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Halls cities forge tight bonds through group
Joint Municipal Association keeps local officials communicating
Lula City Hall sign

JMA timeline

• 1988: The cities in Hall County formed the Joint Municipal Association as a social, relationship-based organization to foment better local government ties among themselves and Hall County government.

• 2004: The JMA is expanded to include Hall County government and the organization is rebranded as the Joint Local Government Association. It remained a social, relationship-based endeavor to foster better relations between local governments. There were no established goals or agendas.

• 2010: Hall County is excluded from participation and the organization reclaims its former name, Joint Municipal Association. This time, the group established a business model in which the JMA (mayors and city councils) meet quarterly, an executive committee comprised of the mayors meet monthly, and JMA work groups are convened by the mayors as needed to tackle and resolve specific issues.

Source: Georgia Municipal Association archives

For almost 30 years, the cities of Hall County have been bonding together in an effort to foster better relations between their local governments.

City officials contacted by The Times say the effort is working and creating stronger ties between them.

In a presentation he made to the Georgia Municipal Association to explain the genesis of the Hall County Joint Municipal Association, Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown said the idea was born out of a need to build trust.

“At the time, there were strained relationships between the cities and also between the cities and the county,” Brown said. “The (JMA) was an effort to improve that relationship.”

The leader of one of the smaller cities in the county, Clermont Mayor Jim Nix believes wholeheartedly in the union.

“I think it’s a good thing to have the council members and everybody to get together every once in a while to meet each other and talk about the issues,” Nix said. “We get to know each other a little bit. It’s one of the few places where we all can get together.”

Cities take turns hosting the quarterly meeting that brings together leaders from every municipality.

A few weeks ago, Gillsville hosted the quarterly meeting. Mayor Larry Poole extended the town’s welcome mat by holding an ice cream social prior to the meeting. The event included a presentation from a representative from Northeast Georgia Health System on its growth and programs that benefit the community.

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan has presided over the group several times. He said he thinks the organization is here to stay.

“It’s something that we need, that we support and I support because it gives us the opportunity sit down with other cities and talk,” Dunagan said. “It helps us work out any problems we may have or know what’s in the pipeline for one city versus other cities.”

The JMA was revamped in 2004 by allowing Hall County officials a seat at the table. The group renamed itself the Joint Local Government Association. However, that experiment ended in 2010 with the exclusion of the county from the organization and return to its original name.

Brown said the county had been invited to join the group to help bridge communication and solve ongoing conflicts over delivery of services and distribution of revenues from the local option and special purpose local option sales taxes.

“We found those relationships did not improve,” Brown said. “In fact, in some cases they became more strained because the county would team up with certain cities and exclude other cities. It was more a divide-and-conquer strategy we saw the county pursue.”

The county and the cities, with the exception of Lula, recently came together to approve a new Service Delivery Strategy required by state regulators to minimize duplication of services.

Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said efforts are on the way to create a similar association of cities in Banks County. Parts of Lula are in Hall and Banks counties.

Bergin said JMA is here for the long haul.

“We have the opportunity to meet and discuss current issues, work through some of the challenges, we learn from each other, it has any number of attributes,” Bergin said. “It’s a great resource for all of us.”

Buford City Commission Chairman Phillip Beard said he advocates for the JMA being in place forever. He said the biggest advantage is the cities meeting and talking with each other.

“If we had a problem and solved it, we don’t want the rest of the cities to have that problem,” he said. “We make them aware. It’s good for all the officials to sit down and talk with each other.”