New debate over Dunwoody cityhood

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The creation of new cities in metro Atlanta remains in the news. Efforts to carve cities out of Lakeside and Tucker died in the recent legislative session. Today, a longtime resident of Dunwoody, which became a city five years ago, criticizes leaders for an urban agenda that isolates voters. The mayor says the city must look forward and take control of its growth.

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Cityhood: Be careful what you wish for

By Jim Dickson

More than five years ago, Dunwoody became a new city with the objective of wresting control from DeKalb County and establishing a local government to better represent the interests of Dunwoody citizens. It has not worked out that way. We have been betrayed by politicians and associates who play inside political baseball.

The latest episode of this saga is recent legislation to change the Dunwoody city charter and eliminate the necessity for a citywide vote to fund the takeover of fire and ambulance services from DeKalb; instead, this decision now will be made by majority vote of the seven-member City Council. This charter amendment removed the only right to vote that Dunwoody citizens had regarding the takeover of services from DeKalb.

Most important, this amended city charter does not have a guaranteed limit on the maximum tax rates to fund the operating costs needed to run fire and EMS services. And there is no limit to the high capital costs to acquire fire stations, trucks and ambulances – especially since the city charter has no debt limits via indirect contractual obligations. None.

Since Dunwoody became a city, the City Council has followed impractical urban planning agenda and master plans recommended by consultants and developers who contribute to certain political insiders. This agenda completely changes the character of a community that has attracted individuals and businesses for many years.

As a result, while police protection has improved somewhat, there have been many high-cost projects opposed by an overwhelming majority of residents, according to credible polls of more than 1,400 residents. One project cost $2.5 million for a half-mile stretch of parkway that goes from four lanes to two lanes and will undoubtedly increase traffic congestion in an area already burdened with traffic gridlock. Perhaps the worst project is the ChatComm 911 service, which has not worked safely since its inception more than two years ago.

These consultants are also the root cause of new layers of excessive fees and regulations, and very low budgets for residential road repaving that will result in many residents never having neighborhood streets repaved in their lifetimes, despite upgrading their homes and paying taxes for years.

A new organization called SaveDunwoody was formed about 18 months ago to oppose this impractical agenda. It hasgrown to more than 850 members. Conversely, the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, with a declining membership, no longer independently represents the interests of homeowners the way it once did.

While Dunwoody is mostly Republican, the DeKalb GOP is also a closed shop controlled by insider political appointees; incredibly, the DeKalb GOP chairman refuses to disclose names and contact information of members of the executive committee, even to bona fide members of that committee.

The bottom line is simple: Georgia citizens wishing to establish a city should be careful what they wish for. Beware of more political insider cronyism.

Jim Dickson has lived in Dunwoody for 35 years.

Dunwoody on road to improved services

By Mike Davis

The city of Dunwoody recently celebrated its fifth birthday. As mayor, I can say the milestone was less about celebration and more about the achievements we’ve made and what the future holds.

In my recent State of the City address, the key messages delivered centered on excitement and promise. I also spoke about the hard work we’ve done in the past five years: paving nearly 50 lane miles of city streets; upgrading and maintaining more than 160 acres of green space and city park amenities, and establishing a first-class police force that has helped reduce crime and kept our roads, homes and families safe.

Concentrating on the “Three P’s” (paving, parks and police) was at the core of why we became a city through an overwhelming 86 percent majority vote. Looking back, I’m pleased we can stand behind those promises and continue to focus our funds and resources to address these critical areas.

Dunwoody is a recognizable business hub, as evidenced by its recent selection by State Farm for a large, mixed-use complex to be the insurer’s future major operations center. New and established businesses, hotels, restaurants and retailers are vying for space all over the city because of our business-friendly environment and easy access to major interstates and MARTA.

Our city, operating under a charter approved by the Georgia General Assembly, closely resembles a private-sector business. We are a representative democracy where citizens (shareholders) elect a board of directors and chairman (City Council and mayor) who hire a city manager (CEO) who serves at the discretion of the board. Our mission is to “provide the highest quality of life for those who live, work or play in our community and to foster an environment where business can prosper.”

Dunwoody has achieved success following that mission and made real progress through local control and initiatives. We also realize each of our citizens has his or her favorite projects and views on development and improvements. As leaders, we must address all these desires and balance our efforts so we in turn can show progress on all fronts. The “Three Ps” remain our focus, but balancing each one presents the challenge.

The city’s charter clearly spells out which services the city must provide for the health and safety of our community. Among the services we provide directly are police, storm water, community development and parks. The charter also includes services we contractually manage through intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) with DeKalb County, such as sanitation, fire and emergency services.

The city seeks to improve overall service levels. Looking forward, we are exploring management of critical services integral to providing the highest quality of life for residents: schools and fire/emergency services. By exploring direct management of select services instead of through IGAs, we are pursuing better administration and oversight, all to increase service levels. As any successful corporation knows, to achieve this, we must commit to fiscal responsibility tied to a vision that addresses the needs of tomorrow.

Mike Davis is mayor of Dunwoody.

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23 comments Add your comment

Tony Delmichi

March 23rd, 2014
4:50 pm

Oh Dunwoody.
Prior to making Dunwoody the place of our choice, AJC became the independent minded source of news and information, helping us learn about Dunwoody and make such a choice.. I did not make that choice. That was my wife’s. She needed a place to hang her hat, stay in be until 8:45 AM and be at her office by 9:00..!!She works for a company with global headquarters near by. That story with Dunwoody started little over five years ago including three snow storms.
Reading the those two Narratives by Mike Davis and Jim Dickson, I recognize two confection views. Davis is a cheer leader, a salesman he sugar coats his presentation. Jim Dickson is frustrated with a political monopoly. I am lucky man. I know the two of them. I spent the entire history of Dunwoody around those who started it up and still involved directly or indirectly with Dunwoody and Dekalb County.
Dunwoody, as I watched it’s evolution. is like a new toy, in the hands of a bunch of kids. They don’t know what to do with it. They don’t want to share it and now are fighting among themselves over it!
Residents of Dunwoody were sick and tired of not having full services from Dekalb County. Few dozens of the founders of Dunwoody got together and sold the idea of a new city after Sandy Springs to the voters. They did what they had to do and said what they had to say to make an attractive proposition. I did not meet yet any resident in Dunwoody who had a chance to read the fine print of what they voted for. Passion was very high. Everyone wanted his road fixed. All wanted a police car around the corner. Many did not want to see many high rise rentals creeping to the back of their single family homes. The taxes had to stop where they are. It was a simple proposition in the mind of those 8,000 who voted out of 25,000 registered voters and a population of 47,000 in total.
Years passed. Voters started to have a buyer remorse and second thoughts. This few dozens started to act like a monopoly. During the last local election 52% of the votes went to someone else.
Many like me went on protesting decisions made by the the administration of the city of Dunwoody.
Many like me noted the absence of consensus among the administration and the tax payer. It is obvious, the city administration were and are not listening to the voters and respecting their wishes.
A bond was advanced by the same group currently in office was turned down by the voters. The Local government wanted to borrow $66,000,000.00 to buy a bunch of high rise rentals, demolish them and displace communities. Another challenge to increase the sales taxes and have funds in the control of unelected appointees to dispense. It was turned down by the voters of Dunwoody and other surrounding communities. Just they week, the administration was able to use three of their members – the trio of Dekalb county – to re-ligislate the charter of the city of Dunwoody by adding and changing commas and few letters and providing an un-checked power to take the tax payers into open ended financial obligations such as the fire department among other high tags’ items.
Five years ago, 8.000 out of 25,000 registered voters signed up for a new city patiently without examining the details and the fine print. Now the are asked to forget about it. The city administration will do what it sees fit. At this moment, I am not aware if what started with house bill HB1109 and passed by both house, is signed into law by the Governor or not.
That house bill was proposed by a group of five. Appointed and not elected. Sat in a small boardroom at a restricted area after hours. This like me who were able to get into the meeting found it harder to see the constitution of the city of Dunwwody changed without a real public input or votes.
I wondered if it was a city in the USA or a meeting in an underdeveloped country in central America or even in China.
This is what I saw, knew and experienced during the past few years of the history of Dunwoody.
The city administration became an out of control entity. A political monopoly is hovering over 49,000 residents. Checks and balances are not noticeable. Disagreement is not welcomed. Wasting many hundreds of thousands of dollars is a feature. Burdining home and business owners with more taxes – called new fees – and regulation makes it less attractive to small businesses and home buyers. During the past five years I became political active. I spend days and weeks visiting and listening. I tried personally to challenge over regulation by demanding unjustified fees from unsuspected home owners, I ended being fined and humiliated by the outsourced officials of the city of Dunwoody.
What concerns me the most is the failure of the local media to do an investigative reporting and high light many of voters’ concerns.
I regret to say that AJC is not providing more oversight through reporting. I understand the economy and the changes in technologies make it harder.
I have nothing to say but, Oh Dunwoody.

Adrienne Duncan

March 23rd, 2014
2:07 pm

Excerpt from Dunwoody Working Girl March 23, 2014

Here are the key reasons for all of the conflicts exploding in Dunwoody

1) Bad advice in the form of “when you make your decision about what should be in the zoning code, think about what you would want to live next to.” I blogged on this one some months ago during the Zoning Rewrite. Dunwoody is not now and has never been one big homogenous group of people who all think the same things about all issues. There has always been a broad diversity of thought that wasn’t obvious when we were all huddled together in the same foxhole, fighting DeKalb County. All of the organized groups and professional complainers are what you get when you encourage the populace to judge what’s best for all of the city based on individual preferences. How’s that working out for you, Denny? Not so great anymore, huh?

2) There is no attempt at coexistence between any of these factions represented in the opinions flying around. Further, city council from Day One has chosen to lead by deciding which “quality of life” standard is acceptable and which is not by personal fiat from their chairs. Now you have widespread civil disobedience in addition to open warfare in council chambers. If the populace is encouraged to think “I want the city to legislate my personal choice of life in my home and to hell with everyone else – they should be banned,” what else do you expect to get but endless infighting. In the future, I will be looking for leadership that encourages tolerance and coexistence between different lifestyles, even if they disagree with some personally.

There’s always going to be someone looking for a reason to be unhappy. You won’t get 100% buy-in. But you can reduce the conflict with good leadership. Will we get a council that can, collectively, take this leap? Time will tell.

C. Hays

March 22nd, 2014
9:17 pm

I would like to thank the AJC for publishing the Guest Columns on Cityhood by Jim Dickson and Mike Davis. The driveways in Dunwoody are littered weekly with community newspapers that have attempted to document the growing pains that followed the creation of the city of Dunwoody, but your platform is better because it is without bias.

Jim Dickson’s letter documents some of the negatives that follow incorporation. Political cliques spring up quickly, a few decide for the masses and mistrust festers. Decent and intelligent folks like Jim that dare to speak up are repeatedly maligned and marginalized. He dared to state that because 3 members of the Charter Commission voted to change our Charter and their 3 Professional Politicians/Friends supported the move at the Statehouse, the citizens of Dunwoody have been ill-served.

Jim dared to speak about “Millar Parkway” – $2.4M wasted on a political boondoggle project that was/is a whim. This was opposed by many in the community and those who run the businesses in Dunwoody Village. The politicians did not LISTEN.

Successful leaders learn to OBSERVE, then LISTEN, and finally SPEAK. Our leaders in Dunwoody are so busy speaking that they haven’t developed the necessary listening skills.

Again, thanks to the AJC for allowing a new and unbiased forum on topics of interest to the folks in Dunwoody.