Friday, October 31, 2008

A Great Place to Live

Or, maybe not so much.

CNN Money reports on the top 100 places to live and while Dunwoody is excluded from the list due to size, we can compare our fair city-to-be to the list. For more fun, visit the site and compare Dunwoody to neighboring cities.

So how do we stack up to the top 100? Well that depends.

We make more money and live in more expensive houses, but we also pay more in taxes and one might argue we get less for it. In spite of all the development going on around us, we are significantly below the top 100's average in job growth.

We are older, more stressed, more likely to have diabetes and less likely to have a health care plan to take care of any of this. We have more restaurants, fewer bars and air that is hardly breathable and have no plan whatsoever to address any of this.

Ironically we have more libraries, but even in a state scraping the bottom of the education barrel we fall behind the top 100's performance relative to state averages. We don't fund the arts, but we spend more on vacations. Apparently Delta's ready and we are too.

We're more likely to be married and have a small edge in diversity, though it isn't clear how many Dunwoodians consider that a good thing.

The weather is warmer, we get more rainfall and yet have the same percentage of clear days. All in all, the weather is here---we wish we were beautiful. If we just wish hard enough and click our heels three times then someday, maybe, we will be.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

What Do Franchise Fees Buy?

We can learn quite a bit from our neighboring cities on this topic. It appears that Chamblee, which also levies the Franchise Fee Tax, is considering a lawsuit against Georgia Power concerning the location of a substation. Why is this puzzling?

Well, the Georgia Municipal Association, an organization representing the interests of cities (though not necessarily their citizens) claims "franchise fees are not taxes, but are rent paid for the use of city public property by a utility". But if that were really the case, then Chamblee would buy, and own, the property for the proposed substation and would then lease it back to Georgia Power. The reality is that Georgia Power is buying the property they have (unilaterally, as is their right) chosen for the substation and furthermore were that property not for sale, they retain their powers of imminent domain and could force the sale.

Clearly, cities are not maintaining, expanding or controlling the property within their own city limits used by utilities. Once again, it is revealed that Franchise Fees are no more than appropriation of paid for assets and a new and never-ending tax by cities, including Dunwoody.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another Legend Passes

Bob Carr, the man behind radio's "Willis the Guard" died Monday. The funeral is 6 P.M. Wednesday at H.M. Patterson and Son Oglethorpe Hill Chapel.


Dunwoody Hosts Young Aryans

Young Aryans from the suburbs north of Atlanta will convene at a yet to be disclosed location in Dunwoody, reportedly a local private club. Under the auspices of a charity event, groups of well educated, wealthy, white suburbanites will meet for what is publicly advertised as a fashion show---for dolls!

The Other Dunwoody finds it impossible to believe that intelligent adults would spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on dolls, and furthermore schedule fashion shows and tea parties for these inanimate objects. Yes, you read correctly. Tea parties! Even more incredible is the suggestion that these adults would buy tickets to attend.

Surely the truth lies elsewhere and The Other Dunwoody will not be so easily fooled.

An anonymous source with the organizing group confirmed the event but refused to disclose the location without a ticket purchase. The source denied the rumor that the dolls also require a ticket and suggested in a tone dripping in disdain that this was started by envious members of the community who jealously oppose all such events. When questioned about the propriety of a mono-cultural event when we are on the verge of electing an openly bi-racial president, the source indicated:
"we have the same rights as anyone else, including the right to free assembly." "Plus, anyone who wants to attend need only buy a ticket, and if they don't feel comfortable, well that's just their problem, now isn't it?"
Without fail, the source clung to the story that this was indeed a fashion show for over-priced dolls and their somewhat affected handlers. However, the source refused to directly address the assertion that no one in their right mind would pay that much for a doll given today's economic woes simply saying "some people are recession-proof". The clear implication was that this did not hold true for The Other Dunwoody. At this point it became obvious the truth was not to be found here.

Later, representatives of a well known, but virtually invisible organization were contacted but refused to comment on the true purpose of the meeting. However, they did appear glad to hear about the popularity of such an event and indicated some members just might be in attendance.


TRANSPARENCY: A Word We Like To Use... get elected. Then it appears our mayor and city council gets amnesia.

The Dunwoody Fan Magazine reports in its latest issue (sure to be in a driveway near you) that an open records request was required to obtain the names of the applicants to become our city manager. For a city council that by and large ran on a platform of open and transparent government to establish such a record of secrecy is reprehensible. We had been led to believe that a city council comprised of our neighbors would be more accessible, more open and more transparent than the distant, demonized county government. (Note: the mayor is exempt because he ran unopposed and never actually claimed to be any better than our county officials.) Apparently that's just one more lie to add to the list.

The mayor and council should be ashamed of themselves.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Dunwoody Beats Back Poverty

Dunwoody breathes a collective sigh of relief as Kroger pulls its Goodwill store plan. Not since the cityhood referendum has there been this great a cause for celebration, especially for the members of Citizens for a Clean and Pure Dunwoody. Current president Katherine "Katie" Chisolm and past president and co-founder Wendy Vespula were elated:
"This is a great victory, not only for our organization, but for all of Dunwoody", said Katie. "We've got a great community, a great culture with a solid history and now an increasingly bright future. We've come under significant outside pressure in recent years, but with a new city and now this victory, we're ready to move forward building on a solid past that was almost destroyed."

"That's right", added Wendy. "And, this isn't just great for Dunwoody, it is a win-win outcome. Our local church ministries have found that addressing the needs of the poor is enhanced when they are easily located and can be served within a reasonably compact geographic area. Dispersing them throughout other, more affluent communities makes it much more costly to offer needed services."

Katie offered further explanation: "Yes, and that's what Chamblee and Doraville are for. Dunwoody just isn't the place for that kind of operation. It belongs where those people already are and forcing them into this community would just frustrate them. After all, it would make it seem that the next rung up the ladder is out of their reach."

"That's right", Wendy concluded. "This is really the best for everybody."
We in The Other Dunwoody can all sleep better at night knowing that our neighbors, members of Citizens for a Clean and Pure Dunwoody, are watching out for us.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Dunwoody High School: A Record of Decline

RENAULT: And what in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
RICK: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
RENAULT: Waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
RICK: I was misinformed.
If you moved to Dunwoody for the ``great schools'' it would appear that you, like Rick in Casablanca, were misinformed.

If Newsweek Magazine is to be believed Dunwoody High School is far from the best in the area. In fact it ranks outside the top 50 in all of Georgia and no Georgia school could break into the top 100.

But we're improving, right? Well actually, no, we are in steady decline in these rankings.


Dunwoody High has never been in the top 500 and is moving rapidly towards falling entirely off the list. And DHS wasn't beaten just by the likes of Walton, Lakeside, Milton and Sprayberry. No, DHS was bested by Tucker, Central Gwinnett, Cambell and Clarke Central, each with close to 50% of students receiving federally subsidized lunches.

You can choose not to believe objective outside measures of Dunwoody's dismal school performance. Many parents do. It is much easier to believe the teachers, administrators and principal when they tell you what a great job they're doing (even though they are underpaid) and what a wonderful education your child is getting (even though their teachers are underpaid).

But sooner or later your children will pay the full price of their lies and your denials.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ain't From Around Here?

Forgive me Lewis for the quotes I am about to (ab)use.

Every so often someone goes somewhere, or a recent, yet-to-be acclimated transplant moves here and they inevitably come to the conclusion that we're pretty stupid and we should be doing things like they do in whatever place they just came from. Anytime you get the urge to voice these kinds of observations, ask yourself first "Why don't I just move there instead of living here?"

That said, there are indeed many things to be enjoyed in different places, some of which may even apply here, but they are different places and there are often good reasons that we don't do things the way they do.

A few of my favorites:
I visit Columbia, SC and stay in a walkable, vibrant downtown with a revitalized riverfront. Parking is free on the weekends. Would their raised pedestrian friendly intersections work in the village?

Augusta, Georgia? Great for a weekend getaway and almost a smaller version of Columbia. Transferable ideas? Not so much.

Go to Columbus and you'll see another river city with an appealing historic district, museum, riverside park and thriving downtown boulevard all within walking distance. Can't we build a small-town storefront boulevard in the village?

Savannah? Charleston? Chattanooga? Birmingham? The list goes on. Get outside of Atlanta and there are lots of charming towns and cities.
So what do these places have that we don't? For one thing, not just a high percentage, but a surplus of indigenous people--folks who are third or more generation. Community leaders whose grandparents were community leaders with a history of commitment to that community and who intend to leave a better place to their grandchildren.

More important is what we have, especially in the technology crescent containing Dunwoody. We have a highly leveraged, growth based economy that draws (demands?) folks who come here from other places. Why do they come? What draws these people away from the wonderful cities and towns of their forefathers? You know, the towns they just can't stop bragging about? Fact is no matter how quaint and family friendly their hometown, the economic opportunity we offer was more important.

This answers the original question, "why not move to that wonderful place?" They came here, they stay here, because they make more money here. They are motivated primarily by what is best for them and this fundamental aspect of their character is not likely to change no matter how long they stay. They sold out what they now say is really important, but they're not quite ready to give back that money.

Since the War of Northern Aggression, it has been the bane of Atlanta that we suffer those who "ain't from around here" who cannot resist telling "us how to speak, how to live, what to eat, what to think and they also want to tell us how they used to do it back in" where ever. We endure this so these other fine places can thrive. That is our sacrifice and in making that sacrifice we are helping create thriving, sustainable communities.

They just "ain't around here".


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New Milton County To Include Dunwoody

On the QT, off the record, and very hush-hush.
Those in the know say key players are close to a decision to include the new City of Dunwoody in the group of runaway cities hoping to re-create Milton County. The primary goal is to remove Dunwoody schools from the faltering DeKalb system and of course keep northern money from flowing south. Said one enthusiastic supporter, "It's our money. It's our kids. It should be our schools, not theirs."

Proponents hope to build on the vision and leadership that led to the overwhelming support for incorporation in recent referenda. A local consultant and former banking executive has been tapped to manage the bidding process and act as interim superintendent while transitioning the current public school services to Edison Schools, Inc. This is expected to result in 25%-30% improvement in education outcomes without a tax increase.

While all parties are maintaining a unified front in public, some have privately expressed concern about a decline in athletic programs. While this is a potential show-stopper it is not expected to dominate public discussions.
Remember, dear readers, you heard it here first.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down

Kick 'em when they're stiff, kick 'em all around
Dirty little secrets, dirty little lies
We got our dirty little fingers in everybody's pie
Love to cut you down to size, we love dirty laundry

We can do the innuendo, we can dance and sing
When it's said and done, we haven't told you a thing
We all know that crap is king, give us dirty laundry
Let it be known from the outset that The Other Dunwoody is no fan of Shrill Jill, but this is beginning to look like a vendetta. With all that is going on in Dunwoody, starting the city, selecting service providers, a mugging at Redfield, murder on Cotillion, assault rifle theft at Perimeter, the Dunwoody Fan Magazine (aka The Crier) wastes a front page headline and significant ink to beat up on Jill Chambers.

It isn't that Representative Chambers doesn't deserve to have these events presented to the public, but it has little relevance to issues confronting Dunwoody today. While Ms. Chambers does indeed live in Dunwoody, she represents only a small area of our fledgling city with most of her constituents residing in Doraville and unincorporated DeKalb. In fact, the ethics complaint does not come from a Dunwoody resident.

All the while there are significant issues with our own city council members that warrant more than a few questions and a better public vetting than they have yet to receive. Perhaps if we had a competent fourth estate on the job we mere citizens would have greater confidence that this city is moving forward without undo influence from self interested individuals and organizations.

Come on Crier, the cause is won. The trophy is on the shelf. The promotions succeeded and you have been selected as an official organ. Now it is time to direct your attention to a new set of politicians that deserve no less scrutiny than any others.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Poor To Set Up Shop

Rumor has it that Goodwill may open a retail facility in Dunwoody to serve the needs of Dunwoody's homeless and underprivileged and possibly draw upon the similarly disadvantaged in other communities.

Needless to say, the Dunwoody community is excited about the prospect.

During a chance encounter with a high ranking official of the Catholic Church at Oscar's Villa Capri that official reiterated "The Church's love for the a part of her constant tradition." While there was some obvious concern that this new facility represented real competition to their efforts to address the needs of the local poor, the official expressed confidence saying "we will kick their butts even if we have to pass the basket twice every mass from now until hell freezes over." When asked about donating his Jaguar, the conversation abruptly ended.

Baptist representatives on the other hand disclosed their belief that it was the mission of all God's children to amass as much wealth as possible and donate at least ten percent to their church. Where this money might go remains undisclosed but they do appear to be clearing ground for a new facility of some sort and expressed no concerned about local competition on the charity front.

A representative of a local Jewish congregation politely but firmly refused comment saying "we would prefer not to talk about money, particularly not having any" but seemed enthusiastic about the prospects of a new discount retail operation in Dunwoody.

Local Methodists were too busy addressing recently discovered moral black holes and the loss of parishioners to concern themselves with people looking for deals on blue jeans, but showed some interest when it was suggested this might be a good place to search for their lost ones.

Unitarians by and large remain committed to "addressing the issues of poverty of the mind" and viewed this development with somewhat detached curiosity.

All in all, it is so heartwarming to see this community, with all the distractions of creating a new city, pull together in the spirit of charity to help those less fortunate. This is the Dunwoody we all knew it would be.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

CH2M: Not to Run Dunwoody!

The AJC reported that CH2M has withdrawn it's offer to run Dunwoody!

At the first sign of a competitive, alternative option for city operation, CH2M folds. Surprising? Not really. CH2M has a history of using contractors and consultants to garner business while maintaining distance from activities that are increasingly scrutinized. This is not the hallmark of a competitive bidder.

Here's what their local broker has to say:
“They withdrew because they don’t feel they can get the kind of support they need to partner with the city,” Porter said.
What kind of support do they need? Would that be unfettered access to our money? Their self-proclaimed consultant installed as City Manager? Total lack of transparency? The ability to increase costs at will, as in Bonita Springs?

Was it possible that our city council actually wants to run our city for us? Were they a bit too inquisitive? Did they want a City Manager who isn't connected? Did they want too much oversight? No matter, if this decision sticks Dunwoody dodged a bullet.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Why Do They Call It Smart Growth...

...when it never involves building a school?

As reported in the AJC and the Atlanta Business Chronical, Yvonne Williams of the Perimeter CID envisions a walkable, livable Perimeter Center. That is unless you happen to be a student in our public schools--then you're bused far from the center of the PCID.

She describes part of her vision for the Perimeter Center community:
" have people using the retail, the restaurants and the housing so there is a live-work-play atmosphere."
This is being funded by a $6.5 million grant from the ARC Livable Centers Initiative. The Perimeter Transportation Coalition tells us:
"these LCI grants will be used to create an activity center within the Fulton and DeKalb Perimeter areas that support the "smart growth" concept of live, work, walk and play in the community."
Ever notice how smart growth's live-work-play paradigm conveniently leaves out learn? And how can you call a place livable when you must impose on neighboring communities to educate your own children?

Then we're told by Christopher B. Leinberger, a land use strategist and developer:
"The new plan will require increased density."
Unfortunately it will not require a school or any form of impact fees to compensate Dunwoody and Sandy Springs for this glaring oversight in their plan.

Until parents are walking their children across Ashford Dunwoody to their elementary school, or kids are biking to Perimeter Center High, smart growth is just a palliative buzz word used to mask the excessive greed of developers and their hypocritical shills.


The Best Tax

Is a sneaky tax.

In Dan Weber's Memorandum to the City, he offers some interesting revelations.

First, he mentions the 9/23 budget. There was a budget put together on or before 9/23? Why has this not been made available to the public? How did Weber get access to it? Don't we have a Mayor and Council committed to transparency? Isn't transparency a major whereas in Resolution No. 2008-10-01? Doesn't the phrase "serve all stakeholders in a transparent manner" appear in the two-sentence mission statement? Isn't item (4) of the Values statement "As representative of the City of Dunwoody, we will be fiscally responsible and transparent"? Does item (6) not include "we will be communicative"?

It's not clear if or when the Mayor and Council had their transparency epiphany.

In discussing the harsh economic reality of starting and running a city, Weber lets it be known that the city, in the unpublished 9/23 budget, plans to follow the county's lead by continuing a 0.7 mil tax increase. Many citizens would be more than a little surprised at this, since before the referendum, all we heard was 2.04 mils, with a 1.0 mil cap. Oh, and we were going to get 25-30% better services if you believe our not-for-pay consultant.

Now we find out that our Mayor and Council have intended for some time to slide in 34.3% increase in city property taxes because they believe we won't notice.

It is disheartening to learn that our neighbors in Dunwoody are no better than our other neighbors throughout DeKalb when it comes to governance.


City Struggles with Transparency

In its first official meeting the Dunwoody City Council faced two issues related to transparency.

First was the selection of a legal organ. There is a universal desire to reward Dick Williams for his unwavering support of cityhood, but the Crier is a weekly and that doesn't suit the council's desires for advance public notice. (You decide why.) It was proposed that there be two : the AJC, allowing for as short a notice as legally allowed, and the Crier for the aforementioned reasons. Everyone happy? Not so fast. A strong suggestion was made to get a city website in place ASAP. It was a well-reasoned, informative suggestion and did not meet with the resistance one might have expected. Let's all hope it happens.

Surprisingly (or maybe not so), this meeting saw the first open records request. What is certainly surprising is the respondent: John Heneghan! Perhaps it was an ethical contact high, but Councilman Heneghan had to discuss the matter before determining the document under question was indeed a public record. The document? It starts like this:


TO: Mayor and Council, City of Dunwoody
FR: Dan Weber
DATE: Tuesday, September 30, 2008

RE: Hybrid Budget

To assist in your decision making process, ...
How could anyone think that a memorandum addressed to the Mayor and Council regarding the most significant issue facing this city, with the stated intent of influencing their decision, could be seen as "a private conversation between two individuals"??!

Folks, it isn't that hard, at least not if you really believe in transparency. There are only two rules:
  1. If the council is discussing employee pay, promotion, discipline, or dismissal, it is private as is other employee personal information.
  2. Everything else belongs to the public and should be provided for public review, preferably on the internet---it is the 21st century after all.
The latter should include all communications, written, email, telephone and oral. Yes, oral. If lobbyists knew that officials were publishing a meeting report to those they serve (remember us? the citizens? the voters?) politics might be a better thing. All memos, all source material under review, all RFPs and responding proposals, and all email correspondence should be promptly and in some cases automatically, posted. It should also include all phone records, calls received and placed, parties on the call, duration, purpose of the call, and topics of conversation.

The technology is there to make this happen. Do it.