Monthly Archives: October 2013

COVEReport – October 24, 2013

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How are we doing?  – Take Our Survey!

SurveyCOVE is three months old!  Since our inception, we’ve held several meetings including events with our own CEO and county representatives.  We’ve worked on sidewalks and are looking at zoning. What else do you want us to do?  What have we done well?  We want to know. Please help us continue the conversation by taking the four question survey. – Erika


Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.


Update on Proposed “Druid Hills Charter Cluster”

Jen Tipping (2)October 24, 2013 – Prepared by Jennifer Tipping

Jen Tipping has organized information concerning the proposed Druid Hill Charter Cluster that impacts Victoria Estates.  Victoria Estates is included in this proposed district up for a vote on November 4.  We thank Jen for this valuable information! – Carl

BVEOn a personal note, our family has 3 students attending Briar Vista Elementary School (BVE). We are active on the BVE Parent Teacher Organization. Following a vote by parents and teachers at BVE, the official position of the BVE School Council is in support of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC) Petition. I am no expert on the Charter question but have voted in favor of the petition moving forward and would be happy to try to answer any questions you may have. As with any initiative that touches on public funding, property values, and education, the DHCC petition has been both praised and criticized. The web resources referenced here – especially the AJC coverage and reader comments – feature perspectives from all sides.  – Jen Tipping

Druid Hills Charter Cluster Mission Statement

DHCC“The Druid Hills Charter Cluster will develop college and career ready students by providing

continuous learning pathways for students from K-12.  These pathways will provide a choice of learning models with rewarding instruction, an authentic assessment process, and environments that value parent, teacher, and community contributions to the education of all children.”  Petition, Q3, Mission; Click here


A 2005 Georgia law allows all of the schools in a high school cluster (elementary, middle, and high schools) to operate under a single charter as a charter cluster.  In February of 2013, principals, PTA and School Council representatives filed a letter of intent to form a Druid Hills High School Charter Cluster (DHCC) within the DeKalb County School District.  Stakeholders from the seven schools making up the proposed DHCC worked together throughout 2013 to draft and present a petition for the first Charter Cluster in the state of Georgia.

The DHCC petition proposes that an autonomous governing board would have authority over all major decisions involving staffing, pay and curriculum.  The board would create a non-profit entity to employ all staff, including a chief administrator and finance chief.  The petition seeks a 5-year term to begin, if approved, August 2014.

On August 13, 2013, a community vote on whether to present the petition to the Dekalb County Board of Education (BOE) passed overwhelmingly.  Of the 1,130 votes cast, 92 percent favored the charter cluster.  The petition was submitted to the BOE on August 16, 2013.  The BOE has 90 days to decide whether to approve the petition.  A BOE vote is expected at the November 4th Business Meeting.

Victoria Estates is in the attendance zone served by 3 of the 7 schools in the proposed DHCC:  Briar Vista Elementary School (BVE), Druid Hills Middle School, and Druid Hills High School.  The other elementary “feeder” schools are Avondale, Fernbank, Laurel Ridge, and McLendon.  These 7 schools serve approximately 5,000 students.

Please see the DHCC Executive Summary document for details about the goals of the proposed charter.    Click here

Charter = Flexibility + Autonomy

Charter schools are primary or secondary schools that receive public funding.  Charter schools may also receive private donations.  Charter schools are subject to some of the rules and regulations that apply to other public schools but, through waivers, generally have more flexibility and autonomy than traditional public schools.  Charter schools are expected to produce certain results, set forth in each school’s charter.  Charter schools provide an alternative to other public schools, while remaining part of the public education system.

If the Charter Cluster petition is approved, each school is subject to the contract outlined in the Charter between the Charter Cluster’s governing board and the BOE.  Through the contract, each school would have greater flexibility in its operations and instructional approaches in exchange for greater accountability.

Serving All Students

The attendance zones for each of the schools would remain the same under the Charter.  Pursuant to Georgia law, the Cluster must enroll any student previously enrolled in a Cluster school prior to conversion to charter status.  Any child who resides in a school’s attendance zone will be able to attend that school.  As public schools, Charter schools are required to serve all student populations, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and students with special needs.

Title I schools (including BVE) will still receive funding and will apply and utilize those funds as outlined by the Federal Government and the State of Georgia.  Title I funds are school-specific and will not be shared across the Cluster.

Work of the Organizing Committee and Working Groups

The Organizing Committee (OC) was comprised of 2 representatives from each school.  The OC worked to implement and organize the preparation of the Charter Petition.  The OC arranged the charter petition work into 6 sections:

  1. Educational Programs;
  2. Assessment Methods, Goals and Objectives;
  3. Waivers, Fiscal Feasibility and Controls;
  4. Mandated Services and School Operations;
  5. Parent and Community Involvement and Governance; and
  6. Description of Materially Distinguishable Factors and Cluster Rationale.

A Working Group was assigned to each section.  Each Working Groups had between 9 and 30 volunteers; all 7 schools were represented in each Working Group.  Each Working Group researched and drafted its assigned section of the petition.  Volunteers included parents, teachers, community members and administrators.  BVE was well-represented across all working groups.  Through the spring and summer of 2013, Working Groups and the OC developed the final charter petition.

The petition is now pending before the DeKalb County Board of Education.  A vote is expected at the  next BOE meeting on November 4, 2013.  Meeting details: 7:00 p.m., at the DeKalb County School District’s Administrative & Instructional Complex, J. David Williamson Board Room, 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard, Stone Mountain.

Want to be heard on the Cluster Petition?

Please contact Board members in writing and let them know your position on the DHCC petition.  An e-mail friendly copy & paste contact list of all board member e-mail addresses follows the list of individual contacts:

Dr. Melvin Johnson (Chair)
Mr. James L. McMahan (Vice Chair)
Mr. John W. Coleman
Mr. Marshall Orson
Mr. David Campbell
Ms. Karen Carter
Mr. Michael A. Erwin
Dr. Joyce A. Morley
Mr. Thaddeus Mayfield

To reach all the Board Members at once, click here or copy and paste the contact list below into the recipient field of your e-mail message:,,,,,,,,

Web Resources

Druid Hills Charter Cluster Website

Druid Hills Charter Cluster Facebook page

DeKalb County Board of Education

Briar Vista Elementary School

WABE broadcast of March 28, 2013

AJC coverage

Executive Summary Document

In the K.N.O.W.:  Knowledgeable Neighbors on Watch

Birg_ErikaErika Birg, October 24, 2013

It was a gloomy, cool, and wet Saturday morning, but spirits were high at the DeKalb County Police Headquarters in Tucker, where the DeKalb County Police hosted their quarterly “In the K.N.O.W.” session for Neighborhood Watch communities in DeKalb on October 19, 2013.

image (9)On the agenda were “Target Hardening,” “MARTA Safety,” and “Holiday Safety.” DeKalb and MARTA officers and our public education specialists, including our own Center Precinct Specialist, Al Fowler, made three hours speed by in a blink with helpful information.

Target Hardening:

A police term for property protection; how to make your home less inviting to burglars.  Given the recent spate of brazen daylight burglaries in our vicinity, and sadly in our community, this presentation garnered rapt attention from the 30 or so attendees.  Officer Francisco, who regularly responds to burglary reports in DeKalb, spoke and answered questions for an hour on home safety; and no doubt, he could have gone longer.   Officer Francisco made numerous recommendations (which we will detail in a “tips” section of our regular COVEReport), but emphasized three items that all can do to protect their homes:

  • Alarm System:  If you don’t have one, get one.  If you don’t turn it on, it’s useless.  There are numerous companies in our area that have affordable plans, such as Ackermann at $18 per month for monitoring.  Xfinity by Comcast offers a service that also allows you to turn lights on and off and other extras.  Burglars are more likely to avoid a house that has alarm system signs out front (and back).  Cameras are also invaluable and are becoming more affordable.
  • Reinforce your Doors:  In two videos shown during the Holiday Safety presentation, thieves were able to kick in doors within 30 seconds.  Two or three kicks and they were in.  How to prevent that?  Reinforce your doors with Door Sentinel.  These are steel bars that are installed along the doorframe and on the doors that prevent them from being easily kicked in.  It’s available on Amazon, and depending on your door, can be less than $50 self-installed.
  • Close it Up:  As we move into the cooler temperatures of fall, it is tempting to leave a window open for fresh air.  Don’t do it.  Open windows mean that if there is an alarm system, it likely is not on, and the burglar is halfway in.  When you are not home or are asleep, close your blinds, close and lock your windows, close and lock your doors.  Any opening is an invitation to a ne’er-do-well.   This includes doggie doors. Officer Francisco noted that some burglars will bring their children who can climb in easily and unlock the door.  (And, note, if you have a thumb lock installed on a door with a window or side panel, that is easy access for a burglar as well.)

image (1) - CopyMARTA Safety:

MARTA Officer Jones spoke to the group to help let people know that MARTA takes the safety and peace of its customers seriously.  As many may not know, MARTA officers are state-certified law enforcement officers with powers attendant to officers in counties and municipalities.   Officer Jones addressed three new initiatives to improve rider safety and comfort of the system.

  • New Enforcement Capabilities:  MARTA is instituting a new program that allows MARTA to suspend riders who violate MARTA’s rules; suspensions can last from 12 hours to an entire year.  And if a rider is a repeat offender, that rider can be banned from the system.  How will enforcement work? If a rider is suspended and violates the suspension – off to jail.  Working with local law enforcement and our courts, MARTA will be able to send offenders to jail.  That may encourage good behavior and deter offenders.
  • See and Say:  MARTA has created a new smartphone app that allows riders to discretely photograph and report problems, including suspicious packages, and to call MARTA police directly.   The app is free and is available for multiple smartphones.   It allows you to take a quick snapshot – with flash automatically disabled – and to send it quickly to officers so that they can respond.  Apple App    Android App
  • Smart Cameras:  MARTA is installing new “smart” camera system that will sound alarms when it captures video of certain events such as a suspicious package that has not moved in a certain amount of time or when there is an altercation.   The cameras will be rolled out fully in the coming months and will provide the officers with another eye on the scene to assist passengers and improve the safety of the stations and trains.

image (6)Holiday Safety:

The focus of this portion of the program (presented by the three precinct Public Education Specialists) was personal safety, with a little on additional home safety to consider during the holidays.  Here are a few of the highlights (stay tuned for more tips in future COVEReports):

  • Purses:  Do not drive with your purse on the front passenger seat.  Easy target for a smash and grab.  Also an easy target at gas stations – thieves called “sliders” will enter the other side of an unoccupied car while the driver is pumping gas and steal purses and items in the car.  Take your purse with you or lock the car.  Do not leave your car windows open and items of value inside – they can go through open windows too!
  • Credit cards:  Be careful how you produce your credit card to the cashier.  Thieves are now taking pictures with their phones of card numbers as they stand behind you in line.  Cover the numbers (front and back) with your hand as you turn the card over to the cashier.  Be aware of your surroundings – is anyone standing a little too close?  Also, one attendee noted that an electronic reader read his cards  and charged on the card shortly thereafter. Now, he keeps an old card wrapped in aluminum foil in his wallet to prevent electronic card readers from being able to read the information on the card.  (For more on electronic pickpocketing, see here:  Relying on wads of cash may not be the best alternative either, as flashing cash at stores is a sure way to gain someone’s attention.
  • Packages:  When you take packages to the car – move the car:  How many times have you gotten your hands full, decided to take a run to the car and then go back to shop?  Someone is watching the parking lot and likely can break into your trunk faster than you can imagine.  If you have more shopping to do, move the car and re-enter from another location.  If you have packages you want to put in the trunk before you shop, move them to the trunk before you arrive at your destination.  At holiday season, there are groups of folks, including watchers who do nothing but spot potential loot – you may not see them, but they see you.
  • Holiday Decorations:  If you leave a tree or lights in the window, be careful not to show too much.  A beautiful tree may mean beautiful presents underneath, and even a menorah in the window can present an unobstructed view to a well-appointed living room.  Burglars want to have the best chance of a successful transaction, so don’t advertise that you have much that they may want.  (Also, children’s toys or decorations may suggest a woman’s presence, which often means to a burglar easy money by stealing valuable jewelry that can be pawned quickly.)

It was an attention-grabbing three hours, and each of the presentations reminded us to stay alert.  COVE will invite Officer Francisco to a COVE member meeting soon to talk about “Target Hardening,” and we will be in contact with Mr. Fowler on other ways we can stay in touch with our DeKalb County Police to continue getting good information to help us better protect ourselves and make their jobs easier.  We extend our thanks to the DeKalb County Police for an outstanding presentation.  We appreciate it:  COVE will continue to stay “In the K.N.O.W.”

DeKalb Zoning Code Draft Update

dekalb_seal_hi-resCarl 3 Carl Lange – October 24, 2013

 In our October 2 meeting with Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Luz Borrero (development) said the “final” draft of the revised DeKalb Zoning Code would be available soon.  It’s now available.  To access click here.

 Zoning code should be a top concern in preserving the quality of our neighborhood and county.  We should remain vigilant about potential development abuse, including leveraging of our designation as a tax empowerment zone.  The best way to defend against undesirable development is to understand and encourage good zoning practices, well before an individual property is at risk.  The current code is very outdated and this revision is long overdue.

Some interesting questions and concerns were posted on the Civic Association Network (CAN) on August 29, 2013.  We should be working with our fellow neighborhood associations and county to understand how these questions are being addressed.

Following is what was posted on CAN:

“Last night at the CAN (Civic Association Network) meeting, a discussion of the new proposed DeKalb County zoning ordinance was held, led by Bruce MacGregor and Joe Arrington. Both have been involved in reviewing the draft and commenting to the county.

The attached document, SUMMARY OF SOME OF THE PROBLEMS WITH THE PROPOSED NEW DeKALB COUNTY ZONING ORDINANCE, was distributed to attendees. It summarizes some of the problems with the new proposed code that will limit the rights of county residents…

Pat Thomas


  1. Severely limits the ability of homeowners and public officials to appeal land use decisions. Only developers and builders have standing to appeal decisions; code requirements become irrelevant in protecting neighborhoods.
  2. Reduces the size of transition buffers between zoning classifications from 50’ to 30’
  3. Eliminates the 35’ height limit on buildings in zones classified for office buildings that abut residential zones, thereby permitting five-story buildings adjacent to single family homes.
  4. Exempts pervious pavement from lot coverage limits, enabling builder/homeowners to pave all or large portions of their properties. This situation caused problems that were remedied in the current code, but which will be a problem again with the new proposed county code.
  5. Allows administrative reductions of required setbacks and minimum lot sizes. This situation also caused problems that were remedied in the current code, but which will be a problem again with the new proposed county code.
  6. Allows the construction of cell phone towers anywhere without adequate recourse for homeowners and businesses. (The extensive cell phone section of the new proposed zoning code was written by the cell phone industry.)
  7. Allows rezoning s with embedded variances (“concurrent variance”). This situation caused problems that were remedied in the current code, but which will be a problem again with the new proposed county code.
  8. Provides overly generous density bonuses in county-wide zones. Eliminates the ability the ability to steer density to areas best suited for it.

The new proposed code weakens the Community Councils, compromises pre-application neighborhood meetings that applicants are required to hold, and provides very limited criteria for who has standing (sufficient connection to a situation to challenge it.”

Update: Responses from Interim DeKalb CEO May

Lee MayInterim CEO Lee May has responded to the remaining questions not addressed at our meeting on October 2, 2013. He has provided the following edited questions and his responses:
1) Why have our County officials not been involved with the cityhood debate to point out how this may damage the County? And how can citizens who are against all these divisive cities and would like to keep the County as large as it is now make their opinions heard?

Part of the problem is all of the map boundaries are hypothetical and subject to change. Furthermore, each city provides a different set of services and this is deducted from the county portion of the tax bill and becomes a new city millage. This makes it impossible to nail down exactly how much a new city will cost, down to the penny. But all cities pay more in taxes pro rata than in unincorporated areas. It is worse in some areas than in others. But another layer of government ALWAYS carries expenses that never come out in the feasibility studies. But, with the extra expense also brings more control, and for some it’s worth it.

2) What we can do to get our streets repaved, including Houston Mill and LaVista, sewers repaired and water mains replaced?

La Vista is a state road, so that is GDOT. So are Clairmont, Buford Highway and Lawrenceville Highway. All county roads are rated, and we have a limited amount of funds to repave. The roads rated the worst are at the top of the list. We should be addressing potholes and dangerous spots as needed. Calls to Roads and Drainage usually have a 48 hour turnaround or less, weather permitting. We cannot pave or patch in the rain or the cold.

3) How can we get a stop sign at Rainier Falls and Castle Falls?

We have directed Traffic Engineering to see if a study has been completed. If the intersection meets certain specifications we can put a stop sign there.

4) Problems in the Planning Department. Are you aware of any major changes to the culture, and if not, how could this be achieved?

The CEO is well aware of numerous problems in this department and has taken steps to correct it. Part of the issue is the permitting process, from zoning all the way to building inspection, falls under several different departments. The CEO is getting all of these under one roof. Most of the complaints stem from delays in fire inspections. We are attempting to outsource this function presently. There is also new leadership ion place with Deputy COO Luz Borrero and Planning Director Andrew Baker. This should provide stability.

5) The grand jury indictment against former CEO Ellis. What recommendations do you have to change the actual culture of corruption in a sustainable way?

The District Attorney is handling the investigation into the former CEO and perhaps others, and we have no knowledge or input into that process. Administratively, we have outside firms looking into our purchasing practices and protocols, as well as current employees that were named in the Special Grand Jury Report, but not listed as being involved in a criminal capacity. We cannot and should not be reviewing these issues utilizing current county staff. Hiring outside firms to do this gives us an arm’s length viewpoint and a more global perspective on best practices moving forward.

6) The grand jury indictment recommended your county commission positions should be made full-time to provide better oversight over county employees. How would you see this working and are you in support?

I don’t know if there is widespread support for full time commissioners or not. There has been a lot of discussion about a full time county manager, and presumable that would be to a part time Commission. In a county manager form of government, the County Manager would watch the employees and oversee operations, and the BOC would provide the oversight to the county manager. Commissioners would not be running down individual employees.

7) We have experienced a serious wave of crime surrounding the Toco Hill shopping area. This includes theft at gunpoint, people being followed home, and car break ins.

These are very serious concerns and I have brought this to the attention of Chief Alexander and his staff at the North-Central precinct. I should point out that we have recently reallocated boundaries of police precincts for a more efficient deployment of officers, and that we are planning to hire 160 additional officers each year over the next three years.

8) How do you see the recent corruption scandal centered on the Department of Watershed Management, impacting its ability to function? What is the status of the Capital Improvement Plan in response to the Clean Water Act mandate?

I have directed Zach Williams to look into all aspects of the purchasing and contracting process and fix it once and for all; he has made several recommendations, which we are implementing, including the ones in #5 above. We have 84 indentified projects in our CIP list, and under the terms they must be started in 5 years (which would be 1st Q 2016) and completed in 8 years (1Q 2019) some of these projects have already been awarded and none are completed yet, but we will see a lot more activity on this in 2014.

9) I recently had to deal with the DeKalb water department. I believe the water department needs a complete overhaul. How could you help facilitate this?

Part of the problem is staffing, it insufficient to accommodate the volume of traffic, and our old Interactive Voice Recorder system was inadequate. Starting this week (Oct 22) we are implementing a more comprehensive IVR system which should alleviate some of the traffic, which should improve customer response time. That is not the complete fix, but that should help.

10) With a Republican political majority, what are our opportunities for insuring we have a fair review of other options of cityhood, including a countywide review of city boundaries, staying unincorporated, City of Briarcliff, or annexation by Atlanta?

You can’t guarantee a fair review. If there was a fair review, Dunwoody and Brookhaven would look a lot different, if they exist at all. The entire process is not equitable, and that is why I am against all new cities until the process is fair. To answer the question, you don’t need fairness or feasibility to create a city, only 50 +1% of the vote of state lawmakers, the vast majority of which do not live here.

11) When can the County repave Rainier Falls Drive from Houston Mill for about 2 blocks west as the street is old and crumbling and terribly uneven and bumpy?

All roads are rated, and we have a limited amount of funds to repave. The roads rated the worst are at the top of the list. We will direct the Traffic Engineering Division to review this. In any case, we should be addressing potholes and dangerous spots as needed. Calls to Roads and Drainage usually have a 48 hour turnaround or less, weather permitting. We cannot pave or patch in the rain or the cold.

12) Have you requested or considered the county getting a study re: the implications of prior and future city carve outs? If not, why?

Yes we have and we are moving in that direction

13) Would you support (or preferably proactively advocate) a legislative moratorium on cityhood initiatives until a full study, preferably statewide (or at least for the large metro counties that are not geographically isolated and that tend to share infrastructure), could be done to recommend best operating structure that addresses both quality issues and cost implications.

Yes I would, for these reasons and the reasons articulated in #1 and #10.

Once again, we thank the Mr. May for taking time to meet with us and look forward to working with him to best ensure the future success of the county!

Mason Mill Civic Association & Victoria Estates – Fall Fling Picnic

Thompson ParkSunday, October 27, 2013
4:00 – 7:00pm, W.D. Thomson Park Pavilion

RSVP: Click Here




COVEReport – October 10, 2013

Get Informed – Take Action!

October 4, 2013 – by Carl Lange, Editor
Our neighborhood and county are facing significant challenges (and opportunities) concerning governance that COVEReport has been following. Read more

DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May Meeting with Victoria Estates and Mason Mill Neighbors

Read More

Governance Op-Eds

DeKalb: Fixing the County – by Carl Lange

Cityhood–City Moratorium – by Susan Bell

City of Lakeside – by Kevin Levitas

City of Briarcliff  – by Ron McCauley

“Salmon Run” on Rainier Falls

Pat Killingsworth asked that we include a photo and video showing the flooding that has occurred down to her front door.  Click the photo above for the video.  This is in response to an email from Marian on good practices concerning pick up of leaves and debris.  Read more

A note from our friends at the Vogt Riding Academy

Vera Vogt requested that this message be forwarded to neighbors:

“Dearest neighbors, Read More

Reminder: Neighborhood Picnic – October 27

Mason Mill Civic Association & Victoria Estates

Fall Fling Picnic
Sunday, October 27, 2013
4:00 – 7:00pm, W.D. Thomson Park Pavilion
MMCA_VE 2013 Fall Picnic flyer

Suspicous Car – Gold Mercury Sable

This was forwarded from Civic Association Network concerning some break ins yesterday, 10/8/13. Be on the lookout and call 911 if you suspect you see this car!  – Carl

On the Medlock Facebook Page this was posted from the Druid Hills Conservatory Neighborhood.

“Residents:  The community has suffered a break in mid morning and the car they were seen in is a Gold Mercury Sable containing a white male and an African American male wearing a black hoodie.  The police informed us that they have been looking for these suspects for some time now, as they have been committing break ins all over the area from Emory to Lawrenceville Highway.  Our maintenance team spotted the vehicle on the property about an hour ago (7:30 pm) and we immediately called police.  The car though had left.

We are asking that if you see this vehicle which could quite possibly be sitting in a parking space, CALL 911 right away!!!!  They are looking for these suspects.  Please do not attempt to approach this vehicle, as your safety is our first priority.”

Please share this information with your neighbors and remind them to call 911 if they see this vehicle with the suspects mentioned driving around the neighborhood, parked in a driveway where it doesn’t belong, or parked on the street.

Thank you for staying alert and staying vigilant!!!

Dawn Forman

COVEReport – October 4, 2013

COVEReport Logo


Get Informed – Take Action!

Carl smallOctober 4, 2013 – By Carl Lange, COVEReport Editor

Wednesday night’s meeting with DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May was a great success thanks to the vision and persistence of COVE president Martha Pacini in securing this meeting.  We had an opportunity to gain insight into the activities of the CEO in correcting county issues and to ask some of the many important questions from our neighbors.  Please thank Martha for this great work and check out the summary in this issue of COVEReport!


Our neighborhood and county are facing significant challenges (and opportunities) concerning governance that COVEReport has been following.  Keeping informed is important for us to form opinions, take action, and effect change.

Some issues, such as how to get our streets and sidewalks fixed, involve talking to the right people and persistence.  We sent in a list of problem sidewalk areas  earlier to the county and continued the dialogue Wednesday night in our meeting with Mr. May and some of his staff.

Other issues such as cityhood involve staying informed, acting individually and collectively, and may result in an opportunity for our neighbors to express their decision at the ballot box.  The bottom line is our staying engaged continues to be important.

This issue of COVEReport provides a summary of the evolving options for our neighborhood with some op-ed columns.  They are intended to move the conversation along.  Please review the summaries and opinions and respond back here with your own.  We’ll include these in our next newsletter, along with a poll for our neighbors.

Governance Issue/Options

Fix DeKalb County:
–       Whether we end up in a city or remain unincorporated, we’re still in and rely on the county.  Fixing the county remains a top priority no matter what.

–       Cityhood Moratorium
–       City of Lakeside
–       City of Briarcliff
–       City of Atlanta annexation

COVE does not endorse a particular position or the opinions expressed.



DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May Meeting with Victoria Estates and Mason Mill Neighbors

Lee May  20131002_191827

Carl smallOctober 4, 2013 – By Carl Lange

COVE president Martha Pacini provided an introduction and thanked CEO May for taking time away from his family to meet with us.  May was previously the presiding officer for the board of commissioners.  He was the youngest person ever elected to the commission and was recently appointed by Governor Deal as interim CEO.  He is a graduate of Emory’s Candler School of Theology so has some familiarity with our area.

Attending along with the CEO were a number of county employees including police officers, county Executive Assistant Zach Williams who reports to the board of commissioners and CEO, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Luz Borrero (development), traffic engineering, code enforcement, and others.

The meeting proceeded with a short statement by the CEO followed by the reading of submitted neighbor questions by COVE board member David Woolf.  Responses by May then resulted in related follow up questions from the audience.

He opened his remarks commenting on the persistence of Martha in “following” him to ensure the scheduling of the meeting for the neighbors.

May indicated the issues we are dealing with have been going on for decades and need to be addressed.  He referenced his use of SWOT (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) analysis as a former business owner to address these concerns.  While issues are being dealt with, his priority is also to ensure daily delivery of services.

He doesn’t know how long he will be in this role.  It is based on the legal situation concerning indicted former CEO Burrell Ellis.  Currently May has the full power as CEO.

May responded yesterday to the grand jury report with recommendations concerning DeKalb county government “weaknesses.”

Zoning Questions: 

We understand the DeKalb Zoning Code is being revised and the recent deadline for community review was not met with any update to the schedule.  Zoning code is a top concern for our neighborhood and how smart development can be maintained to preserve the quality and value of our community.  We’re concerned about potential development abuse, including leverage of our designation as a tax empowerment zone.  What is your position as to when the revised code will be available for vote?

May was not sure when the code will be voted on.  It is with the board of commissioners for review now.  The current code is very outdated and is not relevant and sensitive to the needs of the community and does not follow a comprehensive plan.  It has been reviewed for at least four years now.  The delay was due to the outsourcing of the legal review to confirm that the document is  compliant with state and other laws and the county’s own ordinances. 

Luz Borrero indicated October 9 will be the date for publishing the new draft.  She also indicated there had already been 64 “public” meetings concerning the code.  There will be three consecutive “home rule” meetings on the new draft before the board of commissioners can vote.  Because of the holidays, the commission is unlikely to vote before February 2014. 

May said how long it takes for the board to approve the new ordinance cannot be determined.

Charter Commission Questions:

The grand jury indictment against former CEO Ellis details a widespread culture of corruption within the county government and recommends a major overhaul.  Changes in structure have been proposed, such as eliminating the CEO position, but this does not address the lack of controls and transparency essential to good governance.  How would you support our request for a charter commission to be formed, that includes community representation, that could provide a more objective review of the county government, and better ensures controls and good governance practices are put in place?

May said “I support a deliberative process to deal with our government structure in DeKalb.” He is going to host three county wide meetings.  He is looking at bringing in a non-invested third party to evaluate the government.  It’s not as much the overall system but some individual components that are a problem.  Other counties in Georgia have many different forms of government and are doing fine.  The substantive issue is not whether to change, but if you change it, what will the new structure look like.  What in our current system is broken, what are the various options, and how do you fix it?

The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) is planning to participate in this dialogue.   The ultimate decision is with our legislators making any decision a political one.  May is taking action now to have information available for legislators to assist in whatever decisions they make. 

Concerning use of a charter commission, this has occurred in the past by legislators.  He recommended that this request should come from legislators and not him.  He indicated there was some hesitancy from some legislators to do this and that a professional third party may be a  preferred choice.   

He is proceeding with the third party effort and will be seeking the consensus of the commissioners.  He stated a professional corporation and/or university will be selected.  It was recommended from the audience that if a university was used, this be a university from outside Georgia to better ensure objectivity. 

Internal Auditor Question:  

The County has an internal auditor position that has been funded each year but has not been filled.  In light of the damning allegations of corruption detailed in the grand jury report, filling this position is critical.   Are you working to have this position filled, and by what date?

A resolution for an internal auditor is before the commissioners now, having been in committee for 3 weeks.  Last year the board voted to move three county financial auditors to administrative control by the board of commissioners.  That aspect of the budget was vetoed.  Lee believes there is support now for the board of commissioners to pass this change.  Outsourcing is also an option being considered and is an idea supported by May.  He is also recommending that the commissioners approve the purchasing policies of the county.  Currently the CEO position has full control over this without any oversight.

Susan Bell asked what budget there is now for the auditors.  May responded that there is no budget defined now but a budget will be presented by December 15 to the board of commissioners.  This includes a line item for the internal auditor who will be hired by the board of commissioners.

An independent whistle blower hotline will also be implemented.

Moratorium Question: 

Would you support (or preferably proactively advocate) a legislative moratorium on cityhood initiatives until a full study, preferably statewide (or at least for the large metro counties that are not geographically isolated and that tend to share infrastructure), could be done to recommend best operating structure that addresses both quality issues and cost implications.

May said “yes, yes and yes!”  The concern is the manner in which cityhood initiatives are unfairly impacting the county, leaving most of the fixed costs but taking away much of the revenue.

Fixed costs include DeKalb County employee pension benefits.  These remain with the county after cities extract revenues.  These benefits must continue to be paid, despite loss of revenues.

“No corporation can continue to operate efficiently and effectively if every other year there is this major impact to your revenue…. You can’t comprehensively plan…” 

ACCG is recommending a 10 year moratorium.  If that organization can get a bill sponsored, the general assembly could consider it next year. 

Ron McCauley said he just met with Mary Margaret Oliver who believes the only way for the three overlapping cities in DeKalb to work, Briarcliff, Tucker, and Lakeside — is for these cities to sit together and work it out.  If not, none of these will go through.

May says we could municipalize the whole county and he is intrigued by this proposal.

Taking the commercial areas and not the residential areas while forming new cities according to May is “theft.”  Existing cities should have the first right of refusal concerning annexation of new areas.

Representatives of Atlanta have not spoken to May concerning annexation.  Atlanta has not previously come to the table concerning county cityhood issues.  He does not feel they’ve been previously engaged.

Previous City Incorporation Impact Question:

How do you monitor the county infrastructure impacts (cost, quality, time) of managing so many contractual agreements? More specifically, how has the need to manage recent (Dunwoody, Brookhaven) and old (Atlanta in DeKalb) city/county contracts impacted headcount and operating costs (recurring and non-recurring)?

Is there an analysis of true incremental costs, both intended and unintended? 

May indicated this is not currently being looked at. Dunwoody’s incorporation removed approximately $16 million from the county’s annual budget and Brookhaven $26 million.

Pension cost impacts are being looked at now as well as health care costs.

Lakeside a Done Deal Question: 

We’ve heard from a political supporter of the City of Lakeside initiative that approval of that plan is a done deal at the Capitol.  With a Republican political majority, what are our opportunities for insuring we have a fair review of other options including a countywide review of city boundaries, staying unincorporated, City of Briarcliff, or annexation by Atlanta?

According to May this is about relationships.  He’s been working hard on building relationships with individuals under the dome to help encourage a proper outcome.  He’s letting them know about the issues.  Many of the legislators were born and raised in DeKalb County.  Qualifications for the next election will be in March.  He is banking on the fact that legislators don’t want any more drama than necessary concerning DeKalb.

Neighborhood Infrastructure Question:  

What can we do to get our streets repaved, including Houston Mill and LaVista (from Briarcliff to N Druid Hills), sewers repaired and water mains replaced?  

Response:  There is a distinction between county and state roads.  For this discussion, let’s focus on county roads.  DeKalb is 400 miles behind on repaving of roads.  This is largely due to historical commitments the county has made to other expenses.  The county created and funded Grady and MARTA, and provided homestead tax credits.  The county is at its tax limit.   There is not an ability to do a SPLOST, special purpose, or local option sales tax. 

Peggy Allen with Public Works -Traffic Engineering indicated each street is rated annually and is resurfaced base on the highest score.  The county is currently repaving down to number 31.  Last year the county resurfaced 38 miles of road.

Rainier Falls is rated 31, even so, it is not on the next resurfacing list.  The county will patch potholes as requested.  Mason Mill and Houston Mill are rated 28.  It is hoped that they make the next list.

Susan Bell recommended the list should be published for more transparency.

A question was asked concerning the South Creek Bridge on Houston Mill.  Allen indicated they are inspected annually by the state.  Concern was expressed that it has a broken railing and is noticeably shaking and was not likely designed for the volume of traffic it currently has.  Allen advised letting the county know and they will contact GDOT for an inspection.

Sidewalk Question: 

How do we get enough money in our budget to fix our sidewalks?  And why is there no budget for that?  Sidewalks are key to the new economy.

Response:  Peggy indicated there are no funds for new sidewalks but that repairs could be made.  She asked that any problem sidewalks be identified by the neighborhood.  COVE has previously provided a list of some problem areas, but will provide an updated detailed list.

Crime Question:

We have experienced a serious wave of crime surrounding the Toco Hill shopping area.  This includes theft at gunpoint, people being followed home, and car break ins.  What is being done about this?

Response:  Attrition rate of police officers is a big issue.  100 are leaving annually.  There needs to be more officers.  What are the reasons for this? – There has not been a pay increase in six years, there have been insurance increases, paid vacation days have been taken away, and there has been inconsistency of leadership which is disruptive.  We’re lacking in pay compared to other jurisdictions.  May proposed being more aggressive in hiring.  Hiring 160 each year is the goal.  This is also the case for the fire department.  There is a three percent bonus this year.  May is implementing a take home car program in 2014 (in which officers may park their cars in the neighborhoods they live in), providing academic tuition programs, and 2014 salary adjustments county wide.

May agreed to send answers to additional questions that were not addressed in the meeting.  Any responses will be posted to the COVE website. 

Thank you all for attending this important meeting!


Governance Op-Eds

dekalb_seal_hi-resDeKalb – Fixing the County

Carl small October 4, 2013 – By Carl Lange

DeKalb has big problems as detailed in the recent grand jury report that led to the indictment of former CEO Burrell Ellis.  What many already suspected was made more alarming by the accused extent of problems.

In our meeting with commissioners Gannon and Rayder a charter commission was recommended as a means to ensure transparency in the review of the county issues and appropriate recommendations for correction.

A charter commission is a group appointed by the CEO or legislators to look into these issues and make recommendations.  These have been formed in the past by legislators concerning DeKalb, Atlanta, and other governance issues.  In our meeting commissioner meeting, Victoria Estates neighbor David Scott, discussed his involvement in a charter commission that had been formed many years ago to discuss the county jail.

The term “charter commission” is completely unrelated to schools and “charter” districts being developed for them.

In our meeting with Lee May the CEO said “I support a deliberative process to deal with our government structure in DeKalb.” While CEO May said he was not opposed to a charter commission he has recommend a non-invested third party for expediency and better results.  May recommended that a request for a charter commission should come from legislators and not him.  He indicated there was some hesitancy from some legislators to do this and that a professional third party may be a more preferred choice.

I believe we should continue to explore the request for a charter commission to best ensure transparency.  If there are valid reasons for not having one, these need to be confirmed.

We should be closely following the selection of the third party to review the county.  We should have full disclosure and an understanding of the qualifications, objectivity, and breadth of scope of the third party examiner and examination process.

We have an opportunity now to affect change when there is such public concern with the business-as-usual corruption of the county.

I will for one, and I know other neighbors, will be looking for this in the months to come.

man-stop-signCityhood – City Moratorium

20130220_susanbellweb October 4, 2013 – By Susan Bell

I have lived in DeKalb County for 28 years, including 14 years in Morningside (city of Atlanta, DeKalb County) and the remaining years in unincorporated DeKalb. For the past 12 years my husband, son and I have lived in Victoria Estates–and we love it here!  During these years, we have had the opportunity to use many of the DeKalb County services including for example, parks where our son has played, building permits for home renovations and police response to our home burglary last fall. Generally, we have not had major complaints about the county services we have used and continue to use on a daily basis. I am, however, disappointed in, and truly disgusted by, the multiples instances of actual or alleged fraud, waste and corruption in county government, school system, etc. (both in our county and many others).

That said, I am neither for nor against cityhood as an alternative to the current county structure as I do not believe we have enough fact-based information to make an informed decision.  I believe cityhood efforts should proceed only with extreme caution and after appropriate study of the alternatives, implications and potential unintended consequences. Specifically, I feel strongly that the Georgia legislature should impose a moratorium on cityhood referendums until a comprehensive, objective study can be performed that will inform constituents of both the opportunities and risks associated with county “carve ups”  or any other viable alternatives to addressing the areas of concern in the county.

Such a study may include, for example:

-detailed analyses of various county/city-provided services and any alternative service models

-data supporting which of the services benefit from large economies of scale vs. those delivered more effectively on a smaller, local basis (there is precedent for this locally and in other states; therefore, a study should show the cost impacts as well as any quality considerations)

-information on governance structure alternatives for certain or all county services (e.g., can the county carve out certain services under different governance to address quality concerns without increasing costs?)

– a description of the infrastructure required to manage the city/county tax-sharing and cost-sharing contracts when cities are established (there also is precedent for this both recently with the new DeKalb cities and previously with “City of Atlanta in DeKalb”) and the related costs (e.g., how many people does it take to manage these contracts up front and on an ongoing basis?)

– key metrics and benchmarking information that could be used to objectively evaluate a cityhood proposal as to both current and long-term cost implications

– a summary of any other qualitative factors that should be considered

– a summary of alternative scenarios that could achieve the quality goals without significant cost impacts

Finally, any study should offer scenarios setting forth key assumptions and the potential sensitivity or variability of those assumptions.

Please note that I am a CPA and believe we need good fact-based information to evaluate our alternatives, especially the financial business case.  This opinion is solely my personal opinion and not that of my firm.


Cityhood – City of Lakeside

kevin-levitasOctober 4, 2013 – By Kevin Levitas, Board Member, The Lakeside City Alliance

The Lakeside City Alliance (LCA) continues to educate residents in northern DeKalb County about the pros and cons of cityhood through community meetings, such as the one held recently at the Toco Hill-Avis G. Williams Library for residents in around Mason Mill Woods and Victoria Estates.  LCA contracted in mid-June with The University of Georgia to complete a required city feasibility study, the results which should be ready by no later than mid-December.  When the Legislature convenes in January of next year, it will decide which, if any, cityhood ballot initiatives to approve for voter consideration.  It is likely that legislators would approve no more than one cityhood measure next year.  If signed by the Governor, the measure would call for a vote on cityhood in 2014 by residents within the boundary area.

Here are a few frequently asked questions about LCA and cityhood:

1.    What is the Lakeside City Alliance (LCA)?

LCA is a grassroots group of north DeKalb neighbors working to understand how a new city might benefit the citizens of our north DeKalb community.  Background information about LCA board members is available on our website at

2.    What are the boundaries of the proposed city?

The general boundaries are Interstate 85 on the west, North Druid Hills Road on the south, Interstate 285 and Chamblee-Tucker Road on the east and the DeKalb County border with Gwinnett County to the north.  A copy of the map can be found on the LCA website and a large printed version is available for viewing at our community meetings. (Editor’s Note:  Lakeside includes all of the Toco Hills shopping center and parts of the Mason Mill neighborhood, but does not include Victoria Estates.)

3.    Would my property taxes increase if a new city is formed?

The formation of a new city would not cause your property tax rates to increase.  Incorporation is revenue-neutral because a portion of tax revenues shifts from the county to the city.  Since the city takes over the responsibility of providing certain services to city residents, the money follows those services.  City tax rates would be locked in at the prevailing rate for unincorporated DeKalb County on the day that the city begins operations.

4.    When would the new city begin?

Assuming voters within the boundary area approve a cityhood referendum in 2014, the new city would begin operating in January of 2015.

5.    Would creating a city simply add another layer of government?

No.  A city government would assume control of certain services from the county, so there would only be a single layer of locally controlled government managing those services.

6.    What services would the new city provide?

LCA proposes that a new city provide Public Safety (police and code enforcement), Parks and Recreation, and Zoning and Land Use.  These three service areas are most often mentioned by residents expressing an interest in local control of government service delivery.  Additional services, such as Public Works, could be added to this list if residents so choose.

Get more information and the answers to many more questions on the LCA website:

Briarcliff sign

Cityhood – City of Briarcliff

Why support the City of Briarcliff Initiative?

Ron McCauleyOctober 4, 2013 – By Ron McCauley

An editorial by your neighbor Ron McCauley

There are two cityhood proposals in the works that affect our neighborhood of Victoria Estates: Lakeside and Briarcliff.  It’s difficult to sort out why these are occurring, how they might make sense, and what the results may be if either is successful.  I’m going to explain the evolution of my thinking on the matter and why I believe supporting the City of Briarcliff Initiative is in our best interest.  In order to create something less than a dense book for people to read, this will be short on detail, but I welcome any who would like to learn more to have a direct conversation with me.

Like most of you, when I received word that there were cityhood proposals being formed I was very skeptical.  I wondered how such a thing made sense.  Aren’t we doing fine as is?  Why add a layer of government?  Will my taxes increase?  What possible benefit would be derived from forming a city?

Sometime in May I became aware of an opportunity to learn about the cityhood issues when there was an announcement about a meeting of a Briarcliff committee.  I viewed attendance as an opportunity to engage a group of wrong-minded folks generating an unneeded, damaging enterprise.  Frankly, I went there prepared to pepper the folks with questions, expressing my negative opinions, perhaps even causing a bit of trouble for them.  Near the beginning of the meeting I saw a comparison of the maps of Lakeside and Briarcliff.  I was shocked to see that the Lakeside border included an odd little peninsula that grabbed the Toco Hills shopping center while leaving out about ¾ of the surrounding residential areas.  It was an apparent land grab for revenue from a large commercial center while excluding the people who go there to do their grocery shopping, buy prescriptions, dine out, etc.  The effect on us is obvious: less tax revenue to support our essential municipal services.  The meeting did nothing to sway my opinion on whether forming a city was a good idea, but it became clear that we needed to find a way to oppose Lakeside.  I began an independent effort to find more information.  I also decided my neighbors needed to be informed about this critical issue.

After I had done some quick research I had the opportunity to relay some findings at a meeting led by our neighbors Erika Birg, Martha Pacini, and Carl Lange.  My message was simple: Lakeside is a really bad idea and we need to find an effective way to oppose it.  Following that meeting I dug deeper.  I learned more about how cities are formed, what municipal services each proposal was moving to perform, how those are financed and much more.  I also interviewed one of the principal architects of the Lakeside proposal, Kevin Levitas.

As my research gathered focus some things became apparent:

  1.  The Lakeside folks didn’t give me satisfactory answers to my questions about their map.
  2. If not opposed, the Lakeside proposal will very likely be approved and be forwarded for referendum later this year.
  3. Lakeside has every resource they need to achieve their goals – they are well financed, well organized, and have deep political support.  The bill presented to the state legislature is sponsored by Fran Millar, the legislator who was instrumental in the formation of Dunwoody and Brookhaven.
  4. Forming cities is a trend that has accelerated in recent years.
  5. An effort to simply oppose Lakeside would be difficult and would have a very low likelihood of success.

I came to the conclusion that the best way to oppose Lakeside was to support Briarcliff.  At that point I joined the Briarcliff effort and have devoted significant time and energy to that cause.

So, opposing Lakeside by supporting Briarcliff was my primary motivation, but since that time I’ve found other reasons to form a city.  In no particular order:

  1. Some municipal services such as policing, parks, and city planning are better served by a smaller government with greater focus on a smaller area.
  2. One essential feature of city government is representatives that are more answerable to their constituents.
  3. Taxes need not increase.  There is a transfer of tax revenue from the county to the new city.
  4. County government is not only corrupt, it’s completely broken.  The set of indictments of county CEO, Burrell Ellis are only the tip of a very large iceberg.  Corruption in the county is both endemic and structural.  Without major reform the problems will continue and get worse.  County government is structured such that there is a complete lack of transparency and accountability.  As a result, spending is wasteful, incompetence is widespread, and government is unresponsive to citizens.  The current ideas about converting the CEO position to a city manager and making county commissioner positions full time amount to (metaphorically) rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
  5. With the formation of a city there is a level of civic pride that simply won’t happen in an unincorporated area.  When someone tells you they live in Cambridge Massachusetts, or Palo Alto California, there are obvious impressions that come to mind.  If Briarcliff were to become a reality, the city borders that feature total inside the perimeter geography, Emory University, Emory Hospital, CDC, Mercer University, etc. are bound to engender a similar image.

There is much more that I could include, but I’ll end on that note.  Again, I encourage you to contact me directly if you’d like to learn more.  I can also give another, larger neighborhood presentation if people are interested.

Ron McCauley
1017 Castle Falls Drive



“Salmon Run” on Rainier FallsIMG_20130808_124317

October 4, 2013

PatPat Killingsworth asked that we include a photo and video showing the flooding that has occurred down to her front door.  Click the photo above for the video.  This is in response to an email from Marian on good practices concerning pick up of leaves and debris.

From Marian on 9/30/13:


Did you know that how you (or your landscape service) deal with your leaves and other debris can result in flooding of properties below you? I worked for a landscape company for 10 years, and a responsible company (or homeowner) will not blow leaves into the storm sewers, the street, or someone else’s yard or hedges (even if they can be “hidden”). Please speak up if a crew (or a neighbor) is not following the Golden Rule. What flows downstream from clogged storm sewers can really damage someone’s home….

Pat writes:

Re: Marian’s request that yard waste not be deposited onto the street, especially now that leaf season is upon us.  Attached is a photo and short video of the “salmon run” that we experienced last fall and again this summer during heavy rainfalls when our street drainage pipe was clogged with debris.  Please, please take her request seriously!

Patricia Killingsworth
1364 Rainier Falls Drive NE


VogtA note from our friends at the Vogt Riding Academy

October 4, 2013

In a reminder announcement to the neighborhood concerning the meeting with Lee May Wednesday night the following was included:

Some of the questions already submitted for discussion are:
  • What is the status of the delayed revision to the DeKalb Zoning Code and the potential impact to our neighborhood?
What risks could we face with future development, for example with the Vogt Riding Academy?

Vera Vogt requested (through Marian) that this message be forwarded to neighbors:

“Dearest neighbors,

         I’d like to put a mentioned concern to rest.  I live on the property of the Vogt Riding Academy and my sister’s riding school is providing a much needed service to the community. My intention is that the land remain a riding school for AT LEAST 50 more years.

                      Wishing you all peace, love, & joy – Vera Vogt”

The Vogt property was used as an example due to its size, location, and potential impact to Victoria Estates with any land use changes.  We are so thankful to have such great neighbors and to be reminded of their wishes and intentions to maintain the riding school for a long time.  It’s also important to understand that county government controls the zoning designation for properties and not individual property owners.  Situations can change and the best way to defend against undesirable development is to understand and encourage good zoning practices, well before an individual property is at risk.


Reminder: First Friday (Tonight!)

Our friends at Zonolite are planning First Friday, a Zonolite Road Experience on October 4, 5:30-8:30 pm.  There will be food, beverages (rumor has it that a whiskey tasting is part of the plan) and exhibits by Zonolite area merchants.

Zonolite First Friday

Reminder: Neighborhood Picnic – October 27

Mason Mill Civic Association & Victoria Estates

Fall Fling Picnic
Sunday, October 27, 2013
4:00 – 7:00pm, W.D. Thomson Park Pavilion
MMCA_VE 2013 Fall Picnic flyer