At the April 3 Sandy Springs City Council meeting, Mayor Eva Galambos explained her decision to veto a council decision to add pre-inspections to the city’s permitting process. The council overruled her veto – the first she has cast as mayor — with a vote of 5-1. Councilman Tibby DeJulio was the only “no” vote. As required by the city’s charter, the mayor provided a written explanation for her veto. Here is her letter to the City Council It has been edited for space.
I hereby veto council’s action to expend $17,146 to add part-time arborist/landscape architect positions to the Community Development work staff for the purpose of doing pre-inspections.
I am taking this action as chief executive officer of the city of Sandy Springs in order to safeguard the taxpayers. The amount for the remainder of this fiscal year is $17,146, which would translate to $68,584 for the next fiscal year. Although council discussed doing this on a trial basis, it is common knowledge that once a personnel expense is embedded in a payroll, it is extremely difficult to extract it. In the work session, it was suggested that this initiative be evaluated at the May budget sessions. Since there will have been at most a month and a half of experience, it is not reasonable to expect that an evaluation could be meaningful.
This council action represents “personnel creep,” which I do not find necessary for the reasons presented below. While the amount that is requested for this fiscal year is available in “Contingency,” any funds remaining in “Contingency” at the end of the fiscal year represent additional revenue that can be used to improve the city’s infrastructure, with lasting effects for the citizens of this city.
1) The added personnel does not emanate from a request by the department. Neither the department, nor the city manager, has indicated to the council their inability to perform its work in the absence of more personnel. This action is purely an initiative by council to determine staffing levels, which is not the function of the council. In fact, the Director of Community Development reported to council that the permitting process is moving to a system whereby all the parties, including the developers, meet together before submitting plans.
[T]he Department already is addressing the problems about which the council has voiced concerns, and the department is doing so with current employees, and has not asked for additional employees. We should allow this process to proceed before we add employees and spend taxpayer money.
2) There has been some perception that Sandy Springs permitting is cumbersome and not business friendly. This is not the time to add another step to the permitting process that would lengthen the process. None of the surrounding municipalities requires a pre-inspection before the permit is issued. Thus imposing this on Sandy Springs may make us less competitive.
3) Adding personnel by council initiative supersedes the normal process whereby the city manager, who is supposed to be closest to the administrative and day-to-day activities of the departments, would initiate a request for more staffing.
4) The normal process of processing permits that involve land disturbance requires the submission of a tree survey and a site plan that includes grading to be done. A site visit to confirm this information implies that the submissions are not correct. It implies that the developers who come to us are not honest. I am not willing to make this assumption. If the submission is incomplete, staff has the authority to require corrected submissions before a land disturbance permit is granted. While occasionally you do have bulldozer operators who violate what was permitted, a pre- inspection would not prevent them.
5) We have no history of recent violations of our tree ordinance as a result of land disturbance. At the beginning of our history as a city, we did experience egregious violations that resulted in severe fines. As a result of this firm enforcement, Sandy Springs has become known as a jurisdiction where we take the tree ordinance seriously.
6) I have seen no evidence to suggest that our beautiful tree canopy has diminished. Indeed, as part of my duty of mayor, I often escort visitors around our fair city. Their constant amazement is expressed to me at the forests that cover our area. We are truly blessed.
7) Council has described its action as a “policy change.” However, this is not a policy change. Our policies are expressed in ordinances, such as the tree ordinance, and the development rules. How these ordinances are carried out is procedure and implementation by staff. The effort by council to call its action to require a pre-inspection a “policy change” is semantics. I cannot accept that.
Eva Galambos is mayor of the city of Sandy Springs.