Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles intended to provide information for those considering becoming part of a newly incorporated City of Lakeside or annexation into the City of Atlanta in west-central DeKalb County. Information presented herein in no way represents an endorsement of either scenario by Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition Inc.
By Darian Bilski
As neighbors consider joining the City of Lakeside or the City of Atlanta, one issue to consider is the level of representation the citizens will have in each jurisdiction and the mechanism through which citizens make their voice heard.
The City of Atlanta has 12 districts each with its own city council member and three members at large. District Six, represented by Alex Wan, is closest to Woodland Hills, Druid Hills, LaVista Park and the other neighborhoods currently investigating cityhood in either Atlanta or Lakeside.
The City of Atlanta has a defined system, the Neighborhood Planning Units (“NPUs,”) through which residents express opinions on a variety of local issues. With respect to zoning and development, developers must start their development discussions at the NPU level prior to moving to the City Zoning stage of the process. While NPUs do not have final say on development and zoning issues, often, many issues are resolved at the NPU level in a manner that is approved by the neighborhoods.
The number of citizens represented per elected official in the City of Lakeside would be drastically reduced from the number of citizens represented per elected official in DeKalb County. This factor brings government closer to the people and results in more local control over city services than within current DeKalb County.
The City of Lakeside is evaluation the NPU system to determine if that system makes sense for its residents. Lakeside has zoning attorneys, city planners and experienced community members who have volunteered to explore options.
Note that because Atlanta is an established city, more information is readily available regarding this topic as well as most topics under consideration.
Additional information follows:
CITY OF LAKESIDE
The DeKalb County government oversees approximately 700,000 whereas a local Lakeside board would representing 50-60 thousand people in the area. Currently a DeKalb county commissioner represents approximately 130,000 people and 54 sq. miles. A city of approximately 60,000 residents could potentially have 5-6 commissioners, who live in the community and represent fewer citizens, thus bringing government closer to the people and resulting in more local control over city services.
One few related benefits of cityhood per the Lakeside City Alliance webpage follow:
- More control over land use (zoning) and development to decide on things like new subdivisions, teardowns, construction, nightclubs, apartments, strips malls and other uses.
- Mechanism to revitalize residential and commercial areas, parks and common areas.
- Many incorporated cities have a downtown development authority and economic development professionals on staff. Staff could work for the benefit of the city, including the collection of state and federal grants.
CITY OF ATLANTA
What is a Neighborhood Planning Unit?
The City of Atlanta is divided into twenty-five Neighborhood Planning Units or NPUs, which are citizen advisory councils that make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council on zoning, land use, and other planning issues. The NPU system was established in 1974 to provide an opportunity for citizens to participate actively in the Comprehensive Development Plan, which is the city’s vision for the next five, ten, and fifteen years. It is also used as a way for citizens to receive information concerning all functions of city government. The system enables citizens to express ideas and comment on city plans and proposals while assisting the city in developing plans that best meet the needs of their communities.
The system was established in 1974 by Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Holbrook Jackson. His aim was to ensure that citizens, particularly those who had been historically disenfranchised, would be in a position to comment on the structure of their communities, and to ensure that the citizens would not have this ability stripped of them by politicians who found an involved and engaged public inconvenient. Mayor Jackson had the NPU System placed within the City Charter, which can only be changed by the Georgia Legislature. That same section of the Charter also contains the Office of the Mayor as well as the Atlanta City Council.
Structure and Operations
There are 25 NPUs, lettered from A to Z, except U. Each NPU represents the citizens in a specified geographic area. Each NPU meets once a month to review applications for rezoning properties, varying existing zoning ordinances for certain properties, applications for liquor licenses, applications for festivals and parades, any changes to fees charged by the City, any changes to the City’s Comprehensive Development Plan, and any amendments to the City’s Zoning Ordinances. Once an NPU has voted on an item, that vote is then submitted to the relevant body which makes the ultimate determination with regard to that issue as the official view of the community on a topic.
NPUs operate according to a varied set of guidelines. Each NPU is permitted to create its own bylaws and the only requirement is that once a year the bylaws are voted on and every resident and business owner is permitted to vote on those bylaws. Some NPUs permit anyone to vote while other NPUs operate in a representative governmental fashion with only elected representatives voting on the issues at hand. Given the variances of demography within the City of Atlanta, the idea that a one-size fits all system of community governance would successfully reflect each community’s view is unrealistic. Therefore, NPUs are permitted to operate as the citizens see fit.
Each NPU is assigned a City of Atlanta Planner who attends the monthly meetings. Planners are charged with recording official votes, responding to questions about issues of Land Use & Zoning, to present the various items that are sent by the City government for NPU review, and to assure that meetings are reasonably orderly and moderately democratic. The NPUs are staffed entirely by citizen volunteers who receive no compensation for their efforts. NPUs are not given any funding by the City for supplies or other needs.
Each NPU sends a representative to the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board, which is a city-wide entity that was created contemporaneously with the NPU System. The Board addresses issues of city-wide concern and sends its recommendations to the City Council and/or the Mayor depending on the issue being addressed. The Board makes various appointments to City Commissions and Boards on behalf of the citizens.
The Atlanta City Council Mission The City Council is the chief policy making body for the City of Atlanta. The Council’s mission is to ensure that Atlanta is led by a groundbreaking, strong, and capable group of leaders that work for the good of all citizens across the city. As a legislative body, the council’s main role is to make laws. In addition, the Council has oversight of multiple agencies, boards, and commissions. The Atlanta City Council is comprised of 15 members and is led by Council President Ceasar C. Mitchell. Each member of the Atlanta City Council tirelessly works to improve the lives of Atlanta’s citizens. Together, they work to ensure safer and cleaner streets, bolster Atlanta’s economy, and institute many community-based programs. Working hand in hand with Atlanta’s mayor and the members of the executive branch, the Council plays a key part in the budget process and financial wellbeing of Atlanta.
Making Laws for the City of Atlanta/ How City Council Works As the legislative branch, the Council is responsible for the creation of laws enacted to run the city government. Legislation can be introduced in two ways. The first way is that it be introduced on the floor of Council by a Councilmember. This is known as a personal paper. The other way is that the legislation can come through a committee. Here in the City of Atlanta, legislation takes two forms — ordinances and resolutions. An ordinance establishes a permanent rule of government. Every official act of the Council, operating with force and effect of law, must be an ordinance. Ordinances must be read before full Council at two regular meetings. Resolutions express intent or support of various projects and enterprises or establish legislative policy of a general nature. Resolutions, unlike ordinances, need be read only once and can be introduced and adopted at the same meeting. In some cases, the Council is required by law to hold a public hearing and must notify the public about the hearing.
Government Oversight In addition to legislation, the Atlanta City Council works hard to ensure that city government works for its citizens. Through the various Council Committees the council assesses various government programs and agencies. Each year, the Council is in charge of holding budget hearings in which the City’s budget, recommended by the Mayor, is strictly reviewed prior to being voted on by the Council.