Winds of change coming for Fulton County



There is a new wind blowing in Fulton County and it is definitely coming from the north.

Redistricting is its name. First, the GOP-dominated Legislature redrew lines giving several Republicans in neighboring districts some precincts in North Fulton. That swung the majority in the Fulton County legislative delegation from Atlanta-South Fulton and a Democratic majority to a North Fulton-Republican majority.

This little-known entity, the legislative delegation, is there to pass on numerous bills of “local legislation” as they filter up from the cities and county commissions of their respective counties. These bills from a potential pool of 159 counties and Lord knows how many cities are bundled up at the end of the legislative session to be voted up or down (it is always up) collectively as one vote. This gets the legislative process over quickly and cleanly and the legislators can all go home early.

Since these bills are normally promulgated from the ground up, there are seldom any hiccups along the way.

But with the majority of the delegates now packed in the Republican favor, they are some changes brewing as this new legislative delegation is shaping up to be an activist one. That is, they plan to initiate substantive changes in Fulton County government.

The biggest card the new delegation has is Redistricting II. Now that the Legislature’s redistricting has set the stage, the Fulton delegation is set to redistrict Fulton County’s voting districts for the Fulton County Commission.

This is a federally mandated redrawing of lines using the new Census data. But the lines will be drawn with a Republican pencil this time. The latest rumor leaked out is that there will be five districts instead seven, which will dilute Atlanta-Democratic-black voting strength, much the way North Fulton-Republican-white voting strength has been diluted when the shoe was on the other foot.

Other legislation has been promised to restructure the county’s taxing authority, ostensibly to curb what is seen by some as a bloated budget that is too full of pet projects and personal kingdoms. For years, the budget process more closely resembled an episode of “American Pickers.”

There are plans afoot to strengthen the commission chairman’s powers so that there is an executive presiding over the board instead of a “first among equals.”

More will be forthcoming, we are promised, after the GOP delegates come to unanimity on what they want to do.

This may shock some. In others it may elicit, “It’s about time,” or some similar theme. Certainly it is politics and the general rule in that arena is if you have the power, you use it.

We might have been spared another round of internecine fighting, had Atlanta not made such a naked play to control all things Fulton County. But that was as likely foreordained by the politics of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s when the system under which we all now labor grew.

It came as black strength began to articulate itself and take control of Atlanta and then Fulton County. The northern suburbs were not much to shake a stick at in those days. There were a lot of spaces between the places.

The politics began to change. As more development and more people flowed through Ga. 400 north, the clamor for more of a voice grew until the balance has tipped – or so it seems.

I will withhold judgment of what transpires in this newly empowered legislative delegation. This is not what was envisioned when they were created. Now we have a star chamber conducting the public’s business sub rosa.

There is already more than a ripple in North Fulton as it appears the charter commissions of Milton and Johns Creek will be ignored in their desire to put those cities’ taxing authority on the same footing as the rest of their sister cities in Georgia. But that is not clear.

And still, the beat goes on to re-form a Milton County. South of Sandy Springs, a Milton County is looked upon as white flight in place. North of Atlanta, it is looked upon as the only answer to years of unresponsiveness and often political vindictiveness.

I cannot agree wholly to the charge of unresponsiveness. This is a huge county and many hands are always stretched out for resources that are never enough. But I have witnessed personally many, many incidents of vindictiveness inside commission chambers and pointed toward people they’ve never met and whose only sin was where they chose to live.

How it all plays out remains to be seen. The problem with star chambers is once they pick up the reins, they don’t let them loose. We are asked to trust them because they know best. Personally, I like it when everything is done out in the open and everyone has a say.

The lesson Atlanta must learn is if you wanted the county to stay together, we should have all worked together.

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