Day 133: Police Merger, Part II
CIty of Savannah and Chatham County officials gathered in Johnson Square yesterday to stage a love fest in support of a new police merger agreement that has taken a full year and five drafts to cobble together: ten paragraphs which, in the end, gives council and commission two more years to come up with an amended agreement. Anyone with any brains can see what’‘s really happening here: a City Manager who is out of her depth is forced to resolve issues with the County in an election year and the best they can do is promise to work together more efficiently than before. However, in order to do so, the City Manager is going to have to hire an outside consultant to do her job for her while at the same time maintains her choke hold on the police chief.
So nothing has really changed merger-wise in the most important areas of concern and, as Alderman Tony Thomas says of this agreement, management has done nothing more than kick the proverbial accounting can down the road for two more years.
At its worst, this "agreement to agree" points up the problems with a fragmented government where almost half of a county’‘s population resides in one city and the rest of the county wants nothing to do with it. The loudest voices heard during this election season are protests from former Savannahians who’‘ve fled the city for the relative safety of Pooler and Rincon and Bloomingdale and Richmond Hill but continue to weigh in on our problems because these outsiders either work in Savannah, own property here, or maintain an affinity for their hometown.
They are mad at the way in which Savannah is being mismanaged and they’‘re scared of the trends in rising crime and taxes and poverty; mad and scared is a bad combination when you’‘re trying to unite City and County. Far too many Chatham County residents want nothing to do with the City of Savannah. Yet the consolidation of City and County governments may be the only solution for what ails the Low Country.
Consolidation has done wonders for other Georgia cities: Athens, Augusta, Columbus and Macon have all merged with their counties and consolidation is credited for turning each into a boom town. Columbus boasts the lowest cost per person of any government its size in the State of Georgia, and there is no instance where consolidation has failed to deliver a better quality of life for all concerned.
Face it, Savannah: our tax base is dwindling, budgets are embattled, bookkeeping is a nightmare, checks and balances are non-existent, and every deal under the gold dome has turned into a scandal. For every department at the City of Savannah there is a county counterpart and duplication is costly and less effective. For every person living in the City of Savannah there is an alderman representing them on city council and a commissioner representing them on the county commission and in a perfect world there interests should be one and the same. But what we have instead is a split personality along with a split government, and the reason is simply due to race: African-Americans enjoy a 55-56-57% majority in the the city but the present make-up of the county population is 51% A-A and Hispanic. The primary reason why Savannah and Chatham County are not consolidated now is simply a matter of power, as perfectly illustrated by the problems over the police merger: blacks simply refuse to give up their control of the City of Savannah lest they be forced to share it equally with whites.
Thus, Savannah -- tourist mecca that it is -- remains stuck in its political past, frozen in time like the historic district itself. At some point in our development we will reach a time when the people of the Low Country realize that in order for cities to survive we must think regionally, not locally. Many of Savannah’‘s most pressing problems could be more easily adjusted and cured by consolidating with the county and bringing back ex-pats into the fold, along with their tax dollars and businesses and jobs.
Savannah’‘s present municipal leadership is stuck in the Sixties-- not just the 1960’‘s, but also the 1860’‘s. The question in this election year is not which candidate will preserve the status quo and give us more of what we’‘ve had, but which candidate can move us forward. As Mayor of Savannah, not only will I work to expedite the SCMPD merger by fixing the problems created by this new agreement, we will move toward merging other services in the event that we cannot win over a majority support for consolidation across the board.
Consolidation is not a matter of the city taking over the county or vice-versa; the idea is not that one government gives up power to the other, as illustrated by the faulty police merger. The idea behind consolidation is to realize that the best way to solve the problems that affect us all is to put an end to this schizophrenic municipal/county state of mind that puts residents of different cities at odds with their neighbors in the same county. What it all comes down to is power. I’‘m tired of arguing about the same issues over and over and coming to the same conclusion that our best solution will never be utilized by our current leadership. The only real and lasting solution is to vote in a new generation of leaders who understand and overcome the divide or remove the division through consolidation. But it is plainly obvious to those with informed opinions that consolidation cures the biggest problems we currently face.
Cast your vote for or against consolidation. I would appreciate hearing your opinion.