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New Milton City Manager advocates "police state" tactics

commentary by Sam Dobrow

When I was in grade school I was taught that the (former) Soviet Union was evil and must be feared. I learned how Soviet citizens could be accosted by the secret police and arrested if there was a slight imperfection in their "papers". Citizens lived in constant fear of the police. There was one set of rules for the elite and another for everyone else. I was also taught that things were different in America. I was taught our police were friends, they were there to "protect and serve". The Soviet Union collapsed under the totalitarian rule of its police state and it seems that we Americans and citizens of Milton have forgotten the lesson learned from the Soviets.

We, the citizens of Milton, chose to incorporate to have more control over how we were taxed and governed. We incorporated because we wanted better services, local control, and lower taxes; but we have a problem. Our city council members have not (yet) found a City Manager whose management skills and personal values align with a "culture of service". In fact, the top job in Milton, the job of City Manager has been a revolving door since incorporation. The current City Manager, Chris Lagerbloom, is a career police officer most recently serving as a police captain in Alpharetta, GA. In February, when Chris was announced as the new City Manager his credentials were listed as a long history of police work, police associations, and a degree in criminal justice. Reading his credentials, I felt he was being appointed to the job of Police Chief not CEO of our city.

The concern for Milton citizens is not just that the city manager is a career policeman but that his values align more with military command than with customer service. Right in our own backyard we have witnessed the grave consequences of hiring a manager with values that conflict with the culture of the organization he is hired to lead. Home Depot grew into a Fortune 500 powerhouse under the leadership of two men who believed that the customer was king. When they exited from the management of the company, the board mistakenly hired Bob Nardelli from GE. Nardelli brought with him a management team focused on operational efficiency. Within a few years under the leadership of Nardelli, Home Depot's market value collapsed and the die hard loyal customer base had defected. The problem is the same one we face here in the city of Milton; a culture disconnect between the citizens who voted for incorporation and the misaligned values of a regimented police officer.

Since February, 2009 when Chris Lagerbloom was appointed City Manager, the city has become more and more a police state. We see police cars speeding around our community, chirping their tires on the way to the coffee shop. We see our neighbor's honor student crying in her car while a police officer writes a ticket at the bottom of a long steep hill. We see our wife almost run off the road by a police officer chasing down another mom who didn't make a three second stop at the stop sign during rush hour. We find police cars parked in private driveways hidden from public view while waiting for a revenue moment. We find police officers following people out of restaurant parking lots looking for a tire to broach the center line so they can check for DUI.

When police are hiding out looking for speeders, they are not deterring, preventing or interdicting violent crime and crime against property because they are not visible. If there is a problem with speeding then the police should patrol and be visible. Malls don't hire a security guard to hide inside the store at night waiting for a burglar they can shoot; they post them visibly as a deterrent. Police hiding in the bushes and racing down the road to ticket someone breeds contempt for the police department; it does not deter speeding. If speed management is the goal, rather than revenue enhancement, patrolling is the answer. Patrolling will offer people a sense of safety without intimidation and harassment.

As the economy gets worse with more people loosing their jobs, homes, and retirement the pressure will increase to generate even more revenue from policing activities. Its been justified in small circles saying that speeders come from Forsyth and Cherokee county, so its OK to take their money. This is a hollow excuse; even if it were true it is down right wrong and un-American. Just imagine what it would be like to live in Milton if everyone who was ticketed in a speed trap were to protest by slowly parading through the speed zone honking their horns like a locomotive train every day and night until the neighborhood raised up their arms against the police presence. This trend toward a police state must be reversed before we create our own Orwellian society.

The city's revenue budget reflects this disturbing trend toward a police state and it seems that some of our city council members may have been sucked into this warped thinking. Outside of property, sales and related taxes (which are down significantly in the bad economy), the largest revenue line items come from fines and court fees; dwarfing revenues from alcoholic beverage licenses, zoning permits, and building permits. If the City Manager's best idea for balancing the City's budget is revenue from police and court actions, we need a different City Manager!

Milton can be a shining city on the hill but it won't get there as a police state! We are a rural community, many living on small farms. Our homes are far apart and we usually need to get into our car just to visit our next door neighbor. Our roads are country roads that connect us with our friends, jobs, and businesses. We need to get from one place to another as a part of our daily routine. Our children need safe roads to get to school. We need a city that makes our life better, serves the public welfare, protects our citizens, respects our visitors, and encourages businesses to locate here. If our city was run by a City Manager who was groomed in a culture of public servitude things would be different. Our city employees would go out of their way to be of service. The police would be our friends. Business would feel welcome and our citizens would feel safe.

The time to act is now. The longer we wait to make the obvious changes, the harder it will be to change the culture of our city government. Encourage your city council to find a City Manager who has experience as a CEO of a successful customer-service oriented organization. Tell your elected officials that you want to live in a city that is a friend to its citizens and a good neighbor to our surrounding communities. Tell your city council that you want your children to grow up in a city where police are their friends who promote public safety through leadership and personal example.

Sam Dobrow is a freelance photographer, creative writer, and journalist based in Atlanta, GA. More information about Sam Dobrow may be found on his website.