On Monday, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors agreed to allow its road department to assist the Columbus Public Works Department in picking up debris around the city, primarily tree limbs, branches and other yard waste.
The city has fallen behind in its debris removal due to a staffing shortage, so the decision by the county to provide county road crews and four debris-removal trucks to work with the city to get caught up is a welcomed move.
It’s pretty much a handshake deal. No formal agreement was signed and the county is providing the help at no charge. There is no long-term arrangement.
At the risk of reading too much into this, we are hopeful that among the branches and limbs that will be collected beginning this week, is an olive branch, that this short-term collaboration is symbolic of a better relationship between the city and the county.
For years, the personality clash between two strong-willed leaders – former County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders and former Columbus Mayor Robert Smith, had a corrosive effect on city/county relations. Some of their clashes were nothing short of epic and, eventually, the lack of respect between the two evolved into policy changes that eroded collaborative efforts, most notably the decision by the county to split from the city/county recreation department to form its own recreation department, a move championed by Sanders.
It would not be accurate to lay all of the blame for those strained relationships on Sanders and Smith, but it would also be inaccurate to say the influence they wielded did not have a powerful effect.
In the past year, that leadership has changed. Sanders is no longer board president and Smith is no longer mayor.
Their successors, Trip Haiston as board president, and Keith Gaskin as mayor, have displayed a more conciliatory tone in discussing county/city relationships.
Both seem to understand these relationships need to be sustained and strengthened. Both seem to understand that while not every resident of Lowndes County is a citizen of Columbus, every resident of Columbus is a citizen of Lowndes County. They both seem to grasp that while county residents may not be Columbus citizens, they rely just as heavily on what the city has to offer — retail, medical offices, entertainment venues, etc. — as Columbus citizens. The health and well-being of one has serious implications for the other.
We are hopeful this debris-removal cooperation is an outward symbol of that sentiment, perhaps the first of many efforts where the city and county can work together for the benefit of all, regardless of which side of the city limits sign we may live.
There will be times when the county’s interests may not align with those of the city, of course. But we are hopeful that those issues can be resolved in a spirit of mutual respect.
That would be a positive development for all of us.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.