Monday, August 31, 2009

School Season Officially Opens

Ladies and Gentlemen! Start your engines!

The removal of the Redfield cross walk practice dummy signals the official start of open season on students and other pedestrians crossing Chamblee Dunwoody Road. As early as this season has started it will still be difficult if not impossible to best last years winner so get started now.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dunwoody and Entrepreneurship

Startup companies can be extremely exciting places to work. They are often defined by one key, often radical, innovation and an entire team commits to an almost cultish effort to convert an idea into reality. As one might guess, it takes a special type to work in this environment. It takes someone even more special to manage these people and start these companies. And, as almost everyone in the VC community knows, these are almost never the kind of people who can successfully run a company once it is started.

So it is with cities.

Dunwoody's first post-formation elections are upon us and it is time to find candidates that can run a city. We need candidates who can define themselves in the new semantic of an established city with grown up responsibilities and accountabilities instead of the terms and capabilities of a home owners' association, no matter how effective it was in helping create the city. We need candidates free of even the appearance of unseemly associations and activities--no matter how much everyone likes them or their ice cream. We need to move forward and we need the right people for the job.

The danger one sees in retaining entrepreneurs beyond the startup phase is that their early success becomes justification for self-righteous actions that are wholly inappropriate and counter-productive once that phase is complete. The characteristics, personalities--the very people that were necessary to form the organization are those that will destroy it. The citizens of Dunwoody are facing just that danger.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Back to School: Be Aware

Suppose you are making decisions affecting the largest investment of your life. You are sitting across the table from the representative of a major institution who you hope will answer your questions and address your concerns. It is explained that your worries are unfounded, things will be all right, that in fact, things are all right. Much better than you imagine. This representative is cordial and navigates a sea of confusing jargon with aplomb just short of a dismissive "not to worry, we do this all the time, it always works out in the end". You leave feeling the representative was helpful, was sincerely on your side and all really is well.

But reality rears its ugly head and you cannot deny that you were had. That what you thought was a good thing, what you were told was a good thing, simply was not. You were duped.

Later you learn this representative was motivated much more by the agenda set by his organization and administered by his bosses than a more altruistic, good-faith effort to work on the client's behalf as you had originally felt. Truth be told, if the representative were allowed to tell the truth, there are many problems with the organization, its operations and services, and how it treats employees and clients. Stories of waste and mismanagement. Of a self-serving bureaucracy that has abandoned its original mission. But you will never hear this. It would cost the representative his job.

This is pretty much how the current mortgage/housing/economic crisis unfolded. People were misled and yes, that means they followed. The natural backlash to someone with a $40K income thinking they should get a $250K loan is to conclude no one could be that stupid, no loan originator could be that slick and quite frankly the stupid borrower should suffer. One cannot deny the borrowers' responsibility, but one cannot deny the lenders' either.

But what does this have to do with back to school? Well it turns out this isn't about ninja loans and the economic meltdown. It's about the education meltdown. If we are to believe the postings on a local blog, the representative turns out to be "teachers" and the organization is public schools. Now there is some reason to question the veracity as well as the significance of comments made behind the cloak of anonymity and various nom de blog, but let's accept it for now and see where logic takes us.

But first the facts. This blog is ostensibly for watching, as in watchdog, the local school system, but has become a safe haven for an unquantifiable number of "insiders" almost all of whom comment anonymously. When called to task on the anonymity (as we are about to see, it is an issue) the reaction is generally along the lines of "give those in the system a safe place to say what they think needs saying" or "If you want teachers and parents to post, they need to be able to do so withour[sic] fear of retribution" or open encouragement with "feel free to post ...anonymously...[the] administration needs to hear the details only you can provide but have no place for you to provide it where you can feel safe from repercussions". This can carry the mind so many directions (e.g., what if you wanted teachers and parents to actually do something rather than just vent?), but the task at hand is to glean what this says to engaged parents about the public schools and their front-line representatives.

First, one has to believe public schools are an oppressive bureaucracy resulting in a stygian work environment for educators. Why? Because that is what these statements speak to: bring up a problem, suggest a solution, expect retribution. Everyone knows the public education combine is rife with guild socialism, almost to the point of feudalism, but this speaks to a system that is so oppressive that even tenure provides no protection.

It also tells us much about the front-line educators, their priorities, their convictions and their character. They may see much wrong with the system, strategically and tactically, and may have suggestions for improvement, for changes that would benefit their charges. But the paycheck is more important. In every situation they know what they have to say and how to say it. Effectively. They are sock puppets and the hand thrust up their woolly little arses commands them to speak the approved edu-babble for the greater good of the system.

So what can you, the parent do as you sit across the desk from your child's teacher?

You must be skeptical and you must parse every sentence. Edu-babble is reknowned for its sonorous, poetic qualities as well as its almost complete lack of useful information. Question. Keep it simple--force answers to stay on-topic. Come prepared for the topic at hand. Squash diversionary tactics. e.g., the teacher suggests you see the counselor, the counselor routes you to a principal who wants to know why you--it is now your problem--couldn't resolve this with the teacher. Drag each diverter to the next suggested destination, call them in immediately or get them on the phone--no exceptions, no excuses. You will either get answers quickly, or end up in a meeting with a principal, a couple of assistant principals, a counselor or two and the teacher.

And never forget: it is our schools, your child and their future.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dunwoody Gets Toll Road

Dunwoody scores another first! We are the first Georgia city to convert an existing road into a tollway. Following the principle established with franchise fees (I.E., having citizens pay again for something they've already paid for), the Dunwoody Police Department has converted top end I-285 into a toll road.

The chief has established a Revenue Enhancement Division(RED) chartered with the goal of extracting money from non-residents in a dual effort to "bring in significant dollars" while minimizing political backlash. While no one in an official capacity would comment on the record, word on the street is that members of the RED squad are called the Toll 'Trolls.

And Trolls they are.

Anyone venturing outside Dunwoody has probably encountered one of many bewildered if not angry interlopers caught in the DPD web of success. The conversation generally goes like this: "What's up with Dunwoody, eh? I can drive twenty over the limit on Chamblee Dunwoody or Roberts--in a school zone fercrissakes--but I'm just keeping up with traffic on 285 and I get pulled. Are they nuts?"

Unsubstantiated reports indicate that an inordinate number of those paying the Toll 'Trolls are Cobblodites. While they are widely known to be the worst drivers on the planet, some even say the county sticker is redundant, in many cases they have not been observed doing anything out of the ordinary. It may just be that their reputation as horrible drivers suggests they are accustomed to receiving citations thereby making them easy targets. No one at the DPD would either confirm or deny the practice geopolitical profiling, but one individual was overheard joking "we don't profile that way".

Proposals to enhance revenue and reduce costs by entering into IGAs with neighboring communities so that Dunwoody receives direct payment from other municipalities are in the works. This would reduce the need for the 'Trolls, which will remain in place until the IGAs are finalized. There is another effort to investigate the availability of stimulus funds for the toll collections. Other federal grants have already been investigated but these required that the city provide some level of matching funds thereby reducing the net benefit. Off the record the city has made it clear that "this must be one hundred and ten percent other people's money."

In any event, the effort to obtain revenue from those residing outside Dunwoody is a success that is only going to get better.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Georgia Has a Best Town In It...

...Lord have mercy on us all!

Annual best places to live rankings were published this summer and while no Georgia city made the US News and World Report top 10, Peachtree City snagged the number eight spot on the CNN Money Magazine rankings. Dunwoody was nowhere to be found.

Why is that?

As US News explains in their methodology page, crime statistics play a significant part. Seems like a good idea to live in a place with low crime, even if you're a criminal (less competition). If we compare Peachtree City and Dunwoody we find that Dunwoody not only has more violent and property crime than Peachtree City but that it is more than double the national average.

Some have posited that Dunwoody stats are inflated because they are reported as part of DeKalb's stats and when these are disaggregated the true, and more flattering, image of Dunwoody will emerge. This puts folks who ardently support both Dunwoody and the Dunwoody PD (and its likely expansion) in a tight spot. You simply cannot tout Dunwoody as a wonderful place to live, evoking pastoral images of Mayberry and Rockwellian vignettes of a calmer, safer time filled with Lemonade Days and Fourth of July Parades, and then turn around and justify a 40+ member police force with no traffic enforcement division (and yet consuming over 40% of our budget) by claiming crime in Dunwoody makes this necessary. You also cannot ignore the recent daytime burglaries.

When this contradiction was pointed out to a popular local blogger he immediately pulled a post touting his belief that Dunwoody was somehow slighted, that not making the list was DeKalb's fault, that Dunwoody was and would be proven better. This retraction was sad recognition of an obvious political dilema with an equally obvious solution: support the PD over PR even if that means supporting the PD over reality. We have transitioned to a chauvanistic Deutschland, Deutschland ├╝ber alles from the pollyannish Mayberry, RFD that got us a city in the first place.

But just where does that lead? We have what many say is an already bloated police department that others contend is understaffed even at these levels--after all there are those daytime burglaries. Still others, especially those told there is no traffic enforcement division, see executive and management incompetence.

One thing is certain, the police force will not shrink, and its growth will always be justified as a public safety necessity. It is the only way to sell it. Unfortunately this promotion of Dunwoody as a high crime area, or even as an island of calm where safety is maintained by constant patrols of an armed militia, does nothing to improve Dunwoody's stature as a great place to live.

So if we must have prophylactic patrols, let them be traffic enforcement. Surely flashing blue lights at a traffic stop will do more to advertise a benign police presence than sulking black and whites. After all the goal should be to make our community safer, even from speeders and let criminals know this is not a good place to set up shop. This can be done without sending the message that Dunwoody is dangerous crime pit.

Imagine how the current "crime drives staff expansion" PR campaign affects property values. Suppose you are relocating from a nice quiet town in another state and you are looking at houses in Dunwoody. As the real estate agent drives you around, you can't help but notice the police. They're everywhere. All over the mall. Cruising the neighborhoods. Dunwoody PD. DeKalb PD. MARTA. Mall cops. Folks, cops don't prevent crime, they respond to crime, going to where the crime leads them.

There must be something we can do and there is. If you believe the stats are inflated, the PD too large and mismanaged, then take action. Elections are coming up. Let your voice be heard. If you believe crime is bad and getting worse, protect yourself. Don't become another statistic. And dear reader, you can always do both.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dunwoody Heads Back to School

It feels like the last day of the 2008-2009 school year was just last week but summer is over and school is starting up again. Yet many of us will not forget the last day of school this spring. It was the day a student was hit and severely injured on Chamblee Dunwoody in the school zone.

Dunwoody PD response was amazing. They took nearly half an hour to arrive, but given the probability they were 'trolling on 285 or guarding their favorite councilmen's neighborhoods, that was actually pretty good. Fortunately the county's first responders were already on the scene.

Now this was no ordinary hit and run, in fact it wasn't a hit and run at all. The driver stayed around. And this was no ordinary driver and no ordinary hit. This driver had to cross the center lane to hit the child with the back bumper . Imagine. Last day of school--last chance. Kid just off the bus. Cross the line for a back bumper bashing, knocking him right out of his shoe. The bonus points are over the top, definitely scoring an extra game and establishing a high score that may stand for years.

Normally one would be wondering when this driver gets out of prison, but remember, this is no ordinary hit. The driver wasn't charged--turns out it was the child's fault. And did the Dunwoody PD respond with patrols in a reactionary effort to calm traffic on this notorious bit of road? No way.

But it gets better. Not only did the DPD tell a nearby neighbor that there really aren't many speeders coming down that hill (this car was traveling downhill), but that the DPD doesn't have a traffic division! WHAT? Just what are those daily pull-overs on 285? Has someone stolen DPD cars and started their own money making operation? Of course, no one on the force would speak on record for fear of being quoted, but off the record comments indicate the police chief is proud of the fact his organization is "the only part of city government that makes money." In fact, he's hoping it will get him that much coveted fourth star.

The city did make one positive change. In an effort to help drivers in the area, they installed a cross walk practice dummy at the Redfield cross walk. This has given drivers all summer to hone their skills so maybe it won't take the entire school year for a repeat performance.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dunwoody Needle Park

Tucked away in northern Dunwoody is a little known but frequently used Needle Park. This is a linear park on the west side of Chamblee Dunwoody stretching from Redfield near the newly installed crosswalk practice dummy to Spalding. While the city website provides no information on this park and no city official would either confirm or deny its existence, neighbors have found discarded needles on three occasions this summer.

Folks, the facts speak for themselves:
Flora + public access + hypodermic needles = Needle Park. Q.E.D.
As one would expect, nearby residents are up in arms. There is a Needle Park right outside some of their own homes and there are NO SIGNS. That's right dear reader, Dunwoody has its very own Needle Park and our city leaders have posted no signs. Clearly a missed opportunity to print more images of the farmhouse. Yet it is also a very serious matter, certainly more important that pet projects like community leaf blowers and night light patrols. How are we, the citizens this city, to know just where this park starts and ends? Is it on both sides of Chamblee Dunwoody, or just the west? What are its hours of operation? Folks, this is what signage is all about.

It is time the mayor and council got serious about their responsibilities. This calls for immediate action--we need to put the Official Beige of Dunwoody committee on hold and form a committee to address this park issue. We need to establish hours of operation. We need the aforementioned signage with an appropriately styled image of the farmhouse. We need to investigate the possibility of state and federal grant money to operate this park. After all this is Dunwoody and we, of all people, should not have to pay our own way. We need to know if liquor is allowed as well, or is this a dedicated purpose park. And we need to know what park events we can coordinate with Lemonade Days.