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


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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




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