Thursday, August 28, 2008

Let the Truth be Told

Voir dire is the opportunity to examine the jurors before their appointment as regards to their integrity and balanced approach.

The time is short to apply this much needed process to the candidates for city council. A problem facing us, The Other Dunwoody, is that many of candidates are former insiders of the Pro-Dun proselytizing organizations. These organizations promoted the idea of cityhood without a great deal of respect for the truth. Of course, this is the nature of marketing.

Now some of these individuals are marketing themselves and we can expect them to be no more forthright with accurate information than they have been in the past. Yet they are selling themselves as the best option for various council positions. Do their recent past actions recommend them for these offices?

There are some serious questions that deserve considered answers:

Were they on any of the task forces and if so did they operated in the open? Did they publish agendas before meetings, minutes afterwards, disclose source information under consideration and produce timely reports? What is their explanation for why this was not done (we know it wasn't)? Does their answer speak to the character you wish in a city leader?

Were they a member of either of the Pro-Dun organizations? If so, what was their role? If not a member did they support either organization and in what fashion?

Were they a member of the non-profit organization formed to lobby for cityhood and if so, what was their role? This organization was required by law to file a Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report 15 days before the vote, yet it was e-filed on July 9th. What is their explanation for this negligence or incompetence and if they tolerated it in this organization why are we to believe they will not tolerate the same in our city?

Were they a member of the Pro-Dun organization that issued an RFP for city services, accepted bids and eliminated one bidder? What was their role in that organization? Do they, or any of their relatives have business or social ties -- past or present -- with either of the companies under consideration? Do they, or any of their relatives work for these companies? Have they in the past? We already know this is true for one candidate. Are there others?

If they were a member of the Pro-Dun organization that commissioned the Carl Vinson Study, what interaction did they have with the CVIoG? We already know that the CVIoG was told to include $1.5 million in the budget as a contingency for lost HOST funds to PCID. Who, and we deserve a name here, spoke with them on this matter? Who gave them guidance to include Georgia Power franchise fees under 'other franchise fees', making what is little more than a miscellaneous category the second largest source of revenue? What other guidance were they given and who made those choices?

These two organizations did not operate to the level of integrity, openness and respect for the citizens that are a minimum requirement for a city created in this, the new millennium. Those who participated in these organizations have much to answer for, especially if they seek city office. If they evade these questions, or seek to hide behind the herd ("the committee decided", or "the task force reported", etc.) they are not qualified for any city position.

Unfortunately the uncontested mayoral position will not receive scrutiny.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Inside Job

Some candidates for city council seem to agree with The Other Dunwoody that there is something fishy with the pre-ordained selection of CH2M Hill to operate the city.

As it turns out the wife (and business partner) of a highly placed participant in the pro-city movement was once employed by this company and lists herself on linkedin as a member of the "CH2M Alumni Association". If you believe this high powered couple hasn't maintained friendly relations with the company and many of its employees then you might be interested in some beach front property just listed on Bunky Way.

The notion that some self-appointed representatives of a possible city-to-be should even issue an RFP was offensive from the very beginning. That they have taken bids and narrowed the choices (to one) is odious. Discovering that a high ranking official of this organization has personal ties to the winning bidder is just more evidence that city governance in Dunwoody will be no better what we had with DeKalb.

It should come as no surprise that this individual is also running for a city council spot.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Candidate Contact Information

This information is provide so you can contact the candidates and as your FUnQ's. While The Other Dunwoody may suggest FUnQ's everyone should ask, no candidates will be endorsed.

That being said, it must be noted John Heneghan has posted Task Force Reports on the web for public review. He has been faithfully pro-active in distributing information and is to be commended for those efforts.

If any posted information is missing or incorrect, please add comments and this posting will be updated.

May the best candidates win.

Local Council Positions

At Large Council Positions


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Foundation of Lies

"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."

Joseph Goebbels.
It appears Dunwoody's Powers-That-Be are losing their ability to shield The Other Dunwoody from their lies. And make no mistake, we have been lied to and it is becoming inescapable that it was done with malice and forethought.

The reports from the Citizens for Dunwoody's clandestine Task Forces have been presented to the political elites: the candidates for city council. Not only were they not created with public review or provided to the citizens before the referendum, they are still withheld from Dunwoody's citizens. Apparently they are available on a need to know basis and mere citizen-taxpayers simply don't need to know.

We can gather some interesting insights from Sunday's AJC Metro article, "Dunwoody candidates see preview of operations proposals":
  • As the title clearly states, this information was presented exclusively to candidates. Given that it is already too late to negatively impact the referendum, how bad can it really be? Apparently pretty bad.

  • "The reports are only recommendations and are not binding. But they likely will carry significant weight with new council members, who will have little time to prepare for cityhood after Sept. 16..." Obviously these reports were intentionally delayed, forcing the newly formed council to accept these recommendations without serious debate or plausible alternatives. Someone has a vested interest in this outcome. Who is it and what do they get?

  • This is all clearly intentional. When a constituent questioned Fran Millar, a prime mover behind the Dunwoody movement, about cityhood being sought "the right way", he responded:

    "[...]by delaying this one year to try to get the best data for people to make a decision (unlike Milton, Johns Creek) I do think it was the right way. Are there assumptions that might be wrong-probably. However it will be better than DeKalb in the long run if we elect responsible people and you can throw them out if they do not do a good job-unlike DeKalb."

    Well, it seems these folks had an extra year and still could not pull together their reports in a timely fashion, even for presentation to decision makers. It is a sad state of affairs when incompetence is the most palatable explanation.

  • Then there is Chem2Hill and an apparently cozy relationship with some members of these clandestine task forces: "The company was selected over another bidder by a panel appointed by Citizens for Dunwoody Inc., the group that headed the task force effort." So there was an RFP issued, bids were taken and a winner selected. All on our behalf, but without our knowledge or permission.
  • The company seems quite sure of it's future business with Dunwoody, Inc.: "the company already has selected the staff that will work for Dunwoody if the council selects the firm. The company also has a building that initially would be used as a City Hall." Initiative or a done deal--which do you think it is?
  • Finally, one of our fine candidates for City Council, a past task force commandant, is recommending a police budget that is 20% over that in the Vinson study--the only detailed information provided before the referendum. Of course, we, The Other Dunwoody, are not allowed to know why and for what purpose the budget ballooned.
This is the kind of "behind closed doors" good old boy politics, deception and fiscal irresponsibility we've come to expect from the county. Dunwoody was supposed to do better.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Magic Pews at DUMC!

Magic pews have been reported at Dunwoody United Methodist Church.

These seats are reserved for, if not created by, the few, the elite, the 'Founders of Dunwoody'. There have been reports of an eery light shining forth and a faint odor, something between lilac, Old Spice and an extinguished match. After these events the occupants of the magic pews are reported to speak in tongues, often appearing to have more than one. Their voices are sonorous, with glowing words carrying no intelligible meaning. Ironically they rarely sing the hymns during the service but merely mouth the words.

Those close to the matter report a self-righteous glow emanating from those who, in brief moments of rapture, claim to hear a booming voice of moral authority tell them that their end justifies any means and that the Golden Rule is for ordinary schmucks, not the chosen, or even self-appointed, few.

Officials at DUMC refused to comment, except to say that flash photography is not allowed during church services. Nonetheless many in the congregation have reported frequent Sunday sightings as well as occasional midweek occurrences.

While a vast majority of events have been reported at DUMC, the phenomena is not unique to the Methodists. There are reports of sightings at local Catholic churches as well as the First Baptist Bank of Dunwoody. While the diocese refused to comment on specific incidents, they indicated this is a matter for the Vatican as it is unclear whether this warrants exorcism or beatification. No two officials of the local Baptist organizations provided a consistent response.

Reports from the local Jewish community are far less frequent, comprising mostly unsubstantiated rumors of charred bushes in and around synagogue parking lots. While some consider these divine signs, others dismiss them as results of the ongoing drought. A local rabbi mostly deflected questions on the matter. "So, you're looking for self-righteous politicians?" "And you're having trouble finding them?"

Not surprisingly, there have been no reports of sightings from the Unitarians.

Speaking off the record, on the QT and strictly hush-hush, several ecclesiastical authorities cautioned against ordinary lay persons attempting to occupy these special seats--if of course they really exist. It is their considered opinion that the ordinary, good people of their flock are of fine character and high moral integrity and thus ill-equipped for these positions. They fear lay persons would surely be struck dead, or worse yet become like one of the usual occupants of these magic pews.


Friday, August 15, 2008

It's Not Another Layer

It's not. It's Not! IT'S NOT!!!!

Or, so we're told by those who've foisted a new city upon us all.

But it is undeniably more government.

Before a City of Dunwoody, we had seven county commissioners, a CEO (they call him MISTER CEO) and quite a bureaucracy on our payroll. And these aren't just ordinary, run-of-the-mill elected officials. These are special. If we ever needed proof that elected officials are like diapers (needing constant checking and frequent changing--for the same reason), we need look no further than DeKalb County, Georgia.

Now we got ourselves a city. A mother-lovin' Georgia politikin' city. (apologies to fans of "In Harm's Way"). We now have expanded the taxpayer funded payroll to include six city council positions, a city clerk, a mayor and a police department. And we still have all those county yahoos.

But how can the police department be included as 'new' burdens? Aren't we just replacing the previous county police force with our own local police? Only in the twisted world of a Pro-Dun. When a major tactic for inciting voters was the proposition that Dunwoody paid for a police force that actually patrolled elsewhere, it is an insult to any intelligence to later propose that this shiny new Dunwoody PD is 'just a replacement'. Sorry folks. Cake. Eat. Pick one.

But at least it isn't a new layer. Right? Well mostly. There is that little bitty problem called 911. The Pro-Duns decided to pick and choose which services would be citified and which would stay with the county. Fire and 911 stays with the county. So now if you need a cop and call 911, that call has to be routed to the proper dispatch, when before it WAS the proper dispatch. There is no way around it, you must go through the county to get to the city.

Even though it is more government, the proposition is it is 'better' government because the city council and mayor are our neighbors. Though their actions in forming the city suggest otherwise, let us all hope neighbors really make better politicians instead of politics bringing out the worst in our neighbors.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Franchise Fees 101

What are franchise fees?

Well it depends on whom you ask.

If you ask Ga Power, they consider it a "local tax imposed on utilities for the privilege of providing a service within city limits". Georgia Power, like everyone else, recognizes that each individual customer does not, and many cannot, pay the full cost of delivering electricity to their individual home or business. That is why these fees had been rolled into the rate structure and hidden from the rate payers.

But if you ask the Georgia Municipal Association they consider franchise fees " rent paid for the use of city public property by a utility ". They will assert this 'rental' costs the utility less than free market acquisition of rights of way or condemnation. This conveniently ignores the facts:

  • this 'rent' is paid in perpetuity, and always increases
  • however, an outright purchase is a one-time cost amortized over the same period
  • the municipality provides no service for this 'rent'
  • most municipal easements have been in place for a long time
  • new cities are taking over existing assets without compensation

The bottom line is that utility franchise fees levied by municipalities are little more than a tax on the revenue earned by a utility within that municipality.

But how do they work?

Georgia Power pays municipalities a sum of 4% of the power sold within that municipality. Georgia Power, like all successful businesses, does not pay taxes, they collect taxes, so they pass this cost along to their customers. In total Georgia Power collects and pays municipal taxes totalling over $100 million annually which no one sees on their power bill. In the past the statewide municipal franchise fees were simply rolled into the rate structure, appearing nowhere on any customer's power bill.

That has recently changed: siding, at least to some degree, with the "it's a tax" point of view, the Georgia Public Service Commission ruled in 2006 that Georgia Power should get one half of these municipal fees exclusively from rate payers in those municipalities with the rest remaining hidden in the rate structure. This resulted in municipal customers paying approximately 2.9% of their usage while unincorporated customers (or those living in cities forgoing the franchise fee) pay only 1.1%.

Needless to say the Georgia Municipal Association took the issue to court and after losing the case (and more of our tax dollars) the ruling took effect in January of 2008.

But all is not lost. City-folk are still getting a free ride on the backs of other rate payers, and not just those in unincorporated areas. All municipal customers pay the 2.9% tax including commercial and industrial users. And they pay proportionally more than residential users because they use proportionally more electricity. Since they don't get a vote in city elections it is politically expedient to institute taxes that hit the business community harder than residential users. That is already being leveraged by candidates and elected officials in recently formed Georgia cities.

Now this is just for electricity, which is by far the largest. However, franchise fees apply to gas, cable and telephone as well, but these are just other verses of the same song. All these bills are going up on December 1.

What does this have to do with Dunwoody?

Georgia Power franchise fees appear in the Carl Vinson study under 'other' franchise fees despite it being second only property taxes and representing over 13% of the budget. Given statements from the Citizens for Dunwoody that they directed the CVIG to include $1.5 million to cover potentially lost HOST funds, it seems likely this deceptive categoriziation was also at their direction.

Dunwoody is new. At the time of this writing, the city is not even in operation. All those power poles, transmission lines and substations pre-date the city, and presumably Georgia Power already owns the property and easements. Yet this new city proposes to charge them rent (which we will pay) for assets Georgia Power already owns.

We, the citizens of Dunwoody, have already paid for these assets through our past power bills, cable bills and phone bills. It was on the county's watch that our water lines were punctured installing fiber. But now, because of reckless city financial planning, we will be forced to pay for these again, and again, and again.

But what can we do?

Contact the Georgia Public Service Commission demanding that they complete the job they started in 2006. Ask them to:
  • require that new cities compensate utilities for properties and easements that they intend to 'rent' back via franchise fees.
  • change the franchise fee structure so that 100% of municipal fees are paid by rate payers in that municipality.
Vote for city councilmen who support not assessing these fees. But be very skeptical: they have 2.4 million reasons to lie.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Dunwoody's Founding Principles

The Pro-Dun crowd's need to know approach to citizen engagement combined with a focus on success at all costs provided little opportunity for profound thinking or a clear exposition of founding principles. So, it is not surprising that their declaration of independence sounds more like "Free at Last" than "When in the course of human events". Though they never published
an explicit statement of founding principles, the principles can be distilled from their actions and the body of their marketing efforts.

They have offered us, the citizens, these core principles:
No Taxation Without Representation. This was the primal scream of the cityhood movement. It was, and still is, impossible to have a conversation about Dunwoody, without some discussion of sending all our tax money south and getting nothing in return. Though this situation will not substantially change after cityhood, the constant harping on this issue makes it not only a core principle but casts a long shadow of greed over the city.

Same or Better Services at Same or Lower Cost. This is almost a corollary to the Taxation/Representation principle. Almost but not quite. It has two distinguishing components:
  1. that Dunwoody is inherently better at money management than DeKalb, including some unsavory suggestions that DeKalb might have been intentionally abusing Dunwoody;
  2. and a commitment to no tax increases.
Questions about latter point were often directed to a reading of SB82 which requires a city-wide referendum to exceed a one mil property tax increase. This sleight of hand obfuscated the fact that other taxes and fees can be levied and raised at will.

Local Control is Better Control. A widely held belief in Dunwoody is that a city government will make zoning decisions that account for impact on school crowding and traffic congestion, while the county will be driven only to increase the county tax digest. It was also felt that local control of police would put officers on the streets of Dunwoody and that roads and parks might benefit from management by folks who use them. This is perhaps the only issue where Dunwoody proponents seemed less than obsessed with money.

So we have, perhaps unwittingly, been given a set principles that underpin the soon-to-be city of Dunwoody. Given that the council, and certainly the mayor will be selected from the Pro-Dun activists, it is only fitting that their word and deed sets the context against which their future actions will be measured.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Dunwoody Chooses Cityhood

On July 15, 2008 35% of the registered voters in Dunwoody had reason to party. By a dominant four to one vote they had just passed a referendum creating a city of Dunwoody, culminating years of hard work and intensive promotion on the behalf of cityhood.

It was an emotional moment.

It was an emotional decision.

Therein lies the problem. Enduring civic decisions are supported by three things:
  1. Intellectual integrity: this requires open discourse and public vetting of all decisions, findings and reports.
  2. Moral integrity: in addition to universally accepted moral codes, all organizations are based on core principles, and organizations of integrity operate within the framework of those principles.
  3. Emotional appeal: viability requires a certain feel good quality to engender support and compensate for the disadvantages of inevitable compromise.
The citizens of Dunwoody were offered nothing but emotional appeal -- voters were encouraged to vote solely on the belief that city rule must be better than county rule. As the situation unfolds it is increasingly clear that information was intentionally withheld and that core principles established in the campaign for cityhood are scheduled to be violated.

This was done by a relatively small group, who appointed themselves in charge of Dunwoody's future, while ignoring the obligation to their fellow citizens that comes with this responsibility. Because the city will draw its first mayor and council from this small group, only a fool would expect them to behave differently than in the past.

So what can we, the remaining 65%, The Other Dunwoody do?

First, the rules have changed. While private corporations can operate in secrecy, a city in violation of sunshine laws can and should be held accountable. Activities that would have taken place in secret before the referendum are now subject to open records requests. The Other Dunwoody provides a forum for posting these interactions and documents, especially those that public servants would prefer to keep secret.

Second, it is incumbent on all citizens to strip the cloak of anonymity from public officials. There is no "we". There is no "they". City councils don't make decisions, individual council members do. Ordinances, regulations, procedures and contracts don't magically pop out of a printer. Flesh and blood humans put finger to keyboard and pen to paper authoring and authorizing documents that affect our lives. These individuals must take credit and criticism for their actions. As truths are revealed they will find a home in The Other Dunwoody.

Finally, we must never stop observing, never stop questioning. As in the past, we can expect passive aggression: most serious questions will go ignored, or worse, receive a patronizing, pandering political misdirection. To aid in the quest for information, The Other Dunwoody will maintain a list of Frequently UNanswered Questions: FUNQs.