By now you have probably heard that the long anticipated, and often discussed, service delivery agreement between the Gwinnett municipalities and Gwinnett County government has been settled. First of all, thank you Lord. And second of all, some might say .... what the heck took so long?This is an agreement that has been in place between the cities and the county for some time now. Only in the past two years or so, did the proverbial "you know what" hit the fan. And, when it hit, it hit hard. The services delivery contract has been negotiated, re-negotiated, and negotiated again. It has been sent to the courts, ruled on by the courts, appealed to the courts, and ruled on again. Now, it has been settled. Not based on the courts, but based on a group of city and county leaders getting together and working out their differences for what was best for the big picture, and oh yeah ... the citizens of Gwinnett County. What a novel concept.
Prior to the agreement being signed, it is safe to say that there were personalities at the bargaining table who couldn't see the big picture if it was taken with the most technologically advanced HD, super pixilated camera in the world. It was all about the snap shot and how it affected their portion of the picture. It's like the guy who is presented with their school yearbook and they turn immediately to their small photo on page 247. They might have an idea of what is included in the first 246 pages, but the book is now so dog-eared that it automatically turns to page 247 when it is opened.
Thank goodness, based on a series of events that brought other people to the table, the big picture, or the class photo, became more important than any particular member of the class.
And, with that formula in mind, the agreement was reached that brought back some sense of normalcy that will allow people to actually do their jobs. Law enforcement has been crippled in its responsibility of maintaining roadways due to the fact that the disagreement had caused radar to be taken out of the police tool box. I'm sure that there were very few complaints filed by the drivers on county roads, but the lack of revenue that was lost based on lawful traffic enforcement is estimated to be many million dollars. This caused a ripple down effect as to new police officers being hired, decreased funds available to crime victim services and overall decreasing budgets which made it difficult to do what police traffic units are supposed to do, enforce traffic laws.
Several other sources of revenue through grants and other state funded programs also came to a screeching halt based on the dispute. Emergency services, as a whole, paid a big price during this series of stand offs that should have been settled long ago. So, now it is finally settled, our leaders should evaluate the entire process and consider what can be learned from this big mess.
Firstly, things have changed in Gwinnett County in the last 10 years and our cities are much stronger than they once were. They can now provide services that they had previously depended on from the county and the tax rate should be reflected as such. However, even if the cities can now provide certain services, the question of whether it is necessary to duplicate those services (just because they can) that are working very well and are already provided by the county. Law enforcement, regardless of its governmental standing, is a unique branch of government that can work very well with each other when allowed to do so. But, the tentacles of this recent dispute have had far reaching effects that brought politics into an area that it does not belong. Granted, some of the existing shared services were factored into the current agreement, but it still left issues in it that could cause confusion and potential hard feeling amongst law enforcement agencies throughout the county.
Even with the agreement in place, these issues should be fully discussed so that once they become problematic; a plan is already in place. Politicians can afford to argue; law enforcement and emergency service providers cannot. When politicians argue, feelings get hurt. When law enforcement argues, innocent people can get hurt. This is not and should never be a scenario that ever plays out in our county. We must always remind and encourage our political leaders that emergency services is much more than a line item on a budget spread sheet. It can sometimes be a matter of life and death.
Congratulations to those county leaders, and you know who you are, who were responsible for unlocking this seemingly un-lockable issue. As always, it was simply a matter of coming together for the common good, rather than the singular issues, recognizing the strengths and weakness of all parties involved, and creating an agreement that was the most fair and equitable possible that would allow it to move forward in a positive manner. That's what it took and that is what they did.
At any rate, the chest thumbing of stubbornness is over and the fist pumping of resolve can begin. That is not to say that all parties are ecstatic over the agreement. Some would have held out for more without the pushing forward of others. Some think they gave too much and others feel that they got too little. That is the way in which negotiations work. You show me an agreement in which all parties got exactly what they wanted and I'll show you an agreement in which all parties never even knew what they already had.
But, at least we have an agreement in place that can once again focus on maintaining law and order in our streets. And this, fortunately or unfortunately -- according to where you might find yourself, includes the reintroduction of the often dreaded radar gun. As you now begin to accelerate well past the posted limit, you might also consider -- What's in your wallet?
Stan Hall is executive director of the Gwinnett Sports Commission.