COVEReport – August 30, 2013

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martha

 

Dear Neighbors,

I’ve been attending the Lee May – Town Hall meetings and have spoken to the interim CEO about issues impacting our neighborhood.  Here are my notes from the August 22 – Town Hall Meeting in Tucker.

1.      The CEO’s “office” has been moved to be in the same place as the commissioners’ offices, which Interim CEO May sees as crucial to achieving better cooperation and collaboration.

2.      May still believes the CEO office should be changed in favor of a professional county manager form of government.

3.      May has three priorities:
a.      Public safety — There are too many vacant positions and he wants these filled as quickly as possible.  By way of example, May says there are 1000 positions funded, but only 915 filled.  As a side note, May pointed out that the response time from when the police were notified about the issue at Ronald McNair Discovery Academy and when they arrived was 2 minutes and 27 seconds.
b.      Economic development infrastructure – Interim CEO May wants a strategic plan for economic development and said they are going to hire a “third party” removed from politics to do it.  May said the permitting department has issues and it is a business deterrent (i.e., permits take too long to get done).
c.       Legislative agenda at the state capitol — The incorporation and annexation push has left DeKalb County with legacy costs, especially in the area of pensions and healthcare, that run into the millions.  May also stated that he wants legislation that doesn’t allow new city boundaries to be drawn any which way.  When the boundaries are being drawn to grab the commercial property, it leaves a greater share of the legacy costs to be carried by residents outside the cities.

4.      There were many, many questions about education.  The audience seemed to understand that it is a separate group and that there is no formal connection. Nonetheless, several audience members pushed Interim CEO May to establish a formal liaison with the schools, because while the county isn’t in charge of education, it does have a vested interest in it.

There were several examples of county planners issuing permits for new developments without consulting the school district or the school district putting in schools without consulting with development.

The consensus of many in the audience was that the county and the school district simply need to collaborate better between the two organizations.   May seemed to agree with the audience, but he issued one caveat–the focus of the school system needs to be on getting off of probation, and May doesn’t want to do anything that will divert them from that mission.  May has met with the superintendent and school board members in an effort to begin working better together.

5.      Sanitation seemed to get a gold star from everyone.  People in the audience expressed that the county has done a good job in that area.

6.      Commissioner May stressed the importance of the budget, especially the 2014 budget.  He underscored its importance in terms of funding high priority items.  May wants to raise reserves, because that affects bond ratings, and he would like to have 3-5 year budget forecasts so that they can plan better for the future instead of just year to year.

With gratitude,
Martha Pacini
President, Citizens of Victoria Estates (COVE)

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New Building at Houston Mill and LaVista – Mazal Tov!

 

Our neighbor, Young Israel of Toco Hills has broken ground for its new building at the corner of Houston Mill and LaVista.

According plans on the Young Israel of Toco Hills website  the one story building will face LaVista with a single entrance aligned with Houston Mill.  The property runs along LaVista between Merry Lane and Christmas Lane.

The building will have a sanctuary, social hall, classrooms, office and kitchen.   Normal seating capacity for the sanctuary is 274 but can be expanded to 415 for holidays.

The site plan shows the building set back approximately 100’ from the LaVista curb with a total of 67 parking spaces on the two sides and rear of the building.   A new right turn entrance lane will be created going west bound on LaVista.

The architect of record is indicated as Warren Epstein and landscape architect – Anderson Design.
The Young Israel of Toco Hills is a modern Orthodox congregation founded in 1994 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Site Plan, Building Rendering, Floor Plan

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Gannon – Rader Meeting Recap

County Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader met with citizens of Victoria Estates and Mason Mill at the Intown Community Church last night to discuss issues specific to our neck of the woods.  The meeting was well attended and lively, with a great deal of information and a lot of positive energy exchanged.  The commissioners discussed a number of recent improvements to the area, including major upgrades at Kittredge Park and Mason Mill Park, where a new senior center is being built.  The county has also received a grant for improvements along North Druid Hills Road between Briarcliff and Lawrenceville Highway.  Questions encompassed issues surrounding cityhood, infrastructure, the pros and cons of changing the form of county government, zoning and changing the culture of corruption in DeKalb County in a sustainable way.  A more detailed report of the questions posed and answers will follow in the next newsletter.

Of particular note, neither commissioner believes that changing the form of county government will solve the issues we are now facing.  Commissioner Rader noted that the performance of governmental duties has more to do with transparency, accountability and culture than with the structure of the model.  And neither commissioner supports the current method of creating municipalities.  Commissioner Gannon stated that the process currently used to create cities is unfair, particularly noting that it destabilizes the rest of the county.  They are both in favor of obtaining a countywide study prior to more cities being created.    They specifically support a plan to work with Georgia State University to create a public service model that would make all of the possible configurations of cities or townships in the county available for study.

Regarding the matter of changing the culture of corruption of this county in a sustainable way, Commissioner Rader outlined proposals for developing a new procurement policy, a revamping of administrative procedures, the hiring of an independent auditor (although funded, the post has remained vacant since its inception), and the creation of a Charter Commission.  The Charter Commission proposal created a lot of buzz, and it looks like this meeting may have paved the way for the citizens of our neighborhoods to make a real and lasting difference in the way this county is governed.

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Druid Hills Meeting

Forwarded from COVE cityhood chairman Ron McCauley are links summarizing the August 20 meeting sponsored by the Druid Hills Civic Association.

He says “This meeting hosted by the Druid Hills Civic Association was extremely well attended.  It was estimated that over 500 people gathered to get information.  Among the speakers were our own Allen Venet, (President of Citizens of Briarcliff Initiative), Lee May, (Interim DeKalb County CEO), and representatives from the office of the mayor of the City of Atlanta.

News links:
http://druidhills.org/2013/08/22/town-hall-meeting-draws-a-big-crowd/

http://vahi.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/association-druid-hills-cityhood-survey-results-favor-briarcliff-proposal

Mason Mill Civic Association president John Bugge also forward an article from the Emory Report.
http://victoriaestates.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Druid-Hills-residents-hear-cityhood-options.docx

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Burrell Ellis Grand Jury Report

The yearlong investigation into former DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis was unsealed on Wednesday, August 21.   The special purpose grand jury examined the bidding and contract management of the Department of Watershed Management.  Review began based on the reports of “…incompetence, patronage, fraud and cronyism…” occurring during the Vernon Jones administration.  The investigation expanded to the administration of Burrell Ellis.

This investigation relates to the $1.35 billion Capital Improvement Plan for the county’s water collection system, a response to a court ordered decree concerning DeKalb’s violation of the Federal Clean Water Act.  The project includes 80 plus construction and rehabilitation projects on the county’s approximately 5,000 miles of water and sewer lines intended to ensure public health and protect rivers and streams in the county.

In addition to the indictment of Burrell Ellis, recommendations for criminal investigations of Vernon Jones and others were made concerning:

  • awarding of contracts to fictitious “front” companies with no real employees, assets, or experience
  • paying over 2.6 million to a contractor with a single contract for $50,000
  • placement of county employee family members and friends in high paying contract positions for which they had no qualifications

Improper activities by Burrell Ellis sited in the report include:

  • requiring campaign contributions from vendors with pending or new contracts with the County
  • directing the cancellation of contracts for punitive and political reasons
  • dictating which individuals should be placed on selection committees with the intent to influence
  • interfering with and/or altering a selection committee’s final recommendation (prior to submission to the Board of Commissioners) in favor of vendors with a history of significant campaign contributions for Mr. Ellis

The jury also recommended the fundamental restructuring of the DeKalb County government including:

  • shifting more oversight power from county employees to county commissioners by making the commission positions full-time and adequately compensated
  • eliminating the public safety director position to reduce bureaucracy in the police department
  • reorganization for the purchasing and contracting department to include subject matter experts
  • revising of contracting and procurement policies including elimination of the Local Small Business Enterprise program which is described as a vehicle for fraudulent practices

A copy of the report is here Report.  The report describes in detail a seemingly clear and sad story of corruption.

I converted the file from an image to searchable text.  If you have any problems opening the file I have a larger file that should work for all PDF viewers.  It was too big too post to the website so send me an email here for a copy,  communications@victoriaestates.info.  – Carl

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Cityhood

Citizens of Victoria Estates (COVE) has been working hard to stay on top of the ongoing cityhood debate that impacts our neighborhood and county.  Within a few weeks we’ll be adding opinion columns that address the five considerations that we’re aware of:

  • Stay in unincorporated DeKalb
  • Comprehensive study of how the county can be divided into cities
  • Inclusion or annexation into the proposed City of Lakeside
  • City of Briarcliff
  • Annexation by City of Atlanta

City of Briarcliff Initiative Meeting – Thursday, September 12
The public is invited to a meeting of the City of Briarcliff Initiative on Thursday, September 12, at Clairmont Hills Baptist Church, 1995 Clairmont Rd., at 7:30 p.m. For more information on this group, you can visit their Web site:
http://briarcliffga.org/

DeKalb CEO Meeting – Clairmont – September 19
Town hall meeting with interim CEO Lee May
Clairmont Hills Baptist Church, 1995 Clairmont Road, Decatur, GA  30033
7:00 – 8:30 pm

Lakeside City Alliance Meeting – October 14
Community meeting at Briarcliff United Methodist Churchleafleafleaf

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