- 1 Get Informed – Take Action!
- 2 DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May Meeting with Victoria Estates and Mason Mill Neighbors
- 4 Governance Op-Eds
- 5 “Salmon Run” on Rainier Falls
- 6 A note from our friends at the Vogt Riding Academy
- 7 Reminder: First Friday (Tonight!)
- 8 Reminder: Neighborhood Picnic – October 27
Get Informed – Take Action!October 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.
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 NeighborsOctober 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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 www.lakesidealliance.org.
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: www.lakesidealliance.org
Cityhood – City of Briarcliff
Why support the City of Briarcliff Initiative?
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:
- The Lakeside folks didn’t give me satisfactory answers to my questions about their map.
- If not opposed, the Lakeside proposal will very likely be approved and be forwarded for referendum later this year.
- 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.
- Forming cities is a trend that has accelerated in recent years.
- 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:
- Some municipal services such as policing, parks, and city planning are better served by a smaller government with greater focus on a smaller area.
- One essential feature of city government is representatives that are more answerable to their constituents.
- Taxes need not increase. There is a transfer of tax revenue from the county to the new city.
- 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.
- 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.
1017 Castle Falls Drive
October 4, 2013
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.
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….
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!
1364 Rainier Falls Drive NE
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?
Vera Vogt requested (through Marian) that this message be forwarded to 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.
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