Last week, I attended the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) annual conference in Savannah. In addition to instructional courses and seminars, the conference provides an opportunity to spend time with mayors and council members of cities, large and small, from all over the state.
This year, when I spoke with elected officials, from cities near and far, a common topic was the lawsuit filed by Snellville’s mayor against the city. Invariably, the mayors and council members of other cities shook their heads, offered their sympathies and went on to ask and comment about the great things we’re doing in Snellville. They universally recognize that the lawsuits are a consequence of an unfortunate electoral aberration. But more importantly they are perceptive enough to recognize that in spite of ill-advised lawsuits and the challenges that result, Snellville has become a leader in civic accomplishments.
Throughout the lawsuit ordeal, I’ve heard and read comments by residents of our city expressing, concern, dismay, disgust and embarrassment. While I share some of those feelings, embarrassment is not one of them– especially after talking with elected officials from other cities.
These people know the realities of city government. They can read between the lines and discern between legitimate concerns and frivolous self-serving activities. And to a person, the city officials I spoke with view Snellville with admiration and, to a degree, envy. They see a city that in just a few years has established benchmarks that other municipalities strive to achieve. They see an award winning Farmer’s Market, a community garden, a world-class veteran’s memorial, a program to help feed people in need, an acclaimed series of festivals and concerts, a first class entrepreneurial program, and an economic development initiative that has made Snellville THE place to open new businesses and expand existing ones.
Without question, the negative publicity created by lawsuits and the resulting media circus has had a less than positive impact on our city; without the bad press, Snellville would be enjoying even greater success. But that’s not necessarily cause for embarrassment. People who navigate the landscape of municipal government everyday, people who know the intimacies of city operations and city councils, people who know local politics, know the singular source of the negative publicity. As well, they also know the multiple sources of positive action, success and civic pride. They know that Snellville will survive and prosper. And they know that a city is defined by its challenges, successes and accomplishments. Not by a singular aberration.