When Local Government Hates You

For over ten years, I’ve lived in a nice house in a quiet neighborhood in DeKalb County. Overall, my family and I like where we live – we have a neighborhood pool and tennis club, a variety of grocery stores, restaurants, and other conveniences nearby, and a church and a (private) school that we and our children are happy with. In many ways, it’s a great little suburb.

But anytime we have to interact with local government, we get what the DeKalb County residents voted for, good and hard. It’s been many decades since DeKalb was one of the better run counties in the state, with top-ranked public schools and other services. And while the county was never bright red, we used to have at least some balance on the county commission and state legislative delegation from moderate Republicans in northern DeKalb, where I live.

In 2018 and 2020, though, voters mad about Donald Trump voted out the remaining Republican commissioner and legislators. (My mother, a south Georgia native, would say they cut off their noses to spite their faces.) Those officials were hardly the raving deep-red conservatives their opponents painted them to be; nonetheless, DeKalb’s government was turned over entirely to the Democrats, who had not exactly run a tight ship when they had a mere majority.

And single-party rule here has been about as effective as it was in the former Eastern Bloc. I was reminded of this recently when I went to renew my firearm carry permit, officially known as a Georgia Weapons Carry License. Although we passed the somewhat-misnamed “constitutional carry” bill, having such a license still offers benefits related to purchasing firearms as well as carrying in other states. 

The legal requirements for this process could easily be completed in ten minutes or less at a single location, and a renewal could be done entirely online. Needless to say, this is not how DeKalb has actually implemented the process. Despite never actually having anyone ahead of me in line, it took over two hours, involved going to two separate government buildings (and having to pay separately for parking at each one), sitting on the floor in front of a locked office for an hour while employees stepped over me, and at one point actually being ordered – I checked my calendar and it is in fact October of 2023 – to wear a mask. (Fortunately I was ordered to take it off about 60 seconds later, since a picture is required for the license, so that particular absurdity was short-lived.)

I could provide a full timeline of the unnecessary indignities of the process, but the details are besides the point. It’s unimaginable that any private business would treat customers this way, especially given that due to the “constitutional carry” law, the service being provided is no longer even strictly necessary. We shouldn’t have lower expectations for services that are required by law to be provided by the government than we do for getting a sandwich from Chick-Fil-A.

For a permit that’s valid for five years, “only” wasting two hours and a few bucks on parking each time doesn’t seem that bad. But the same problems repeat when I have to deal with the tax office, or the water department, or the roads (which in fairness are finally getting some attention in my area after being neglected for many years more than they should have been). I’m fortunate that I don’t have to contend with the public school system, but I weep for those here who do.

The title of the column is a little hyperbolic. It’s unlikely that the county’s elected officials or any of its employees actually hate me, specifically. They just have no incentive whatsoever to care whether their processes are as efficient as they could be, or even if their processes are actively hostile to the citizens for no reason whatsoever.

None of this is necessary, but the voters have to demand change. The DeKalb County GOP has done a great job in recruiting candidates for as many elected offices as possible, but based on the results of the last couple election cycles, none of the Democrat incumbents have to be particularly concerned about their jobs. Which means they don’t have to be responsive to anyone except their own donors and their party structure. Until that changes, we’ll continue to get the local government we deserve, and not the one we need.

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