Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Wednesday a group of Gwinnett County community leaders are gathering at the State Capitol to discuss their role as part of a greater region. The county is Georgia’s second largest and has a population greater than the states of Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, or Wyoming. While each of those states have two U.S. Senators to call their own, Gwinnett relies on a collection of state and local elected officials along with business and community leaders to interact with state leaders as they chart their course for continued growth.
As a county, the relationship Gwinnett has with the state is codified in Georgia’s constitution and state code. The role within the region is more nebulous and undefined. Gwinnett is a member of the Atlanta Regional Commission, but many of the problems of the region require policy and leadership that come from the political process. As Georgia’s political power has moved from rural Georgia to Atlanta’s suburbs, as well as from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, there is new power held in the region to address and fix long standing problems.
With power comes responsibility. As such, the 40 members of Leadership Gwinnett will spend the day discussing things like transportation, water, education, and economic development with an eye outward toward the region as a whole rather than focus exclusively inward at their home county. The Atlanta venue was likely chosen to help underscore the point.
The goals for each issue are four-fold. They will identify the regions that Gwinnett influences and that influence Gwinnett. They will explore the relationships their county has with other counties, the state, the nation, and other countries. They will discuss Gwinnett’s role in promoting and achieving regional success. And they will identify opportunities for engagement to enhance the county’s regional and global position.
In essence, it is a day to be pro-active in learning about opportunities to be a leader within the region. Politically, it is at a time where it is less than popular to do so.
The July defeat of T-SPLOST in the Atlanta region has diminished expectations of regional solutions to many problems. I’m be spending a bit of time with the group to discuss that with respect to both transportation and the upcoming Charter Schools Amendment. Those issues have loaded the phrase “local control” as a nebulous chant to battle virtually any state policy. It’s an important concept, especially among Republicans. It’s also too important to let a misunderstood application of it stand in the way of needed solutions that cannot be accomplished with provincialized fiefdoms blocking needed solutions that a region of roughly 5 million people and a state of roughly 10 million sorely need.
The meeting of the Gwinnett folks may seem unremarkable to some. After all, local chambers and other associations have meetings all the time for networking across geographic lines, the need for such a focus is highlighted by another meeting scheduled to be held in the same chamber just one day later.
On Thursday, Senator Chip Rogers has invited his Senate colleagues to attend a half day meeting to discuss “how Regionalism and Public Private Partnerships are tearing down constitutionally limited self-government and genuine free market economics.” The Majority Leader of the State Senate will be instructing the members of his chamber who choose to attend that attempts to solve problems that are bigger than any individual county are a potential threat to our freedoms and economic system.
That’s quite a contrast, but one that must be realized by those who are attempting to solve problems in the region and throughout the state. At a time when issues require Georgians to come together, a legislative leader is instructing his colleagues to be wary of United Nations’ policies being implemented “at every level (local, state, and federal).” Any attempt to solve problems across county lines can be dubbed “regionalism”, and it appears now that we are willing to jump into conspiracy theories involving the United Nations as soon as that word can be invoked.
Governing is hard. It’s even harder when your leaders are willing to pander to the deepest fears within conspiracy minded factions of his party. The civic leaders willing to invest their time learning about Regionalism need to understand the political realities that face them when they choose to implement any policies they choose to develop.