DeKalb Cityhood vs. Annexation; Information to Educate LLCC Residents

July 27, 2014

Darian Bilski

Darian Bilski, Woodland Hills Resident
Editor’s Note: This article was recently circulated in the Woodland Hills neighborhood. With Darian Bilski’s permission, some of her original text has been edited to reflect the most recent developments in the rapidly changing issue.
Current Status
During the 2014 legislative session three groups – Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker – pushed for incorporation of a new city in north DeKalb County. If the Legislature had approved those bills, the cityhood question would’ve been placed on the ballot in 2014. The bills for those cities didn’t pass because of a shorter-than-usual legislative session due to the new elections calendar. The maps for each of the cities overlapped, creating competition among the three groups. It would be easier to pass a bill for the combined cities of Briarcliff and Lakeside in 2015, assuming the two groups decide to stick together.(From http://www.decaturish.com/2014/07/briarclifflakeside-join-forces/)
According to the following Briarcliff and Lakeside Joint Statement issued July 3, 2014, the joint Briarcliff / Lakeside city would respect the compromise map between Tucker and Lakeside as the starting point of this collaboration. Therefore competing interests would be eliminated.  Furthermore, if City of Briarcliff and Lakeside join forces, the bills would then have both republican (Representative Jacobs and Senator Millar) and democratic
(Representative Oliver) support. This fact also increases the likelihood that the joint city would pass the legislative hurdles.
There is no name yet for the combined Lakeside / Briarcliff City; however, a name change is possible. For purposes of this summary document, the new city will be called Lakeside / Briarcliff. The final map has not yet been defined as the cityhood initiatives are in the process of soliciting community input. The final city map will likely be larger than Lakeside’s final map, but smaller than Briarcliff’s final map.
While the financial studies conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia (“The CVI”) analyzed the prior City of Lakeside and City of Briarcliff plans separately, there is general agreement that the combined city will also be financially viable without a need for an increase in property taxes. The CVI has a track record of reliable, conservative predictions for the studies it has performed for other cities. For example, CVI estimated that revenues for a city of Dunwoody would be $18,777,904. In its first full fiscal year in 2009, Dunwoody’s actual revenues turned out to be$18,394,942, or 2.0% less than CVI estimated. In the same study, CVI also predicted that Dunwoody’s total operating expenditures would be$15,571,573; in 2009, Dunwoody’s actual operating expenditures turned out to be $13,823,811, or 11% less than CVI estimated.
 
Local Neighborhood Issues and Decisions Residents Must Make
The questions that LLCC Residents Must Currently Consider are:

  1. Do LLCC community neighborhoods want to be included in a city? (Note that even if our residents do not currently want to be included in the city options currently on the table, it is likely that we will be pulled into some future city.)
  2. Which city do LLCC neighborhoods want to be a part of? Options for discussion include, Lakeside / Briarcliff, Atlanta / a future unincorporated DeKalb City initiative.If not included in Lakeside / Briarcliff, areas like Woodland Hills and LaVista Park risk being on an “island,” unable to be serviced by DeKalb financially efficiently without cutting through city of Atlanta or Lakeside / Briarcliff. One concerning issue is the length of time it could take DeKalb police to respond to Woodland Hills and LaVista Park calls and the increase in crime that would potentially result.Emory University has advised that they do not want to be a part of City of Briarcliff or City of Lakeside, mainly because they do not want their campus divided between jurisdictions. Emory is interested in a transportation plan that will include the Clifton Corridor Transit Line and they feel that with Atlanta’s recent grant from the Federal Transit Administration for the Atlanta Street Car, financing for the Clifton Corridor Line may come easier and more quickly with the City of Atlanta’s direct federal connections. Emory is currently weighing the possibility of being annexed by Atlanta.

Briarcliff and Lakeside Present Joint Statement to DeKalb County Operations Task ForceAtlanta, GA (PRLog), July 3, 2014 — Two DeKalb County cityhood groups, The City of Briarcliff Initiative, and Lakeside Yes read a joint statement before the DeKalb County Operations Task Force (OTF) on Tuesday, July 2, at the Maloof Auditorium. The Operations Task Force was created by Interim CEO Lee May and is charged with making recommendations that can be forwarded to the Georgia General Assembly by December 2014.The prepared statement from the July 2nd meeting reads:She continues, “Both of our groups presented maps during the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly. However, because our current maps overlap, Lakeside and Briarcliff have agreed to collaborate with the goal of creating a unified map free of overlapping areas and respecting existing city borders and future annexation plans. We respect the compromise map between Tucker and Lakeside as the starting point of this collaboration, and we respect the inclusive approach of the Briarcliff map. We will continue to work with our sponsors, Representative Jacobs and Senator Millar, residents and business owners in our community to reach the goal of local control and governance for this community. We invite the advocates of the city of Tucker to join with us so that we can present two cities with a clear path to cityhood prior to the 2015 session of the General Assembly.”He continues, “We seek to unite, rather than divide, to improve government operations not just in our region of DeKalb but in the entire county. The residents of unincorporated DeKalb deserve, and with respect we demand, the opportunity to form new cities that will become destinations where business and families can flourish. The time has come for us all to cooperate, north and south, inside the perimeter and outside, city advocates and county officials. We all share DeKalb County, and we all know the challenges we face. Cities are an important part of the solution.” He concludes, “We welcome your questions and your suggestions.”

  1. City of Briarcliff Imitative President Allen Venet read, “We are committed to working together because we agree on almost every issue except boundaries, and boundaries can be solved. As we refine our map, we are soliciting neighborhood input, and we will work with state, county and local elected representatives of both major parties and with the existing cities of DeKalb County.”
  2. Lakeside Yes Chairman Mary Kay Woodworth read, “Lakeside YES and The City of Briarcliff Initiative appreciate the invitation to present maps to the Operations Task Force. You have received our individual working maps, but we respectfully present this joint statement in lieu of focusing on a specific map.”
  3. For months both citizens and legislators have urged the two groups to communicate and work together more. Briarcliff and Lakeside have historically shared many overlapping views of cityhood, but have differed on proposed city borders. Both groups view cityhood as an opportunity to lift up the community and improve the strength of DeKalb County.
  4. Because Emory does not want to be included in a new DeKalb city, the Druid Hills neighborhood may also effectively be cut out of Lakeside / Briarcliff because without Emory, their neighborhood is no longer contiguous with the new city boundaries. Many people in Druid Hills have advised the City of Briarcliff initiative that after the DeKalb County Board of Education voted down the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, they are now considering what the City of Atlanta has to offer them. However, many Druid Hills neighbors are still interested in becoming a part of Lakeside / Briarcliff.
  5. There has been discussion of the possibility of Woodland Hills and LaVista Park being annexed into the City of Atlanta. The City of Atlanta is not obligated to annex either neighborhood, even if it is left as an isolated island within DeKalb County. There is also not an active push by our residents to be annexed by Atlanta. Therefore, if this option warrants serious consideration, immediate dialogue should be initiated. See the end of this document for a discussion of this option based on comments and research from Druid Hills’ residents.
  6. Interim CEO Lee May attended a Woodland Hills neighborhood meeting on July 24, 2014 and expressed his opinion that all of DeKalb County will be municipalized (no more unincorporated areas), having all areas flow into a new city, or be annexed into an existing city. He stated that while he was not necessarily an advocate of the cityhood movement, it is a reality and he would want all citizens to have a say in which city they join. There is already discussion of other cities being planned in the southern part of the county, which also has a lot of unincorporated land.

Additional Information from the Lakeside City Alliance Website: http://lakesidecityalliance.org/

Pros and cons of incorporation (cityhood) (Pros and cons of cityhood are considered herein; however, it is important to keep in mind that remaining unincorporated may only be a short term solution if all unincorporated areas become municipalized in the future.)
What are the benefits to becoming a city?

  1. A government closer to people and more responsive to their needs. Currently a DeKalb county commissioner represents approximately 130,000 people and 54 sq. miles. A city of approximately 60,000 residents could potentially have 5-6 commissioners, who live in the community and represent fewer citizens, thus bringing government closer to the people and resulting in more local control over city services.
  2. More control over land use (zoning) and development to decide on things like new subdivisions, teardowns, construction, nightclubs, apartments, strips malls and other uses.
  3. Mechanism to revitalize residential and commercial areas, parks and common areas.
  4. To efficiently manage our tax dollars.
  5. Tax equity. More local dollars spent locally.
  6. Improved community identity and quality of life.
  7. Advocates – elected officials and city staff — to improve quality of life. Many incorporated cities have a downtown development authority and economic development professionals on staff. Staff could work for the benefit of the city, including the collection of state and federal grants.
  8. Safer neighborhoods.

What are the risks to becoming a city?

  1. Requires a grassroots effort with a tremendous volunteer movement and popular support
  2. Must provide evidence to state legislature of financial feasibility, by funding a professional study, such as one written by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which can cost upwards of $30,000.
  3. No action leaves unincorporated area as is for the short term.
  4. County is currently experienced in providing services and new city would have no experience. Therefore there is risk that the services may not be provided more efficiently or better under a new city government.
  5. Without infrastructure, city would have to hire 3rd party, as Sandy Springs did, to take over services.
  6. Without cash in the bank, the new city would have to finance initial operations through startup financing.
  7. Unknown government entity (and officials)
  8. Budget and Revenue estimates are projected, not tested

What’s the process of becoming a city?

  1. Define our community. As some have asked, “who are we?”
  2. Define the boundaries of a proposed city boundary.
  3. Obtain community input and make adjustments to these definitions as necessary.
  4. Request that our elected officials introduce legislation (a placeholder bill in year one) to create a new city since only the General Assembly can provide authorization to create new cities.
  5. Commission a feasibility study of the defined area. Is there a sustainable balance of commercial and residential property to fund a city without raising property taxes?
  6. If it is economically feasible and the community desires to move forward, during legislative year two, legislators will discuss the bill and vote on it. If the legislation passes and is signed into law, hold a vote in our community on whether the new city should be formed.
  7. If voters approve the ballot, hold elections to seat government officials, and a transition committee would be appointed by the Governor to help the local government get up and running.
  8. The initial & ongoing operation of the local government on the date set in the bill creating the new city.There is a list of services mandated by Georgia law, and cities must provide provides at least three of the following services, either directly or by contract – O.C.G.A. § 36-30-7.1 (b)

What are the proposed services, what will it cost?

  1. Law enforcement;
  2. Fire protection (which may be furnished by a volunteer fire force) and fire safety;
  3. Road and street construction or maintenance;
  4. Solid waste management;
  5. Water supply or distribution or both;
  6. Waste-water treatment;
  7. Storm-water collection and disposal;
  8. Electric or gas utility services;
  9. Enforcement of building, housing, plumbing, and electrical codes and other similar codes;
  10. Planning and zoning; and 11. Recreational facilities.

Initially, the City of Lakeside proposed the following services, based on interest and feedback from the community:

  • Public Safety and Code Enforcement: Includes police services as well as zoning and land use violations (but not zoning or land use policy issues). Items such as creating an accredited police department and providing emergency services, traffic control, criminal investigation and public safety education and outreach are included.
  • Public works: Includes determining what services can be more efficiently and effectively provided, such as lighting, sidewalks, roadwork, street lights and drainage services.
  • Planning, Land Use and Zoning: Includes developing and enforcing regulations that govern how the city of Lakeside’s land is used.
  • Parks and Recreation: Includes inventorying current and potential parks and green spaces and creating a comprehensive development and maintenance plan.
  • All other services would continue to be provided by DeKalb County.

After incorporation: Can the City pick up additional services from the CountyWouldn’t a new city just be another layer of government? Will my property taxes increase?

  • Forming a new city does not result in adding new taxes to your property tax bill. In fact, under the proposed city of Lakeside legislation (SB 270), property taxes would decrease for property owners compared with the taxes paid by residents living in unincorporated DeKalb County. The tax money used to provide services in the area of the proposed City of Lakeside comes from the taxes residents already pay to the county. The city of Lakeside proposes to provide services in a more cost-efficient and effective way for its residents with greater local control, using the funds which will be shifted from DeKalb County to the new city. Thus, instead of a new tax, a portion of your county property tax revenue simply is shifted from the county to the city. This shift would be reflected in two of the existing “line items” (or sources of revenue) which appear on your property tax bill. They are:
  • No, it would be a shift of certain responsibilities from the county government overseeing 700,000 to a local board representing 50-60 thousand people in this area. The resulting representation would be more direct with more accessible officials who live, work and play in our own community.
  • The city can elect to pick up additional services from the County at any time in the future. A vote from the city residents for additional services is not required except to the extent that providing additional services requires a millage rate increase, which the voters would have to approve. (This is true as of the currently proposed version of Lakeside City Charter.) County consent is not required for the city to provide additional services otherwise authorized by Georgia law.
  • People want more police officers and quicker response times in our area. They want the assurance that existing ordinances will be enforced in order to preserve neighborhood integrity, encourage community pride and protect the public’s health and well-being. They want greater control over zoning decisions so that development occurs in a thoughtful manner and so that development that does not fit with our community’s vision of itself does not materialize seemingly overnight as some nightclubs have. People also want to have well-developed and wellmaintained public spaces where people can walk, where kids can play and where pets can be outdoor. The goal would be to provide better and more efficient services in a more financially sound manner.
  1. The “Unincorporated Tax District” (listed as “UNIC TAXDIST” on your bill) and
  2. “Police Services” (“POLICE SERVC”). Together, these two items represent the bulk of what are known as “city services” and include activities such as public safety, parks and recreation, zoning, and land use, code enforcement, etc.
  3. The charge for the services listed above (and most others listed on your property tax bill) is determined by multiplying the assessed value of your home (40% of what the county estimates your home to be worth) times a fraction known as a millage rate. A mill equals 1/1000 (or .0001), so, for example, a charge of three mills equals 3/1000 or .003. DeKalb County currently charges 4.96 mills for the Police Services and Unincorporated Tax District line items. For a home valued at $250,000, this would amount to $496:
  • Home Value = $250,000.00
  • Assessed Value = $100,000.00 ($250,000 x 40%)
  • Charge for City Services + Police Services = $ 496.00 ($100,000 Assessed Value x .00496 millage rate)(Brookhaven) is capped at 3.35. On its face, DeKalb County’s rate is 48% higher than Brookhaven’s capped rate. The actual millage rate charged by Brookhaven’s government is even less, however, 2.85 mills, making DeKalb’s rate 74% higher. (In the case of Dunwoody, the County’s millage rate is over 80% greater than the city’s charge for the same services: 2.74 mills. It is worth noting that Dunwoody is running $1-2 million annual surpluses.)

Dunwoody Tax Comparison / Additional Tax Considerations What is the relationship between a city and a county with regards to school districts and zoning? Will a new city have its own school district? What impact will the passage of the proposed City of DeKalb have?

  • If DeKalb County is incorporated and becomes the “City of DeKalb”, it would prevent any community in the “City of DeKalb” from incorporating.
  • Currently, there is no relationship. A city’s boundaries have NO effect on the DeKalb County School System’s attendance districts. Attendance districts will change only if DeKalb County School System redistricts. At present, our State Constitution provides that no new school system could be established in a newly created city. It is possible, however, that this could change in the future. It goes without saying, however, that no city school system could be created in our area unless a new city is formed. Note: Decatur and Marietta school systems were created before this was added to the Constitution, and therefore were grandfathered in.
  • No city should increase property taxes as long as a sustainable mix of commercial and residential property exists. Dunwoody has not raised property taxes and has still created budget surpluses of $2-3 million annually. In the view of the Lakeside Alliance, the city charter would include a provision that property taxes could not be raised without the approval of voters in a referendum. Taxes could decrease if there was a budget surplus, but it could be that taxes will simply remain at current levels. That would be a decision for the local government and voters to decide. Please see the information under “Presentations” for information about the cost of services.
  • Perhaps the most important fact to note, though, is that DeKalb can raise its millage rate simply through approval by the County Commission. By contrast, under SB 270, raising the city millage rate would require not only a vote of the city council, but also ratification by a majority of voting city residents. Thus, the creation of the City of Lakeside could yield local control over the provision of some services as well as an opportunity to target services locally to residents and business owners. It could also provide an opportunity to cap property tax rates UNLESS city of Lakeside residents vote to change them.
  • For example, the millage rate for these same services for the most recently incorporated city in DeKalb

Additional Information Primarily from the Druid Hills Association Website: http://druidhills.org/

City of Atlanta Annexation Option PROS (from Carl Larson, druidhills.org http://druidhills.org/cityhood-annexationoptions/city-of-atlanta-annexation-initiative/. Carl is a proponent of Druid Hills being annexed by Atlanta):Atlanta is a city that has reinvented and reinvigorated itself. Here are some key points regarding the positives to annexation with Atlanta:

  • Atlanta has a very vibrant and diverse tax base—corporate, commercial, and residential.
  • Atlanta is home to a world-class international airport, and—to date—the busiest in the world.
  • Atlanta has, and is continuing to develop, a neighborhood feel that is very much in line with Druid Hills. This includes park and the ever-expanding Beltline—places to be outdoors, active and fostering a sense of community.
  • Druid Hills is an activist community, and taking our role as citizens of Atlanta would give us a chance to influence the emerging development of this vibrant city.
  • Last year, Atlanta had $1.5 billion in development—mixed use properties, in town housing, and business, commercial and retail. This approached pre-2008 levels, and indicates lots of optimism about the City’s future. It also grows the tax base. It is predicted that by next year, more than $2.1 billion more in investment will occur, which would be a record for the City.
  • Atlanta has a police force over double the size of DeKalb County’s force—and over a much smaller geographic area.
  • Atlanta has worked hard on its finances under Mayor Reed, and has positive and stable credit outlooks from the rating agencies.
  • Atlanta has a very good relationship with the Atlanta business community, and the latter is very involved in the directions the city is taking.
  • Atlanta and Mayor Reed have a good working relationship with state officials, including the Governor.
  • Atlanta has been effective in garnering federal dollars to help with its development.

City of Atlanta Annexation Option CONS: (See comments of John Frost Murlin: http://druidhills.org/cityhood-annexationoptions/city-of-briarcliff-initiative/. John is a proponent of Druid Hills becoming a part of the new DeKalb City.)

  • Schools
  • Perception
  • Corruption
  • Potential Immediate Tax Increase (though as indicated herein, DeKalb Co taxes could also increase.)

Additional Resources:

What’s Up With Trail Under SR-400 & I-85

Love the Bright Orange Road Construction Barrels? You’re in Luck!
February’s weather cost the Georgia DOT contractor two weeks of work on flyover ramps linking Interstate 85  to SR-400. Traffic on Cheshire Bridge Road and Lindbergh Drive will keep dodging construction barrels at least until April.
Loren Bartlett, DOT project manager, says the project continues to move as fast as possible because of financial penalties in the state contract with Archer Western.
“The contract calls for $1869 daily penalties,” she says, noting it was to be complete by January 14, 2014.
What about the two weeks when ice and snow kept Atlanta immobile?
 
The Department will consider inclement weather as
reason to be exempt from daily fines.  The project construction budget is at $21 million. (AW’s contract is $21,423,500 for better accuracy.)
The nature trail along the creek is coming into clearer view as the ramps above are connected. By March 1 contractors laid beds of large stone along the creek, topping it with smaller gravel and compacting them into a smooth trail. The largest bridge across the main span of the North Fork is in place.  Several smaller culverts across feeder creeks will be part of the trail. At least one is poured on site, and others are expected in early March.  Decorative fences and approaches leading to the main bridge are likely to be among the last elements to be built.
Sally Sears 
Executive Director, The South Fork Conservancy

Suburbs Secede from Atlanta

‘Detroit of the South’ bludgeoned by troubles

Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/suburbs-secede-from-atlanta/#a2GLrG5Hub4sDTJG.99
By John T. Bennett

As Detroit – beset by violence, debt and social woes – prepares to  undergo a historic takeover by the Michigan state government, the city of  Atlanta could be sliding toward a similar fate.

Some are quietly wondering whether Atlanta is in danger of becoming “the  Detroit of the South.”

The city has experienced an ongoing succession of government scandals,  ranging from a massive cheating racket to corruption, bribery, school-board  incompetence and now the potential loss of accreditation for the local DeKalb  County school system.
For several years, problems of this sort have fueled political reforms,  including the creation of new cities in northern Atlanta suburbs. Due to the  intensification of corruption scandals in DeKalb, some state-level reform  proposals could become national news very soon.
‘Super-white majority’ cities
As a result of the unsavory politics in urban Atlanta, northern suburban  communities acted to distance themselves. Beginning in 2005, many communities  began the process of incorporating into cities.
Thus far, Milton, Sandy Springs, Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Chattahoochee Hills  and Johns Creek have done so.
These cities, after breaking away politically from urban Atlanta, have become  so successful that a libertarian think tank, the Reason Foundation, has featured  Sandy Springs as a model of effective government. The  Economist has also applauded the northern Atlanta cities for solving the  problem of unfunded government pension liability and avoiding the bankruptcy  that looms over some urban areas. The new cities may soon be able to create  their own school districts, which would free them even further from the  issues besetting Atlanta.
While incorporation has been popular with residents of the new cities, not  all of Atlanta is as satisfied. The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus filed a  lawsuit in 2011 to dissolve the new cities, claiming  they were a “super-white majority” and diluting the voting power of  minorities.
A key leader in the black community and a driving force in support of the  lawsuit, who wishes to remain anonymous, bemoaned the “disturbing tendency of  black electorates to not elect the smartest and brightest, or even the  cleverest.”
Nonetheless, he believes that there is a social contract between the northern  and southern parts of the county.
“So when you allow powerful groups of citizens to opt out of a social  contract, and form their own, it may benefit the group opting out, but it hurts  the larger collective,” he said.
The lawsuit would have canceled incorporation and tied the cities back into  the very county that they purposefully left.
State Rep. Lynne Riley, a Republican who represents one of the new cities,   called the lawsuit “frivilous” and “disrespectful to the citizens of these  cities who are most satisfied with their government.”
The federal trial court rejected the lawsuit, and the court of appeals  affirmed the dismissal. However, an attorney for the Black Caucus plans to file  an   amended lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the same concerns that spurred incorporation continue to  mount.
Failing schools
DeKalb  County contributed to what the  New York Times called “the biggest standardized test cheating scandal in the  country’s history” in 2011.
Now, the county is faced with losing its regional accreditation. Losing  regional accreditation is, by any objective measure, a devastating indictment of  a school board, with severe consequences for students and families within the  district.
When nearby Clayton County, Ga., lost its regional accreditation in 2008, it  was the  first school system in the country to do so in 40 years.
The result in Clayton, according  to the Pew Foundation, was that thousands of students left county schools,  the district lost millions of dollars and hundreds of teachers were fired.
In response to the Clayton County crisis, after witnessing the fallout and  the harm to the state’s reputation, the legislature acted to prevent a repeat.  In 2011, the Georgia legislature essentially gave the governor authority to  remove board of education members when a district was placed on probation by the  accreditation agency.
Last December, DeKalb was placed on probation. Then, in January, the governor  of Georgia used his new authority and removed six members of the nine-member  DeKalb Board of Education.
This year, well after the accreditation issue broke open, DeKalb school board  elections were held. Four of nine board members were up for reelection.    Voters in one of the four districts returned their incumbent board member  for another term, despite knowing that accreditation was at risk.
This week, a federal judge sided with the governor and agreed that the six  suspended board members can be replaced. The decision places the dispute into  the Georgia Supreme Court’s purview.
As the issue looms, the mere mention of losing accreditation has impacted the  housing market in DeKalb, with at  least one potential buyer directing his realtor not to search for homes in the  county.
School leadership
Recently, at the helm of the DeKalb school system stood Crawford Lewis. The  former superintendent has been   indicted on racketeering charges.
Along with several of his associates, Lewis is accused by the DeKalb DA of  fraud, theft by a government employee, bribery and a web of racketeering. The  charges arose out of Lewis’ practice of steering lucrative government contracts  toward favored companies.
According  to the indictment, Lewis also used government funds to pay for a hotel room,  which he used as the venue for an affair. Lewis had this affair with a person  who held the position of “Executive Director of the Office of School  Improvement.”
One of the numerous complaints about the DeKalb school board was that it  voted to pay for Lewis’ legal defense. There had been a $100,000 cap on the  costs allowed for legal defense, but the school board waived it for Lewis’ benefit.
The CEO in charge
At the very top, the head of DeKalb’s government is the position of CEO. The  current CEO, Burrell Ellis, is being investigated for a list of concerns,  including alleged bid rigging. Police searched Ellis’s home and office recently,  and local  news outlets report that while no charges have been filed, search  warrants are reportedly aimed  toward potential extortion, bribery, theft, conspiracy, and wire fraud in  connection with private vendors who contract with the county.
Most recently, Ellis sought approval from the county ethics board to  establish a legal defense fund to benefit himself. The board  rebuffed the request.
A corrupt school board becomes a civil rights issue
Instead of being treated as a story about rampant, inexcusable corruption,  the school board fiasco has morphed into a civil rights issue. Atlanta’s NBC  affiliate reports that the Georgia NAACP “accused Republican Governor Nathan  Deal of being part of an alleged conspiracy to get rid of black office holders  and deprive black voters of their rights.”
State Rep. Tyrone Books pointed out that criticism of the governor needed to  include a word about black politicians who supported the governor’s removal  authority.
“How can we complain about him when we have black folks standing there  embracing the removal of black officials?” asked Brooks, D-Atlanta.
The state legislature is trying  to prevent public funds from being used in the legal defense of the ousted board  members. Because the ousted board members see their positions as a civil  rights entitlement, the attorney’s fees required for their defense will quickly  rise, unless legislation puts an end to the entitlement.
One of the suspended board members, Eugene Walker, responded  to the judge’s ruling with a familiar appeal: “Minorities should not feel  secure if contrived allegations from anonymous sources with hidden agendas can  go to private agencies and to have their civil rights stolen away.”
DeKalb has changed from majority white to majority black over the last  several decades. As  the Atlanta Journal Constitution gingerly put it: “The county’s transition  from majority white to majority minority was politically rocky .”
Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/suburbs-secede-from-atlanta/#a2GLrG5Hub4sDTJG.99

Resident: Don’t Allow Tucker Land Grab for Lakeside City

Plans for Lakeside cityhood are crossing the line, says a local resident.

By Michelle Penkava for North Druid Hills/Briarcliff Patch

You may have heard that some  neighborhoods to our west are trying to form a city. This city, now  designated as Lakeside City, began in Oak Grove. One of the three services  they plan to provide is parks and recreation. Being in need of  green space, they have included a very large portion of Tucker in their proposed  city map in order to acquire Henderson Park. This would also give them  access to some long-established Tucker neighborhoods and additional commercial  properties.
The Lakeside City Alliance would have you  believe that they are moving slowly. In fact, they were expected to “drop a bill” at the Capitol on Thursday, March 7, sponsored by Dunwoody state Sen. Fran  Millar.
This bill is a “placeholder” designed to allow a public  vote on the issue by the fall of 2014 even though they are just now in the  beginning legal stages of forming their city. The map is not set in  stone. But once it is, we outside their boundaries will have no vote  on whether or not they become a city and incorporate parts of Tucker. Our  local politicians and civic leaders have spoken out, asking them to use I-285 as  their boundary. Instead, they are land grabbing large areas of Tucker in  their initial attempt, stating that there are no obvious boundaries of  Tucker.
The state of Georgia district maps, including Millar’s  district map, clearly designate Tucker as a “census place,” and show our  boundaries beginning at 285 with just a slight dip inside the perimeter to  Henderson Mill Road.
As you know, the climate in DeKalb  is tenuous at best. We are all frustrated with the state of the county  school system and exhausted by the antics of the now-suspended DeKalb County Board of  Education members. Many citizens are further frustrated by the DeKalb  government as a whole. It is in this climate that the Lakeside city  proponents are able to accelerate what should be a well thought out plan that  considers long-term implications to all communities. Instead, they are  considering only their needs and are dissecting Tucker with no regard and little  communication with our communities.
While the Georgia constitution  prevents the formation of new school districts, the City of Dunwoody is seeking  an amendment to the constitution that would allow them to pull out of the DeKalb  County School System. Most consider it a long shot at best as it requires  support from the entire state. The Lakeside city planners state that  their plan has nothing to do with schools. However, if by chance  Dunwoody is successful, Lakeside city could follow. Their proposed  Lakeside City map selects Midvale and Livsey (not the neighborhoods on our side  of Chamblee-Tucker Road) but specifically excludes Pleasantdale Elementary, which is  currently a feeder school to Lakeside High School and is north of the Tucker  boundary.
Millar’s email  address is listed below along with contact information for our local  legislators. Please share your thoughts with all of them. It is  important for Tucker residents to be “on the record.” Also below are  the links to the proposed Lakeside city map and Millar’s district  map.

Penkava wrote this letter to her neighbors, and it was distributed to Patch.

Ellis: Continued Incorporation May Harm Critical County Services

DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis said this week the county has reached a point where incorporations could harm essential county services.

by Jonathan Cribbs for North Druid Hills / Briarcliff Patch

DeKalb County has reached a “tipping point” where continued incorporations of unincorporated county land could harm the county’s ability to fund essential services such as courts, elections and libraries, county CEO Burrell Ellis said this week. – services all county residents use regardless of whether they live in a city.
Ellis’ remarks were released in a statement to Patch, but, speaking at a community meeting in Tucker on Tuesday, he also said he  understands the desire for cityhood but that historically, new cities  often encounter difficulties meeting their fiscal goals, and end up  having to raise taxes just to meet basic needs.
“You’ll still be DeKalb  citizens,” he said, emphasizing that new cities cannot isolate  themselves from their counties.
Proponents of cityhood in the Lakeside area have said they believe  they can improve police services and local representation by erecting a  city government closer to its residents. District 2 Commissioner Jeff  Rader, who represents part of the area that would be incorporated under  several proposed maps from various cityhood groups, said he believes  he’s been responsive to constituents.
“You can’t speak in general, but I am not running across constients  who feel that our office hasn’t been responsive to them,” he said. “I  don’t know that you’re always gong to get what you want from another  government.”
Super District 7 Commissioner Stan Watson said he would like to see a  meeting   between residents and elected representatives of northern and  southern   DeKalb County to hash out issues that have lead to serious cityhood discussions in the Lakeside High School area.
“The  citizens don’t talk to each other,” Watson said. “We have to  get rid of  the barriers that separate and find the commonalities that  bring us  closer together.”
He said he supports the idea of cityhood but hasn’t appreciated the legislature’s efforts to squash a city of DeKalb that would incorporate all remaining unincorporated county land from north to south.
“I’m for cityhood but allow all the citizens to vote on cityhood,” he said. “But just don’t give it to a respectful few.”
But the county government doesn’t have much control over what happens in the Lakeside area. If the legislature approves a cityhood bill for that area next year, it will go to a vote before residents of that proposed cit as early as fall 2014.
“If we don’t control the legislature, there’s nothing we can do,” he said.

Legislators To Discuss ‘City of DeKalb’

By Ralph Ellis for Virginia Highland/Druid Hills Patch
Some people want to create a city out of DeKalb County’s unincorporated communities.
State senators from DeKalb County will meet this week to talk about possibly forming a “City of DeKalb.”
The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Nov. 29 in room 450 at the State Capitol, CrossroadNews.com reported.
A City of DeKalb has been talked about for decades but the idea has gained new urgency because more cities are forming in DeKalb County, like Brookhaven. Those cities reduce the county government’s property tax revenue.
Here’s what some county officials said in the CrossRoads.com article:

  • County Commissioner Jeff Rader: “What  would be the main street and common interest. We won’t lose  the county government. We will gain another layer of government.”
  • Commissioner Lee May: “It  is not just about preserving revenue, but comprehensive planning for  the county as a whole.”
  • Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton: “The  entire county planned and put investments in infrastructure and then  for a small group to take it without compensation for the county is not  fair. … We can’t let a few people destroy one of the best counties.”

Most Residents at Meeting Unsure About Cityhood

By Jonathan Cribbs for North Druid Hills/Briarcliff Patch
About 100 people showed up at Oak Grove United Methodist Church on Monday to listen to several local politicos talk about what it would take to start a city in DeKalb County.
The vast majority of residents at a Monday meeting to learn about cityhood in northern DeKalb County said they were unsure they wanted to be part of a new city.
And everyone was even less sure about where another new city might be.
In what was billed as an information-only session hosted by the Briarcliff Woods East Neighborhood Association at Oak Grove United Methodist Church, the vast majority of 100 or so residents raised their hands to indicate they were unsure about cityhood. Only a small number showed they favored or disliked the idea.
Fran Millar, DeKalb County’s sole Republican state senator; Tom Taylor, a DeKalb state represenatative, and Dan Weber, a former state senator in DeKalb, spent roughly 90 minutes talking with residents about cityhood in the county. They spoke about everything from the necessary $30,000 cost of a study to determine a future city’s feasability to the different services a city can offer. (Peachtree Corners, for instance, is “city-light,” which means it exists almost solely to give its residents control over code enforcement and zoning and doesn’t offer much in the way of tangible services.)
No boundaries for a city were discussed. After the meeting it wasn’t clear who wanted a city, where that movement might start and what communities it might include. It was obvious that Monday’s meeting was the very beginning of a difficult process that might seek to organize swaths of residents and communities into a collective enterprise. But, this area, the North Druid Hills-Briarcliff area (or the Lakeside-Emory-Northlake area or whatever else you choose to call it), has existed for so long officially as unincorporated DeKalb County.
One resident, a marketing executive, said one of the most important questions that needs to be answered is, at its heart, about branding: “Where do we live right now?”
It’s a question that doesn’t appear to have vexed the many residents who have organized into nearby cities recently such as Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, areas that arguably had clearer identities before they became cities.
But Millar, of Dunwoody, said it was important to look at what residents could get out of cityhood.
“When I think of North Druid Hills, this area, I think of preservation. I think of zoning,” he said. “When something goes wrong, you’ve got someone down the street you can complain to.”
Millar, Taylor and Weber also sought to dispel assumptions about cityhood – things that might drive some residents to want it in the wrong way. For instance:

  • The chances of a city getting its own school district are almost nill, Taylor said. No matter what, most of your property taxes will still continue to go to the DeKalb County School System.
  • Starting a city doesn’t mean you’re seceding from the county. You will most likely continue to pay for some county services such as water and sewer and garbage collection. About 80 percent of tax revenues will continue to go to the county, Millar said: “When cities are created, people are still part of Dekalb County.”
  • It’s a difficult battle and a slog of a process. And if you can get cityhood approved by the legislature, the residents still have to vote in favor of it.

All of this is also separate from a movement to create a City of DeKalb, which is the subject of a study committee in the legislature. Millar said he thinks it’s nearly impossible that would happen, and no legislation proposing it would make it off the floor of the House or Senate.
A number of residents expressed frustration that the meeting had no one speaking against cityhood. Although Jeff Rader, DeKalb County’s District 2 commissioner who has spoken against cityhood before, was at the meeting, he left early before making any remarks.
“You have shown us quite simply that you’re all pro-city,” one  resident shouted as a woman explained that any new city needs a  significant amount of commercial or industrial property to finance a  city without over-taxing residents. “Let’s move on to another question.”
Kevin Levitas, a former DeKalb state represenative who represented Briarcliff Woods, said at the next meeting he organizes, speakers opposing cityhood would be invited to speak. He said he was shooting for Nov. 29 as a tentative date.
No packets or heavily detailed information about cityhood was handed out. Millar, Taylor and Weber offered mostly anecdotes and general reflections on what it took to get cities started in Dunwoody and Brookhaven. Millar, for instance, said Dunwoody had 90 days to organize a police force for the city, once voted approved it – a Georgia record, he said.
“Even when these cities are created, they still have warts, believe me,” he said.
Another resident said everyone in the room needed to consider the idea for themselves and not be pushed by state legislators.
“There’s a lot of great reasons to have a city. But if you want to start a city, the leadership needs to come from you, not from state legislators,” he said.
But that sort of leadership hasn’t emerged yet.
“We don’t need to know how to [become a city] until we know why to do it,” another resident said.
What is your take on this movement? Add your comment below.
For more information, check out these links:
http://northdruidhills.patch.com//articles/curious-residents-ponder-cityhood-in-oak-grove
http://northdekalbcity.blogspot.com/
http://theotherbrookhaven.blogspot.com/

Affordable Lindbergh’s Last Stand

A controversial rezoning proposal in Atlanta’s Lindbergh  community, to be considered for the second time by the City Council of  Atlanta on Monday, October 01, 2012, will in part determine the fate of  some two hundred low-income families living in affordable multi-family  apartments like the San Lucia Apartments near Adina Drive, Lindbergh  Drive, Morosgo Drive, and Piedmont Road; as well as the ability of  working families to have some opportunity to afford to live in the  Buckhead area.
Developer  Jeff Fuqua wants to build high-end apartments at market rate rents; a  big box, 3.7 acre Wal-Mart superstore with a giant, 4.2 acre surface  parking lot; and a park.  This, despite the fact that the existing  shopping center there already has a Target, which already includes a  grocery store inside.
Read more >>>

Atlanta Council Delays Vote on Walmart Development

Jaclyn Hirsch – Buckhead Patch
Atlanta City Council failed yet again on Monday to make a decision on the controversial mixed-use development plan off Lindbergh Drive west of North Druid Hills that includes a Walmart.
Council voted to send the zoning request back to committee to address the land use issues, according to a note sent to residents by the Lindridge Martin Manor neighborhood association.
Developers want to build a mixed-use development that would include a Walmart off Lindbergh Drive near the MARTA station.
But the property is zoned for residential use, and Monday’s city council vote indicates that council will not approve the project unless the property is rezoned.
“The Walmart development cannot go forward with out the land use being changed,” Lindridge Martin Manor Neighborhood Association President Roxanne Sullivan wrote to neighbors. “There was lots of speculation as to what does this mean. Most of them involved the fact that the developer did not have the votes for approval. It most likely will not come back from committee.”
Developers battled with neighbors for roughly two years in an effort to move the project forward.
Many residents in and around Buckhead opposed the project due to the size of the development and the location.
Andrea Bennett, who chairs NPU-B’s Development and Transportation Committee, told Reporter Newspapers “the accusations of prejudice against Walmart are unfounded.”
“We voted against this before Walmart ever entered the picture, before we even heard Walmart was involved,” Bennett said. “Our issue isn’t whether this is a Walmart or whether it’s a Nieman-Marcus or something else. It’s about the form of the development.”

Website to ‘Save Lindbergh’ Launches

A website has been officially launched in opposition to the controversial Lindbergh development.
NPU-B Board member Abbie Shepherd spoke about the site at last week’s meeting of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods (BCN), during Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook’s lengthy and informative discussion about the development.
Buckhead Patch originally reported on the BCN meeting here.
The site aims to inform the public on why the development is bad for the community, show ways that those interested can contribute to the anti-development initiative and enable others to get the word out about the movement. It features a listing of contact information for Atlanta City Council members and signed letters of opposition.
The webiste reads:

Savelindbergh.org is made up of the people in opposition to this project. We are local residents, neighborhood organizations, homeowner and civic associations, business owners, concerned citizens and voters. You can join too by commenting on this very site and contacting your local City Council members.

Shook, who said he had seen savelindbergh.org, asked Shepherd to make her name and the names of others directly affiliated with the site more visible — in order to make it easier to engage in “meaningful dialogue.” While Shepherd pointed out the signed letters, she agreed to post those names elsewhere on the site.
by Michael Packer for Buckhead Patch