Leaders And Problem Solvers

Metro Atlanta is facing a drought this January, and it has nothing to do with a lack of rainfall. On Jan. 1, 2005, we installed five new county commission chairs in the region in Clayton, Douglas, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties.

On Jan. 1, 2007, we will welcome another three new commission chairs, in Cherokee, Fayette and Fulton counties.

Only two of the 10 Metro Atlanta counties – DeKalb County, where CEO Vernon Jones has served since 2002, and Cobb County, where I have been chairman since 2002 – will have leaders who have served more than two years in office. Thankfully, county leaders – new and old – have the ability and desire to move their counties and our region forward.

Colin Powell said, “Leadership is solving problems.” My personal adaptation is, “Leadership is solving problems, not delegating them.” Unfunded mandates and unnecessary legislation cause local government financial stress with goals that are not attainable.

We are frequently asked to assist state and federal programs with county tax dollars, to include the acquisition of federal parkland as well as state boards of health and community service boards.

Moreover, inflexible laws and regulations assume a one-size-fits-all mentality and limit our ability to provide for the health, safety and welfare of our residents.

At a time when solutions for local government issues are scarce due to limited resources, rising costs associated with health care, fuel and construction, and challenging expectations, we have a shortage of experienced problem solvers.

Increasing pressure for “smarter,” more sustainable growth, improved quality of life, congestion relief, and adequate water quantity and quality has resulted in a formula whose product is low job security.

Our nation’s ability to maintain its existing physical infrastructure, specifically our transportation and water systems, is wholly inadequate, let alone capable of expansion to meet a growing population.

Officials at the local level are tasked with implementing new and enhanced programs without the accompanying resources.

In order for any entity to function effectively, appropriate capital, time and intellect must be provided. Unlike state service delivery strategies, most metro counties operate as mega-cities.

Now more than ever, our federal and state partners must assist local government to solve long-standing problems.

County governments deal with the realities of each regulation and law. On the national level, for example, the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts are often used to mandate circumstances that surpass nature. One often wonders whether the next draft regulation utilizes better science than the most recently adopted version.

Additionally, the portability of Section 8 housing vouchers, a federal immigration policy that is broken and earmarks based on seniority rather than need all adversely affect local government.

On the state level, prospective bills to improve water conservation and strengthen inverse condemnation threaten to adversely affect local government finances.

It is essential that we put reason back into public policy, focusing on cost-effective solutions with reasonable timeframes. As water and transportation issues do not stop at a jurisdiction’s boundary, state and federal policies must encourage regional solutions.

The issues affecting local government have no cheap or quick solutions – but they can be solved. Experience, cooperation and better communication at every level of government will yield far greater benefits than the status quo, permitting us to build a greater region and state.

Sam Olens is chairman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners and chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Categories: Guest Commentary