We’re frequently asked by neighbors why the legislative process is so complicated. The process of starting a new city involves a set of statutes that define how a city is created, as well as rules adopted by both houses of the Georgia General Assembly. On top of that, the process of introducing a bill or legislation in the General Assembly can be quite involved.
The statutes allow any group of citizens who wish to exercise their right to form a city to do so. The statutes describe the general process, which includes selection of services, introduction of a bill containing a map and city charter, and a referendum, or vote, by the citizens of the proposed new city. Our state constitution provides oversight of local governments like counties and cities to the General Assembly, which is why part of this process involves beginning with a proposed law, or bill. And because city creation is a matter of both regional and state interest, any member of the General Assembly can introduce such a bill; there is no requirement that the person introducing the bill live in the particular area. Sometimes there is more than one sponsor, as multiple legislators may have an interest in the bill.
Vista Grove began this two-year process in February with the introduction of a House bill by an experienced member of the DeKalb delegation, Rep. Tom Taylor. He helped found the city of Dunwoody and served on its city council, and is one of the most knowledgeable legislators on the process of city creation. On the Senate side, Sen. Fran Millar, another DeKalb legislator who has deep expertise on the legislative side, will sponsor and carry the bill forward in 2019. And as a precautionary measure, it was decided that a companion bill to our House bill should be introduced for the 2018 session as well by another senator, Josh McKoon.
It is important to note, however, since these legislators happen to be Republican members of the General Assembly, that creating a city is not a partisan issue. It is (or should be) completely non-partisan and focused on how best to improve the community. City council positions are also non-partisan. And to emphasize this, although it is not required, we want all our local legislators, whether Democrat or Republican, to support the progress of the City of Vista Grove. Improving our physical infrastructure and connecting our people and resources to get us ready for the future is an important, and nonpartisan, undertaking.
Some of our local legislators might be reluctant to publicly support a new city because of an incorrect perception that cityhood movements are always led by those who are opposed to DeKalb County government or conservatives or Republicans. That is just not the case, as we have emphasized many times. But old perceptions die hard.
We also realize it will take time for our county commission to understand and embrace the new model of city-county partnership. You may have seen that there was a recommendation by the county commission that legislators support a change in the law to eliminate DeKalb citizens’ rights to apply for annexation or create new cities. No such law was taken up, but it is an example of the political pressure that is brought to bear.
With that said, we are confident that we’ll eventually have the support of other DeKalb legislators. We’ve received very favorable comments from legislative attendees and observers about the quality of information and positive message and enthusiasm at Vista Grove’s many community meetings.
After a Vista Grove bill is introduced for a second time in the 2019 legislative session, it is then subject to the various rules in both the Georgia House and the Georgia General Assembly. This bill will ultimately be discussed by special committees in each house that consider state and local government issues, including new cities, and then voted upon by the full House and full Senate and sent to the governor for signature. This is where the legislative rules come into play. The rules are somewhat different in each case, but in general they call for a two-year process of city creation. The reason for this two-year requirement is a general sense by some legislators that in the past, city creation has moved too quickly and without sufficient deliberation. In the case of Vista Grove, we are not only observing that two-year track, but we also know that support for a city in our area goes back even further. The legislative rules are also the source of the requirement for an economic analysis of feasibility study of the proposed new area, which we completed this year.
So right off the bat, you can see why it is necessary to have a legislative advisor or lobbyist to provide information about the process. The role of a lobbyist sometimes has negative connotations, but a lobbyist is simply an advisor helping a citizens group like ours navigate a very complicated process. Especially for a group like ours that is made up of volunteers, having a lobbyist is important to understand what can be a very complicated process. It is typical for city efforts to have someone helping them as a lobbyist, and indeed, getting good information is essential. We take your trust and support of this movement seriously and want to make sure we have the best advice and guidance possible.
Vista Grove asked the lobbyist who assisted Tucker with its successful city effort, Brad Carver, to serve in this role. Apart from being kind and dedicated to his work, Brad is a knowledgeable and experienced lobbyist when it comes to the creation of a city. That is why other cities have called upon him to help. He is advising the proposed city of Greenhaven, for example, though that effort is completely separate from Vista Grove.
Because of the tax rules that govern non-profits, we have established a separate non-profit corporation, Vista Grove Connect, Inc., to pay Brad. This a strategy other successful city movements have used, namely, an organization to help fund and pay for educational work and analysis, like the feasibility study, and an organization that helps with lobbying activity. Brad has been paid $3,000 to date out of $10,000 he is owed for working very hard for three months. Legislative issues frequently arise that require quick attention and expert advice— for example, timetables for various hearings and events, rules requirements, and bill requirements.
We hope this information is helpful — as always, we believe good timely information is critical, and that the more we all understand about the process of local civic improvement and the options available to us, the stronger and more vital our community will be. Now that we know how economically strong a proposed City of Vista Grove will be, we look forward in the coming months to continuing to share ideas for how we can best improve our physical infrastructure and plan for the future.