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?"

Tom Doolittle January 23, 2014 at 10:01 PM
They want options and time--very clear. These are the "man on the street" folks.
Longerthanu January 23, 2014 at 10:14 PM
These are the folks who took the time to attend a meeting. Someone should do a true MOS.
David Claude Warlick January 24, 2014 at 11:22 AM
The statement that the county is stuck with an additional $1.5 million obligation doesn't make a lot of accounting sense. The only way such a statement could be true is if the county had underfunded the obligation in the past. Even in this case, there would not be an additional obligation, just the same previously underfunded obligation.
Dawn Forman January 25, 2014 at 07:56 AM
Those pushing Cityhood want us to believe that cityhood will be better than what we currently have in DeKalb County, yet they won't answer questions that citizens ask. Where exactly did the money come from for the studies? Did neighborhood organizations donate large sums of COBI's money? Just lay out where every dollar came and the amounts, so that you're transparent. What fees are you going to levy on people that are higher than DeKalb, fee increases have happened in Dunwoody and Brookhaven? Who are these groups? What really is your goal? What is going to happen to the rest of DeKalb if one or two more cities take root? What do you want to see different in the planning and zoning? What is and isn't acceptable to you in those areas? What happens when there isn't more commercial areas to annex and the city is in need of money? If Decatur really is in millions of dollars of debt, how can the new and proposed cities not become victim of debt and live within their means? After being corner literally by 2 Cityhood proponent, who told me that I didn't understand. This average citizen thinks it's those who are pushing Cityhood who do not understand. I won't be on board anything until my questions are answered and the groups are transparent. I know what I have now, but I'm not willing to make a deal with the unknown, because someone says it's going to be better. I'm smart enough to know that if you can't answer basic questions, without using generalities that you're hiding something.
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 25, 2014 at 12:33 PM
Now that most of the questions on Central DeKalb city-hood have been answered how about a summary of where we are and a look at the path forward. But first, Tom and most others agree that we do not have the best process for city-making nor do we have a place or organization to assemble all comments and points of view. We can do NOTHING about this before the City-hood vote on May 20, 2014. What about the one year moratorium? This a ruse by DeKalb County Gov. and the DeKalb Delegation to punt the ball to next year when Lee May will threaten a 4 Mill County tax increase for 2015 if another City is formed in DeKalb County(see County Finance Committee meeting last week...available on video). The REASON?....Damage to the County Finances & Pension Plan. This is an out right LIE. One City(Brookhaven)and one Annexation(Chamblee)have taken place over the last few years with NO provable effect on either. County tax fund budget; 559M in 2012; 560M in 2013; 561M in 2014,All balanced budgets with INCREASING reserves(see attachment A Page 2 of 8 - DeKalb County 2014 Budget),this is Lee May's Budget! Pensions - 2013 & 2014, 7,767 employees each year paying in about same amount(2014 DeKalb Budget page 27). Comment?
Jeffry January 25, 2014 at 01:07 PM
Let's leave Tucker OTP to themselves, combine the remainder of the land between Lakeside and Briarcliff, call the new city Briarlake, and be done with it.
Enuff Govt Already January 25, 2014 at 03:22 PM
@Rhea, why is it a lie? I think what he is saying is the new cities and annexations no longer contribute to the legacy cost (the cop, fireman or other employee that retired before the incorp or annex). Should we just incorp the whole county and relieve ourselves of that contract?
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 25, 2014 at 03:30 PM
Jeffry.....think you may be on to something.....Tucker has consistently refused to negotiate with Fran or Briarcliff in spite of any and all concessions being given to them by both. The best bet at this point in time is, I think, an agreed to map between Briarcliff and Lakeside; remember that the groups have the same roots. Call it Briarlake, Briarhills, BriarVista or what ever you choose but the established names go away. This will help shed negatives from both groups. A proposed map(another one) will be out mid-week that shows what you suggest. At this time the discussion is to use Lakeside map extended South to the RR tracks(PDL)on the Southeast and South to North Decatur Rd on the Southwest.
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 25, 2014 at 04:41 PM
Enuff....as has been pointed out here and elsewhere many, many times legacy costs with respect to pensions are a fiction. Pensions paid to former employees now collecting monthly retirement checks were fully paid for during the time they were working(not under funded). Example....my old company filed for bankruptcy decades ago, I had a defined benefit plan and the Court put that money in the retirement fund at State Street Bank as manager. Years after the bankruptcy I wrote a letter asking for my earned monthly checks and they have been direct deposited for about a decade. Eighty five percent of our County taxes after City-hood would still go to the County to help pay into the County's share of pension contributions which come from the general fund...OUR TAXES. OK.
Roger Kennedy January 25, 2014 at 05:27 PM
LCA has offered Briarcliff the opportunity to join with them, at least twice. As recently, apparently, as after the meeting at the synagogue. Jacobs essentially told them they have no chance and Gannon's aide told them that Atlanta has been seriously talking to DH. Decatur and Avondale Estates won't support Briarcliff due to boundary issues. On the other front, Tucker 2014 won't negotiate anything and now besides the obvious no-sponsor problem, here comes Stone Mountain and the St.Mt. CID. Wonder what the newly formed Northlake Business Association thinks, and why they suddenly formed? They won't be supportive of a new city that's (not) policed by DeKalb.
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 25, 2014 at 06:08 PM
Roger ......Beg to differ ...think that NBA would consider support for Briarcliff/Lakeside considering the number of rapes and other personal assaults allowed by DeKalb County police in the Northlake area. Remember that you get a 4 Min E911 response time with Lakeside or Briarcliff vs a 22 Min E911 response time from DeKalb County Police, this includes residents AND businesses. Same 22Min response time from Tucker.
Roger Kennedy January 25, 2014 at 06:29 PM
Rhea, pointing out the obvious. Would they support Tucker claim on ITP nlake area with police coverage by DeKalb County? I think not.
Enuff Govt Already January 25, 2014 at 08:03 PM
@Rhea - the legislators asked and all 3 groups commented. "Funding DeKalb police pensions? Several legislators raised the issue of new cities not contributing to the pension plans or health benefits of retired officers who protected their areas. COBI President Allen Venet said state law needs to be changed to prevent that from happening. Woodworth said LCA would not oppose the Legislature writing something into Lakeside's charter. Tucker's Auman said it was a moot point as Tucker would still be patrolled by DeKalb Police." http://northdruidhills.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/next-steps-for-cityhood-clear-as-mud Just curious as to what they don't know that you do know? :)
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 25, 2014 at 08:51 PM
Enuff.....Sorry you don't understand this old timer, but I don't think it has to do with my ability to explain! Look again at my own example. The current employees of the company I used to work for have no obligation to pay my monthly pension,it was already paid for while I was working, and in my case the lump sum investment is being held by a third party same as a third party is holding County retirement funds. I have been to dozens of DeKalb County Pension Committee meetings as an observer over the last four years and have NEVER, EVER seen Alan,Mary Kay or Frank at one of them!! The reason the State does not have a provision for new city residents to pay into County pension funds is as I have previously stated, residents of new cities(and old cities) pay a share of the county employee pension and health benefits when we pay the County portion of our taxes into the General Fund. I have checked this with CPA's and Public Finance Experts; you may want to do the same!
Enuff Govt Already January 25, 2014 at 09:22 PM
...on your tax bill..."POLICE SERVC" in the budget books...http://www.co.dekalb.ga.us/finance/pdf/2013_budget_book.pdf "The General Fund provides for the administrative support function of the Police Chief's Office and Management Services. Police Support includes the following sections: Animal Services , Aerial Support – the utilization and maintenance of the Department’s two helicopters, Fiscal Management -accounting, purchasing, and ordering supplies." the "Police Services Fund provides for the primary activities of Police" "MAJOR BUDGETARY IMPACTS -For the foreseeable future the County will be challenged... by evolving municipal boundaries."
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 26, 2014 at 06:25 AM
Enuff....Too bad you don't understand this you old duffer! We all know what the police do....but keep in mind that the budget was written by the same person that Lee May has splitting time (illegally?) between the Administration and the Board of Commissioners....More on this in the coming week. Get a copy of the video of COO Zac Williams stating that the good news in city-hood formation in DeKalb is that we have 100+ fully funded police positions(100X$75,000 per officer fully equipped=7.5M) in the department so city-hood formation only means eliminating these open positions with NO impact on the police services OR budget. Why do we have 100+ open police positions? Because any potential applicant who holds a Public Safety Certificate will not come to work for a County Gov. that is nothing more than a thinly veiled criminal enterprise! Please note that recently, as reported in the AJC, the DA Robert James has uncovered 300M in contract fraud yet to be prosecuted. I agree that less Gov. is best and city-hood will not create a utopia ,however; we have a chance to fix a portion of this problem on May 20,2014.
Tom Doolittle January 26, 2014 at 10:11 AM
Rhea--12:30 post--"But first, Tom and most others agree that we do not have the best process for city-making nor do we have a place or organization to assemble all comments and points of view. We can do NOTHING about this before the City-hood vote on May 20, 2014." There you go getting your shoes on before your socks Rhea--and you're not the only one. We can do something about what you say we lack--put it in place and admit we simply do NOT have to have a vote this year. You say you want those community representational systems in place, yet you cllearly place no primacy on them. I do, because it changes the entire premise of the conversation--instead of "city yes or city no", it starts a complete review of "governance needs and options". You consistent claims to the right to define "the way forward" as only a matter of forming cities anoints the manner in which the first cityhood group hijacked the manner in which we discussed our future. I don't think it needs to be toothpaste that can't be put back in the tube. I also think that no matter what machinations the North Metro Republicans attempt to sway their statewide brethren (which would probably entail a map like yours), there are larger forces that will say "we don't have to have a city vote in the legislature this year". So its time to back away from the presumption that "the way forward" is exclusively a cityhood discussion.
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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