Imagine, a whole city run by one private company that will definitely put profits over people. Sounds crazy but it is about to happen in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
The privatization move includes parks, a 911 call centre, street maintenance, traffic signals, storm drainage, sanitation, zoning and even the regulation of adult entertainment in this city of 86,000 people.
It seems a few key people were behind the push to privatize Sandy Springs. In early October about 100 residents gave the pre-city planning group a positive reaction on the private contracting of virtually all city services outside of police and fire departments, which will still be delivered by the county. Few, if any, Sandy Springs residents seem aware of the significance of the privatization of their city.
Sandy Springs commissioners, who were appointed by the state of Georgia, contracted the giant Denver-based privatization firm, CH2M Hill to run the city. The contract is worth $US32 million for 2006. The city expects revenues to be about $US65 million.
Once the commissioners and CH2M Hill signed the contract, concerned citizens got wind of the anti-democratic process. They realized it was a small group of people making decisions for a whole city that hadn’t even voted for a mayor yet.
Maria Latta, a Sandy Springs resident critical of the commissioners’ plan, said, “By jumping over the basics, they’re going to create problems and they’re going to have to go back and clean them up. I think they need to sit down and hear from the people, albeit quickly.”
Interestingly, Adrian Moore, vice president of the Reason Foundation, a California-based pro-privatization institute, called some of the language in the proposal a recipe for disaster because it doesn’t protect the city and citizens against poor performance by CH2M Hill. For example, the contract tells CH2M Hill to “conduct all activities necessary to maintain a first quality” street system. Without specific standards, it means potholes and other features that compromise the safety of the public could exist for years without any recourse for citizens. After all, “first quality” is only a relative term.
“How do you make money if you’re going to save us money?” Sandy Springs resident Bill Lappin asked CH2M Hill executives at a public forum in early October. The answer came from a city commissioner who remarked that the commission will negotiate what is good for taxpayers.
The privatized city will officially be in operation on Jan. 1, 2006.