February 8, 2006
"That government is best which governs least." -Thomas Paine
Should the government own and operate a commercial business?
Should the government run schools, water systems or outdoor music festivals?
Does the government have special knowledge that makes it the best vehicle for delivering products and services to the citizens who have loaned it their power?
Or should government limit itself to what it does well and leave the rest to the marketplace of talent, expertise and efficiency.
There are two small towns in America that are attempting to answer these questions; not theoretically, but with real public policy enactment. These two towns have very different views on the role of government in small-town America: One is Sandy Springs, Georgia, and the other is Arcata, California.
Sandy Springs has adopted a more libertarian, hands-off approach while Arcata has its micromanaging fingerprints on virtually every issue in the public arena, to even include officially passing judgment on national and international matters.
The coastal college town of Arcata, California, situated in upstate Humboldt County near the famous marijuana fields of The Emerald Triangle, has finally rounded out its 5-member city council with an all-progressive team, to include the mayor. In fact, three current council members belong to the Green Party. Even the local sheriff calls his hometown “the People’s Republic of Arcata.”
"Government without true democracy threatens the well-being of planet earth." -Arcata Vice Mayor David MeserveKen Hoover, a reporter from the Arcata Eye newspaper, labors to point out that the Green Party in Arcata is “dysfunctional.” But the fact remains that Arcata's leaders "lean about as far left as you can get in America.” This remark was uttered by Fox News anchor Brit Hume who reported on this quiet community in a two-minute piece January 17, 2006, and brought to a wider public view developments previously hidden behind the veil of isolation.
But I don't know who to believe; number one rated Fox News or a local Arcata broadsheet that characterizes a prominent female Fox News correspondent as one of “the shimmering Botox-blonde newsbunnies the network appears able to manufacture at will.”
At any rate, perhaps we can judge the nature of their city government more by their actions than any other measure.
The anti-Bush council adopted a “New Year’s Resolution” demanding the impeachment or resignation of the President and Vice-President for the crimes of misleading America into war, the crime of responding slowly to Hurricane Katrina, the crime of spying, and the crime of torture.
Arcata has produced a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan and a Pesticide Reduction Plan. Among its several boards and commissions are the Nuclear Free Zone Commission, the Open Space Committee, a Homeless Services Plan Task Force, and the Committee on Democracy and Corporations. City Council has already placed a ban on national chain retail stores.
Greens, liberals and Leftists are having a field day in the wetlands of Arcata. But that is their right, is it not? They were voted in by a majority and they can do as they please.
In severe contrast to the strident developments taking shape in Arcata, let’s turn now to the emerging changes we see in another similar small town; this time closer to home, in Georgia.
In December of 2005, the newly incorporated City of Sandy Springs, Georgia, just to the north of Atlanta proper, rose not from ashes but from a 30-year struggle to fend off the greedy advances of an engulfing, Democrat-controlled megalopolis. Actually, this new city of 84,000 has been in the making for about 80 years as a nascent and thriving family-oriented community. Mayor Eva Galambos, quoting a favorite weblog, says, “Giving birth to the city of Sandy Springs is like birthing a teenager.”
Rather than continue subsidizing surrounding Fulton County, Atlanta and 10 other existing cities to the tune of $190 million a year, Sandy Springs, with the approval of 94% of its electorate, made the bold move to set its own course, take back the better part of its money, and deliver high-quality, low-cost public services in a more federalist-oriented, common-sense way staffed with only a mayor, a city council, and a handful of city employees.
Now, finally, the raspy-throated advocates of virtual annexation go quiet as Sandy Springs embarks on a political experiment perfectly un-thought-of by it menacing municipal neighbor: To privatize nearly every city function and constrain its own circle of action to the essentials of setting policy, community planning and budgeting. Basic city services will be managed but outsourced wherever feasible. Mayor Eva Galambos claims,
“We have harnessed the energy of the private sector to organize the major functions of city government instead of assembling our own bureaucracy. This we have done because we are convinced that the competitive model is what has made America so successful. And we are here to demonstrate that this same competitive model will lead to an efficient and effective local government.” – Inaugural Address, November 30, 2005Other localities, namely Milton and Riverside, stand ready to emulate Sandy Springs and incorporate with the same perspective on government responsibility, accountability and transparency as its predecessor. Even existing municipalities in the area, like Roswell and Alpharetta, are watching closely to see if this particular brand of government might not be right for them as well. Indeed, the example of Sandy Springs may bring a boom in city-building throughout unincorporated Fulton County—and beyond.
“The eyes of metro Atlanta, of Georgia, and indeed, the nation, are on us as we begin our wonderful civic adventure in self-government.” – Mayor Galambos, Inaugural Address, November 30, 2005The cities of Sandy Springs and Arcata are polar opposites in many ways. But they have some similarities: Both are eager to regulate the types of businesses they will allow.
Sandy Springs has developed a strict set of codes regulating adult entertainment operations such as strip clubs and pornography shops. WSB-TV reports that “The Sandy Springs City Council approved measures...that prohibit alcohol and VIP rooms at adult clubs in the city. In addition, video stores in the area cannot have 'booths' anymore and the shops must also be 400 feet from churches. They can stay for 5 years at their current locations, but then they have to move to a district that will be selected and zoned for such activity.”
The first order of business for Arcata’s oddly-named Committee on Democracy and Corporations was to propose Measure F, the ‘formula restaurant’ cap, effectively banning chain stores. With Measure F, which passed by 60% as a referendum, Arcata has “banned certain types of formula businesses. These laws do not prevent a chain store from coming in, but they do require that the incoming chain not look or operate like any other branch in the country. This has proved a significant deterrent to chains, which generally refuse to veer from their standardized, cookie-cutter approach.” The Arcata ordinance, No. 1333, limits the number of formula restaurants to a grand total of nine. From Hometown Advantage:
“Formula businesses include retail stores, restaurants, hotels and other establishments that are required by contract to adopt standardized services, methods of operation, decor, uniforms, architecture or other features virtually identical to businesses located in other communities.”So Sandy Springs bans hard-core porn and Arcata bans Shoney’s. Thus, even in their similarities they are dissimilar.
So what does Asheville have in common with either Arcata or Sandy Springs?
Certainly, our locals have a corresponding penchant for bumper-sticker activism. But more seriously though, they have now voted in the most progressive city council in its history. The city that used to be innocuously referred to as the “freak capital of the South” has now come to be dominated by hard-line, Left-leaning, anti-capitalist, big government, busybody political bullies bent on stamping out jobs, compelling you to junk your car and ride the bus, and planning Asheville into a ghost town of starving artists and hungrier taxpayers.
And what is their view of the role of government in a free society? Again, the similarities with Arcata are predominant where government is increasingly the answer to social and economic questions.
- Asheville has as one of its key assets a creaky civic center in disrepair, which perennially operates in the red and has repair estimates in the millions. It is interesting, though, that one council member recently remarked that “it’s pretty hard to make the case that we should even own a civic center.”
- When sound, high-density residential development comes to town, we blithely require that they simply tack on prohibitively expensive “green roofs” to their limited budget in exchange for permission to provide attractive, affordable and much-needed intown housing.
- We deny cab drivers the right to set their own prices in a free market for the services they provide by haggling in city hall over a three-cent per 1/10th mile rate increase. However, Asheville is certainly not unique in this detrimental interference in the marketplace.
- We throw up so many barriers to the world’s most successful retail chain that it faces costly delays and perhaps even has to return to the drawing board to reconsider the wisdom of providing Asheville with hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues.
- We pass out biased, anonymous surveys to merchants in order to determine, albeit through consensus, specifically in what manner we will control other people’s property with ordinance modifications. Call it consensus or democracy—mob rule in politics is an affront to individual liberty.
- We are happy to repeat California’s mistake of legislating open space leading to the economic banishment of low-wage workers, renters and home-owners.
- Our police and fire-and-safety departments are terribly understaffed and underpaid and yet council members are quick to point out that the city’s personnel budget is already bloated and there appears to be no more room for increased payroll expenditures at this juncture.
- And we now see a progressive majority, engaging in a purely political abuse of power, daring to completely shut out the minority and aggressively pack boards and commissions with like-minded comrades who will push the preeminent Leftist agenda on every issue open to governance.
Who, in the end, is left to pay for these errors? The working poor who are being squeezed out; property owners who now might like to sell out; business owners who pass along their tax and regulation burdens as higher prices and lower wages. Even the Leftist’s who voted in this kind of government will pay as taxes and costs increase while services and opportunities shrink. It would appear that the Left voted for its own welfare before it voted against it.
In the end, we seem to have more in common with the tired, suffocating approach to governance found in the Left-coast city of Arcata than the freedom-loving, Constitutional approach displayed by the newly-minted Southern city of Sandy Springs.
In the philosophical tug-of-war between the overbearing governmental excesses of Arcata and the refreshing, liberty-oriented model provided by Sandy Springs, we, the citizens of the city of Asheville are witness to a moral contest played out in the real world that must certainly result in entirely different outcomes.
And as we watch for those outcomes to materialize with equally real-world consequences for the long term, we still have our own moral struggles to encounter. Here in Asheville, we bob and billow in the swells of a momentous sea-change that will define our particular stand on the role of government for years to come.
Solemn history, however, will note whether or not this change will indeed represent that progress that our elected leaders have so fatuously touted.
Sandy Springs, Georgia: The City that Outsourced Everything
Public-Private Partnerships for Local Governments: The Sandy Springs Model
Oliver Porter | Reason Foundation | January 29, 2010
Imagine starting a new city of over 90,000 people with only two employees. We did it.
Formula Restaurant Cap:
Formula Business Restrictions:
Arcata City Hall:
Arcata Resolution to Impeach the President:
Arcata Nuclear Free Zone Commission:
Arcata Eye Newspaper:
Inaugural Address by Mayor Eva Galambos:
Incredible Shrinking County by Scott Henry, Creative Loafing, Jan 27, 2005
The Real Sandy Springs Effect by Geoffrey Segal, Reason Foundation, Dec 2, 2005
Outsourcing City Hall by Jesse Walker, Reason Magazine, Jan 3, 2006
Sandy Springs Limits Adult Clubs. WBS-TV, December 28, 2005
A Georgia Town Takes the People’s Business Private
By David Segal | New York Times | June 23, 2012
Does the Sandy Springs approach work? It does for Sandy Springs, says the city manager, John F. McDonough, who points not only to the town’s healthy balance sheet but also to high marks from residents on surveys about quality of life and quality of government services.