Hearing Aftermath: Wide Range of Views on Cityhood

A look back at 2 1/2 hours of comments Wednesday night before DeKalb legislative delegation.

The DeKalb legislative delegation’s public hearing Wednesday night was an ambitious effort to hear from a wide range of people – the interim county CEO, the school superintendent and board chairman, cityhood groups and the public.

While many legislators and one cityhood group could not attend because of conflicts (see earlier story), a number of citizens expressed opinions on a number of issues, but mostly on cityhood, during the 2 ½-hour meeting. And from their comments, opinions were decidedly mixed.

Interim CEO Lee May, appearing the night before his first “State of the County” address, said regardless of the issues, the most common thing he has heard after talking to thousands of county residents is that they want “better outcomes.”

“It’s more important than ever that we sit down and talk about the future of DeKalb County,” said May. He has called for a one-year moratorium on cityhood, with a study commission “to figure out the rules of engagement … a better process to determine the full impact on the county.”

When Dunwoody became a city, May said pension costs were not discussed. Now, in Dunwoody alone, he said preliminary numbers show “we’re stuck with another $1.5 million” in obligations. “Make it a fair process for all of DeKalb County,” he said.

However, May added that the cityhood groups are simply “just doing what the rules of engagement allow them to do.” “We can’t say no, no, no. We have to sit down and figure what is a more balanced approach.”

School Superintendent Michael Thurmond, who received a standing ovation after this week’s news that the district’s probation had ended, was upbeat, saying “things are moving forward.” He asked the legislators for funding help in eliminating furlough days, a request that was echoed by board Chairman Melvin Johnson.

City of Briarcliff Initiative board member Don Broussard and Tucker 2014’s Frank Auman each had five minutes to speak about their respective cityhood efforts.

As previously reported, the Lakeside City Alliance said they did not learn about the hearing until Monday night and that they did not receive an invitation to make a presentation. Therefore, they chose to appear only at a Merry Hills Neighborhood Association meeting, along with Briarcliff. COBI board members split time between the meetings.

After the cityhood proposals were presented, two people were allowed to speak for and two people against each proposal. Comments also came during other public discussion. Highlights revealed a wide range of views, except those from Lakeside, whose supporters were attending the Merry Hills meeting:

Robert Stamper of the Stone Mountain area spoke twice against the Tucker cityhood plan, which he said requires $3.9 million in new fees without reducing taxes. He said those new fees would amount to $171 a year per household. However, an unidentified woman who lives in the Smoke Rise area, also spoke twice in support of Tucker.

Bob Morris, who said he has lived in Tucker for 39 years, said he was a proponent of cityhood and hoped that there could be some kind of resolution between the three proposals. He pointed out that there had been discussion in 2006 in Tucker for cityhood but the county asked it to cease. “Here we are again with the same discussion. I don’t think so,” Morris said.

Cynthia Moe, a 45-year resident of Tucker, said she was “fearful of losing my voice through the cityhood process.” She asked legislators how to get their attention.

An unidentified woman living in unincorporated DeKalb was concerned about not having a vote on new cities, which she said affect quality of life, property values and safety and security.

John Merlin, 48-year resident of DeKalb, complained that Lakeside had cherry picked all the commercial areas and left the area south of North Druid Hills Road without any chance to become a city. He said he felt abandoned.

A North Druid Hills Residents Association member said she preferred being in unincorporated DeKalb and said she was happy with the representation from Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader.

A woman who lives in both Lakeside/Briarcliff boundaries, said she feels “cityhood was pushed on us.” She preferred “an improved and strengthened DeKalb County.“ “I like my address being Decatur,” she said.

Judy Perras, who has lived in the Medlock area since 1989, said she lives in a “funny place where Lakeside doesn’t want us and Decatur wants our commercial properties.”  She presented a petition from business owners in the Clairmont/North Decatur Road area who don’t want to be in the city of Decatur.

John Ridley, who previously served on the Decatur City Commssion, expressed concerns about that city’s debt and said he respected the municipal autonomy of others but the county’s first obligation is “to ensure viability of existing cities.”

Valerie Payton, who has lived in unincorporated Scottdale for 50 years, said she was not opposed to Briarcliff but said things are moving so fast that more time was needed.

Terry Cole of Tucker said:  “We want a small city that is legitimate based upon what we’re doing. We ask that you look at Tucker as the most sensible case to be made.”

David Armstrong of Druid Hills said people worried about Lakeside “dragged us into it (cityhood).” He told the legislators there needs to be consensus on cityhood and time to think about it.

Dawn Forman, who lives in the Lakeside/Briarcliff area, asked if cityhood leaders are so concerned about problems in DeKalb, then why don’t they run for county office. She also claimed that the cityhood groups have not released enough information on their proposals.

The last comment of the night came from a man who asked: “Why aren’t there townships in Georgia?"

Rhea A Johnson Jr January 26, 2014 at 11:17 AM
Like it or not Tom City-hood is the heart and soul of this and many other issues in DeKalb County. An approach that may be soothing to you may be a three part harmony...one new city-hood vote and one(or two)annexations each year for the next three years while we refine our approach to metropolitanization. This is consistent with"governance needs and options" you require but allows the process to move forward at a slower pace and gives everyone input into the primacy of the pace of city-making. I understand that change is difficult;however more bad news is on the way for DeKalb County in the coming months and doing nothing as you have consistently proposed is no longer an option. We have the skills to do more than one thing at a time and I have offered before to help you be part of the solution and not part of the problem....an offer that is always open. I expect at least two new maps next week and swift movement in the following weeks....we should best be prepared. Special Thanks.
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 26, 2014 at 11:29 AM
Tom... I really don't think Sandy Springs 30 year effort to become a city could by any stretch of the imagination be considered a "hijack"; as I have pointed out many times we have all been at this for a LONG time. I have pointed out before a one year delay means the threat of a four mill county tax increase in 2015. Can you help out with the route that Fran's Senate bill will take thru the State legislature?
Enuff Govt Already January 26, 2014 at 01:50 PM
Rhea...the money for the police (et al) now comes from the police service line on your tax bill. The link was for your to read for yourself. There is nothing illegal about what Mr. May is doing. Zac Williams is a COO in the county per their web site but not responsible for police that is deputy COO Cedric Alexander. The comment you are referencing is the reassignment of the north precinct officers when they closed it. And yes there is a huge impact on police services when the money to fund them is taken away and used to run a boutique city. In Brookhaven we now have a part time SWAT team from Sandy Srpings to handle any emergencies and no specialized police detectives (like crimes against children)or specialized units (like a DUI team). There absolutely is a negative impact on all side o n police service when a city is created. ...If there is a May 20 vote it does nothing to stop the "thinly veiled criminal enterprise" you see. It only hides it behind another layer of govt. Another city does not address the problems people see in the county govt. The real problem is not the type of govt but the people we elect. Atlanta metro will not be an attractive place if we balkanize into hundreds of boutique govts of those that can afford it and those that can't. IMO
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 26, 2014 at 02:19 PM
Enuff....Sorry to see that you are still confused. The police service line on the tax bill is for "basic" police services,this millage rate goes to a newly created city. The County eliminates an equal dollar amount from the police budget(open positions anyway)and there is NO effect on police services or pensions for residents in unincorporated DeKalb County. Anyone else care to help me here?
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 26, 2014 at 02:31 PM
Enuff...Since you live in Brookhaven I guess we can excuse you for not knowing what is going on on the other side of I-85. I once thought that we may need your help with forming a City in Central DeKalb....not so sure now. Special police services are provided to the new city by the county thru an intergovernmental agreement unless other wise contracted with some other government. Read your intergovernmental agreement.


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