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.
Commenting is open.
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.
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.