Georgia County Excellence Awards
Georgia's Winning Counties
Georgia is the 24th biggest state in the union but it has the second highest number of counties. That's 159 local governments crammed into a tight space, all of them scrambling to provide services for their citizens, accentuating their limited capacities for revenue generation, competing with one another for business, or joining forces to maximize their collective resources.
The Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) set out to discover which of these bailiwicks was getting the job done in the most creative ways, and how they were doing it. That's how the Georgia County Excellence Awards program, co-sponsored by Georgia Trend, was born.
The first winning counties are Cobb and Bartow in the over 75,000-population category; Baldwin and Oconee, 25,000 to 74,999; Bryan and Chattahoochee, 12,000 to 24,999; and Montgomery and Wilkinson, under 11,999. Seven other counties earned a special commendation.
"There is an amazing array of programs and projects getting done across the state on a daily basis," says ACCG Deputy Director Ross King. "And until an awards program like this comes along, it's difficult to delve deeply into the innovation shaft and discover some of the great work being done by county governments."
So the ACCG invited every county to nominate itself, by submitting programs or initiatives demonstrating local leadership at its proactive best. This first year, about 25 percent of Georgia's counties expressed interest, and 31 actually entered the fray. Counties were allowed to enter multiple projects. "We didn't want to throw a party and have nobody show up," King says.
Trolling for selection committee members wasn't too difficult, King says. ACCG dipped into its alumni pool to find a few past presidents, former chairs of their respective county commissions. Staff members of Georgia's Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and members of the DCA board, county and municipal officials with a taste for the challenges of local government got involved. There were judges from Georgia Public Television,
Georgia Power's economic development team - a diverse collection of people from public and private sectors.
King says they looked closely at which projects, programs or initiatives could be replicated elsewhere. "We see this as another opportunity for counties to share and interact with each other," he says. "Peers training peers."
The main theme would be sharing intellectual wealth. The challenge, King says, was limiting the criteria to single counties in an era of regional thinking. Consequently, some multi-county initiatives were recognized.
"There's a great divide in terms of the capacity of what a county government in, say Northeast Georgia can appreciate, vs. a county in Southwest Georgia," King says. "By sewing together the suburban, rural and urban fabric of the state, we put ourselves in position where a single county project can blossom in one area, while another region can replicate that project on a multi-county level.
"Georgia is growing and changing in ways we have to pay close attention to, and we want to use this program to highlight the innovative ways that counties can plan and think of the dynamics of what it means to experience a explosive population growth."