With birthday cake and a few tales of a difficult gestation, Sandy Springs Rotarians and city officials on Dec. 3 celebrated Sandy Springs’ seventh birthday.

Mayor Eva Galambos, City Manager John McDonough and city consultant Oliver Porter, who helped create the fledgling city in 2005, took part in a panel discussion that featured stories of how the city came to be — or, as Porter put it, “the seventh anniversary of something that was almost impossible to do.”

“Seven years. It seems like yesterday to me,” Porter said. “And it seems, I’m sure, like a lifetime for Eva and John.”

Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos prepares to cut a cake at the Sandy Springs Rotary Club’s celebration of the city’s seventh birthday.

Sandy Springs City Manager John McDonough talks to members of the Sandy Springs Rotary Club during the club’s celebration of the city’s seventh birthday. Seated, left to right, area Barry Smith, Rotary president, Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos and Oliver Porter, who served as interim city manager while the city was forming.

The city “started in my living room, with a few people who were upset, mostly about zoning,” Galambos said.

They quickly ran into opposition in the state Legislature, where Fulton County lawmakers opposed the creation of a new city so close to Atlanta. “We faced a coalition of the rural Democrats and the black caucus that kept [the late House of Representatives] Speaker Tom Murphy in power,” she said.

Proposals to allow the creation of Sandy Springs were repeatedly rebuffed, she said. “When the bill came up for a vote,” she said, “you have never seen such an exodus to the men’s room.”

At one point, she said, lawmakers considered using a forgotten charter for a nearby city called Chattahoochee Plantation as a way to start Sandy Springs. “It would have been called ‘Sandyhoochee’ or ‘Chatty Springs,’” she said.

But that, too, couldn’t get the votes it needed for approval in the Legislature.

The logjam broke only when Republicans took over the state government, including the House, she said.

When approved by the voters in 2005, Sandy Springs was the first city created in Georgia in nearly a half century, Porter said.  In the years since, six other cities have been created, including Dunwoody about four years ago and Brookhaven this year. “We’ve been blessed in Georgia with a number of new cities,” Porter said, and each has been able to learn from the organization efforts of the others that came earlier.

But Sandy Springs residents had no model for how to get the city up and running. “We were like the dog that caught the train,” Porter said. “We had it, but what do we do with it?”

Porter became interim city manager. Dozens of residents joined citizen task forces to try to work out what needed to be done when the city opened for business Dec. 1, 2005.

Because of the speed required to set up the new city, leaders decided to try using private companies to provide many city services.  Other new Georgia cities have followed suit.

“Sandy Springs is known around the world now. The ‘Sandy Springs model’ is a generic term now,” Porter said.

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.