“This is the most engaged Brookhaven had ever been,” JD Clockadale, the new city’s interim deputy city manager, said during Friday’s Buckhead Optimist Club meeting at the Wing Factory. “Just the mere vote itself created this sense of engagement and passion we’ve never seen in Brookhaven.”
The closeness of the July vote of 55 percent to 45 percent to make Brookhaven a city came by no surprise to Clockadale, he said.
“We all wanted what’s best for citizens. We just had different ideas of how to get there,” he said. “People don’t like change. We were changing the way you’re being governed.”
Clockadale said one of the main fears from residents was “another layer of government.”
However, he said what the city, which is now the largest in DeKalb County, actually does is localize government, not add more.
“The good part of the city is we have council members representing 12,000 people,” Clockadale said. “We’re actually neighbors. There is no city council member or neighbor that’s more than 1.5 miles from us. … It is truly local government at its best.”
He said the biggest issue for DeKalb was revenue.
“Some services were delivered really well,” he said. “They’re really good on macro services, like waste and sewer. We wanted micro services.”
Another fear for locals was loss of identity and a general sense of the unknown, he said.
“It was our job to convince people we can do it better,” Clockadale said.
The journey started with a phone call from State Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, Clockadale said.
“DeKalb County has some issues in taxes, millage rates, service to residents and transparencies,” he said. “[Jacobs] said, ‘Would you be interested in doing a city?’ I said, ‘Sure, sounds like a great idea.’”
After dozens of meetings, a group of eight men, as part of the group called Citizens of DeKalb, created the city’s visions.
“At the time none of us had been in government. It was the hope and wish that we could get to that point to do better than what DeKalb had done for residents,” he said.
From there, Clockadale said they first had to go through the legislative process with public hearings at the Georgia State Capital, and get a bill passed through the House two years in advance of the city.
The Senate then had to approve the city of Brookhaven charter, which is essentially the city’s constitution.
They also had to do feasibility study, have a voter referendum on the July 31 ballot and form a government commission, Clockadale said.
“Then we had to have 50 percent plus 1 vote to get this passed,” he said.
Clockadale said Brookhaven leaders opened a temporary city hall [in Dunwoody] between the runoff election Dec. 4 and Dec. 17.
“We’re now bringing customer service back to government,” he said. “Citizens should no longer be treated as taxpayer. They’re customers.”
One Optimist Club member asked, “What are the plans for public safety?”
Clockadale said the police chief will be hired after the permanent city manager and they plan to integrate code enforcement.
“They have to work hand in hand,” he said. “If they can’t work together, it’s going to be a tough road.”
While schools are still considered Dekalb, the fire department will be also. The city of Brookhaven will have its own police department but is coordinating with Dekalb until forming its own, Clockadale said.
“On January 18, … We’re going to be a fully functioning city delivering services," he said. "It’s all coming to reality. … We’re about to do it better than Dekalb.”