were unimpressive.

In summary: the SSA proposal is a solution looking for a problem where we don’t have a need for “secession” action.

The SSA survey netting 1,000 respondents from a population of about 50,000, or around 15,000 homes in the proposed city area, seems underwhelming.

Results interpretation can also be misconstrued, examples: 1) although 5 percent is a seemingly low “well-represented” satisfaction number, there are an additional 52 percent that seem to get along pretty well for a total of 57 percent; and 2) in the opinion article the 74 percent figure labeled “believed our county is getting worse” actually was respondents’ prediction that “in five years … the community will be worse,” a substantial difference. These details are from the SSA website.

Top concerns from the survey report were: “rapid development (86 percent); traffic (80 percent); and overcrowding of schools (75 percent).

Residents also pointed to the quality of the schools, great recreational opportunities and low taxes as attributes that are going well, for now.

There is a lot more to like than to dislike here.

People answering these surveys self-select because they agree, while others don’t want to waste their time. Any survey containing poorly constructed, over-generalized questions such as “are you satisfied with your representation?” or “are things getting worse?” will receive the anticipated negative answer.

There is a tendency to see the faults in other people, especially incumbent politicians and the government. It is always easier to criticize than to look for sound solutions.

Concerning the “light” city, that amounts to leaving the heavy lifting to the county, since the city proponents would like to do planning and development and a couple of less troublesome functions, that means more and duplicative government, pure and simple.

And where do qualified people come from? Likely the county would not appreciate being raided. Also a city seat would have to be established, likely for a substantial cost.

In conclusion, Representative Dudgeon’s call for “robust civic discussion” on county governance is timely. However, stimulating discussion on restructuring county governance without first formulating some substantive option plans does not sound productive.

The prerequisite to making informed decisions to meet 21st century requirements are unbiased and factual information. Option proposals should be available to all county residents and include pros and cons of each option.

Issues option alternatives to address include: additional commissioners; countywide election of the commissioners and the chairperson; having of two new cities, one south and one north; and unified city-county government.

I applaud Representative Dudgeon for taking the lead in this effort. He is the first public official to address this new-city situation, which has been flying around since last year.

The time to contest the new-city notion with real planned government improvement is now, not later. Don’t sit on the fence and let these issues slip under the table. Let your state and county government representatives know where you stand.

I look forward to hearing about and participating in activities for improving our local government based on facts and analysis, not generalizations and promises.


Jim Warner lives in the “target area of change,” unincorporated Forsyth County (Cumming).