As Augusta Commission members debate the merits of privatizing government functions, three of them on Monday made an exploratory visit to an Atlanta suburb where nearly everything is privately run.
Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles and Commissioners Joe Jackson and Wayne Guilfoyle traveled with City Administrator Fred Russell and Solid Waste Director Mark Johnson to speak with John McDonough, the city manager of Sandy Springs.
“The meeting was very positive,” Guilfoyle said. “It would be enlightening if our colleagues would keep an open mind for the 200,000 people that we represent.”
Sandy Springs, a city of about 100,000 formed from unincorporated Fulton County in 2005, employs just six people, excluding 296 police and fire workers, according to Communications Director Sharon Kraun.
Kraun is actually an employee of The Collaborative, a firm that won a bid to provide communications and community development services for Sandy Springs last year for $2.82 million.
Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. provides municipal court and recreation services at an annual cost of $1.6 million, and URS Corp. handles public works for about $3.1 million, Kraun said.
Though Augusta government is vastly different from that of6-year-old Sandy Springs, Guilfoyle said he learned that that difference could be a positive thing as Augusta moves toward privately managed services. The commission continues to debate the merits of a recent 6-4 vote to outsource management of Augusta Public Transit to a private firm to save money.
“We have an advantage because we have a long history of what (government) costs, versus they had to start off with a blank business plan,” Guilfoyle said.
After incorporating, Sandy Springs initially hired CH2M Hill to manage all city services for $25 million. Last year, after putting the services back out for bids, officials got the annual total cost of services down to $17 million, he said.
“It’s interesting to see how other people work,” Jackson said by phone on his way back to Augusta with Guilfoyle, Russell and Bowles in a van driven by Johnson. Jackson said he had learned that morning of a visit organized by Bowles and Russell and decided to go along.
“It was a good educational event, like a field trip,” Jackson said. “Three commissioners take off from their own work to go exploring.”
Bowles did not return calls for comment. Commissioner Jerry Brigham said he hadn’t been invited.
“If we were just getting started, we’d outsource most of our people, just like they did,” Brigham said. “Augusta’s been around almost 300 years, and we have things that are in place that they don’t have in place.”
Russell said he had picked up a copy of Sandy Springs’ privatization “guru” Oliver W. Porter’s book about the public-private partnership model for city government.
“Citizens deserve for us to take a look at everything,” Russell said. “I don’t think it’s right to take anything off the table at this moment.”
Porter has written two books about the “PPP model,” including Creating the New City of Sandy Springs and Public/Private Partnerships for Local Government. Porter and McDonough together make up PPP Associates, according to the consulting firm’s Web site.
A retired vice president for AT&T, Porter also has advised the Georgia cities of Johns Creek, Milton and Dunwoody on the use of private industry to deliver government services, his résumé says.