Monday, December 31, 2012

It's The Robot Boys

It was an early Christmas present for our beloved boys in blue but for the rest of Dunwoody it was a flaming bag of stink dropped off on our collective front porch. 

The Dunwoody Police are getting a robot.

Did the department request a robot? Do they even need a robot? Did they make the case for this robot to Council? Did Council approve and provide budgetary support for a robot? Is there anyone who can be held accountable to the public who had anything to do with initiating and executing this acquisition?

Hell no. 

So why are we getting a robot? This cannot really be a Christmas present. Can it?

Well the answer is quite simple but only after you understand what drives decisions in this Smart City of Conservative Critical Thinkers. There was a grant. Yes sir, turns out GEMA, didn't quite run out of money in their federal money laundering scheme so they were throwing it out like candy at parade. Of course it wasn't just money. You have to spend it the way they tell you because that's how grants work. Another thing grants do is get you to buy something you don't need and then you have to pay to maintain it. Sort of like how a "free puppy" ain't really free. See, someone is going to have to maintain this mechanical device and we're very likely to see officers taken out of service for "robot training". 

Maybe after they're trained they'll be half as good with robots as these Danes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Furnace Mystery

A long-time Dunwoody resident (aren't we all?) recently did the most peculiar and yet most Dunwoody-esque thing. While a full-time Dunwoody resident, this bloke, like many others 'round these parts, owns a second home as sort of a "vacation" home. Nothing unusual there. Well, this fall his furnace died. Nothing unusual there either.

Then it gets strange. Sure, the furnace was old, but it was reparable and at a cost of a several hundred dollars its service life may well have been extended a few more years. But instead of having the furnace fixed as most in Dunwoody will agree is the prudent course of action, this bloke had the whole thing ripped out and replaced. To the tune of several thousand dollars. How could someone smart enough to not just live but vote in our fair "City of Smarts" spend all that money while discarding a furnace that needed only a minor repair, that had served his needs in the past and promised to continue into the future?

This warranted a serious investigation.

The story is at least as peculiar as it is strange. The place this bloke bought five years ago was built in the mid eighties and the furnace was original. Something he described as not much different than the cursed furnace in "A Christmas Story" but lacking the character. Furthermore, the A/C which blew a mighty wind failed to blow a cold one. And this wind blew barely filtered air through leaky half-naked ducts compensating for those inadequacies by ensuring that the second floor was roasting whilst the main floor did a proper imitation of "The Mayor's Skating Rink". Year round. While built to code in the eighties, time, technology and building codes had relentlessly advanced.

So our bloke from Dunwoody decided to let the Past keep its own and move on to the new millennium.

He had the old HVAC system ripped out. Ducts, supply and return, were stripped, sealed and insulated. A modern zoning system was installed to properly address the all too often divergent needs of upstairs/downstairs. A real air filter. And, of course, a new furnace and A/C unit paired for maximum efficacy and sized based on up-to-date heat load calculations--real engineering--indicating that efficiency upgrades called for a smaller A/C unit than previously installed.

Z Wave aside, this project was not just about maximum efficiency, wiz-bang technology or catching the latest greenie trend. In fact, a lower-efficiency furnace was selected. Why? Because this bloke lives in a traditional "Williamsburg" style home (don't we all?) and a white pipe poking out the wall "just don't look right" and you cannot vent a high efficiency furnace through an existing terracotta chimney flue. While the desire to modernize was great, there was some serious consideration given to the heritage and character of the home and neighborhood.

But at the end of the day this bloke did something few others from Dunwoody would have done, especially for a secondary residence: he spent considerably more money to upgrade and modernize than would have been required to simply patch up the existing system.

Friday, December 21, 2012

What's The Problem?

The first problem is that no one at City Hall seems to ever ask the question "what's the problem?" The City's inability to ask, and answer, that question prevents them from providing a cogent description of issues being addressed, potential solutions and the criteria for evaluating options. Simply because the fundamental problem is never clearly stated.

We've recently seen this with the Pavement SNAFUs. What was the real problem being solved by the high school roundabout? Were the intersecting streets thoroughfares or were they intended to become through-ways? If so, this should have been clearly stated upfront in the problem statement. Then prioritizing the importance of pedestrian traffic would be clear. Perhaps City Hall was afraid of being honest with the citizens  by stating the dominance of business related traffic over residential traffic and related concerns.

A similar situation occurs with the IT efforts. They have only a hammer and consequently only see nails. Since they're always going to use the same hammer it is simply a waste of time to ask "what's the problem?" since they only see one solution. It's as if they believe the "I" in "IT" stands for "idiot". By refusing to clearly articulate the problem at hand they have been unable to prioritize concerns and make intelligent, informed technology decisions. And they waste quite a bit of our tax dollars fielding inadequate "solutions".

Until this City starts with a clear problem statement based on sound analysis that establishes clear goals any attempt to move forward will be met with resistance and every issue will become a wedge issue.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Revolutionary Colors In An Un-Civil War

For those new to the cause that is All Things Dunwoody the creation of this City was a revolutionary event. The noble patriots who fought the good fight and set us free from our dark overlords in Decatur did so under  an almost golden Yellow banner. The battles waged were for hearts and minds and votes, both under the truly gold dome and here, in the trenches, in Dunwoody. There were many fierce battles waged in our meeting halls, on our streets and in our front yards. Everywhere the enemy was met with Yellow. Yellow yard signs. Yellow bumper stickers. Yellow tee shirts. All Things Dunwoody became All Things Yellow. For Yellow is the color of our courage, the symbol of the intellectual dominance of those who would go on to build the first Smart City in Georgia.

Though  the opponents of Dunwoody were defeated they were not truly vanquished. Those that survived have regrouped and are strengthening even as you waste valuable time reading this. The forces assembling against us, those working to destroy us and all we've built are traitors, betrayers that come from within. These heathen destroyers bear the sign of blood, of destruction, of the very fires of Hell. They wear Red.

The time for action is upon us.  We must once again gird ourselves for battle, march against these treacherous Red Shirts and rain destruction upon them. We must be swift and decisive to ensure victory and when that certain victory is once again secured we must drive out all remaining Red Shirts beating them back to the Hell of Ignorance from whence they came. And there will be little time to celebrate as it is now certain that we must be forever vigilant, guarding against any who might rise up against us. Forevermore, no matter when they come, no matter where they come from, we must destroy all those who would challenge us.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Local Control For Sale

We in the 'Wood wax poetic about "Local Control". "Local Control" is the cornerstone of City governance based on the superficially obvious observation that it is smaller and generally in closer geographic proximity. But miles are not the only measure of proximity and the ballot box is not the only means of control.

A perfect and quite transparent object lesson is had by juxtaposing the High School Roundabout with the Village Parkway. In the former case Council "bowed to the will of the people" allegedly receiving a Sagan-esque "billions and billions" of emails. The objecting noise over the Parkway is unceasing and protesters have literally taken to the street. To no avail. For the Parkway matter Council hides behind "The Master Plan" claiming it is well vetted, the product of public input and not subject to further review or modification. The same could be said of the roundabout, but it isn't, and the Smart Folk are left to ponder why.

The differentiator is as simple as it is obvious. Much of the Parkway funding is from grants while the roundabout is simply our tax dollars at work. And when City Hall taps Other People's Money, these Other People tap them--on the shoulder and direct them to do what these Other People want and do it the way they want it done. If that happens to align with your "vision" and achieves your goals, and only your goals, then it is little more than another source of funding. Of course this is never the case. If you were going to do something as these Other People would have it, why should they pay?

The problem is increasingly obvious. The Other People are much more subtle than a tap on the shoulder. They tell the City up front what "their way" is making it clear it is "their way or the highway". Consequently our City bureaucrats are not identifying and characterizing problems in order to propose one or more solutions for public approval and funding but instead look to what funding is available, determine what strings are attached and then craft a "solution" tailored to the grant requirements. Problems themselves are discussed only as it furthers grant approval and characterized only to the degree required to squelch public outcry. We're not very good at the second part.

As few grants cover one hundred percent of costs these Other People are buying influence and taking the "Local Control" we've entrusted to the City at a very steep discount. It is increasingly apparent that Council exerts as much power at City Hall as the DeKalb Board of Education does over DCSD Administration.

At the end of the day when grant prospecting influences what this City does and how it is done unelected City bureaucrats are selling OUR "Local Control" for their benefit.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rank and Sort

A recent Radio 4 Analysis programme impaneled experts to discuss the recent trend towards a content based curriculum along the lines of E. D. Hirsch. One of the experts made a foundational observation:
A primary function of schools is to rank and sort and when they lose sight of that they fail.
This is exactly what has happened in the United States. We have abandoned the necessary mission of evaluation and direction for a politically correct but intellectually vacuous mantra of "anyone can do anything". And for whatever reason, probably in no small part due to guilt, parents support this silliness. While these same parents acknowledge levels of ability (and inability) in sports and will even concede their tennis playing child will never become the next McEnroe no matter how much they practice, for some reason they are quite confident their child should master Geometry to the "A" level.

And our schools have been more than happy to please. Previously difficult subjects, like Geometry, have been watered down to the point that the village idiot is now on the "Path to Excellence". The only thing shoveled out faster than "A"s is self-esteem which we are so wrapped up in that it is a cardinal sin to grade papers in red ink. Challenging students to the point that most earn a "C" and only the top five percent warrant an "A" is not discouraged, it is forbidden. At this point American public schools, and the diplomas they print, offer no differentiation whatsoever to distinguish one student's "academic accomplishments" from any other.

Until we have an education system where distinctions are made, where children are properly and professionally advised and directed toward appropriate programs, trade or professional, the United States will continue to devolve.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


This week's City Council Meeting was cancelled in favor of a Holiday Pity Party for the City. The announcement went out as a letter from the Mayor published in the "Official Organ" and in typical CoD fashion it was a day late. While word seems to have gotten around and it was clear that this party would be BYOB it was nonetheless crashed by the usual suspects.

A key party theme was apathy and those most loudly protesting citizen apathy seemed to have recently unwrapped that little present so often found at the bottom of a bottle of scotch: memory loss. To be fair, it could be early onset alzheimer's or in some cases ordinary senility, but we in The Other Dunwoody are romantics--we're going with the scotch theory.

What these particular whiners seem to have completely forgotten is that were it not for apathy there would be no City of Dunwoody. Less than thirty five percent of eligible voters said "Yes" on the referendum whilst a vast majority simply stayed home (or were on vacation) or worse yet raised their voice in opposition. But this was intentional Abuse of Apathy by Calendar Manipulation and it suited the purpose of some of these very same whiners so that was just fine. Now these boo-birds squawk because their zoning re-write meetings are poorly attended. Then, in justification of "All Things Unpopular We're Doing Anyway" these intellectual bipolars wave around  some "Master Plan" while acting like a certain mustachioed Austrian in mid-30's Germany only to claim it is the "Will of The People" because a few hundred of their closest buds had a bit of a say-so way back when.

Gotta reconsider the scotch theory. This is beginning to smell of absinthe.

They also seem to have forgotten anything taught in a civics class. If they ever took one. In spite of the fact that they are willing participants in one they seem profoundly clueless about the nature of "representative government". They apparently have never been to the Clue Store over at the mall to pick up a copy of the best seller entitled "Why You Were Elected". It's a quick read, if you can read, and it clearly states "You were elected to represent your constituents in the People's Business". So the electorate has the expectation that you know what they want and you will work towards their goals because that's why they elected you. So when you don't, they rise up in opposition. Is that really so hard to understand?

This how-to guide also details invaluable techniques for proactively maintaining contact with those you serve, preserving the integrity of your office, playing by the rules (often of your own making) and keeping your oath. There is an entire chapter explaining how representative governance is not a full democracy (or the Master Plan would have been on a ballot) and how the electorate has delegated their voice in government matters to you and how you are responsible for being their proxy. The concepts are as simple as they are important but seem somehow elusive.

But be forewarned. Were one actually interested in figuring out that "representative government" thingy, there is something important to keep in mind: knowledge acquired thru study must be acquired in the same state of sobriety as will be the case when that knowledge is to be used. Pour your drinks accordingly.

But the real purpose of the Pity Party was to soothe the City's bruised little self esteem. They may not know much but they know for damn certain they don't get the respect they want. The problem, the one represented by the red-shirts, is that they're actually expecting more respect than they've earned of late and they don't seem to realize they've taken out a huge unsecured loan from the Bank of Public Trust that they are underwater on and have no hope of paying back. They're bankrupt and don't seem to know it.

And the reasons for the current respect deficit were on fine display. Citizens, who council and mayor are sworn to serve yet are so out of touch with, are allowed three minutes, on a timer, for public comment. No audience reaction allowed. No "two way" dialogue. No questions asked. And also no recognition from the bench of how this actually DISCOURAGES public interaction and FOSTERS the appearance of apathy.  And they wonder why folks all but boycott their cliquish little meetings.

While the rules for citizen participation are clear and well enforced no meaningful restrictions prevent council from making snide, derogatory comments immediately after or even during those one hundred and eighty second allotments. Yet they think they've earned respect.

We may have to up the ante to bathtub gin as these folks are doing a mental Jake Walk.

It gets even more odious. Council are permitted the bully pulpit, uninterrupted, with no time limit. Twice. This can and has been used to berate the public--you know, the one they complain about being oh so absent. And they demand proper decorum from what few citizens show up for these abusive bemusements about why they, the council, the mayor, just don't get their props from the peeps. Perhaps they should install kneelers for the audience so The "Little" People will know where they really stand in the eyes of their public servants.

There oughta be a law and it oughta be a dram law.

And finally, in all seriousness and with all due respect for the Office each elected official holds, there are many orphaned adults in Dunwoody and they did not elect any of you to replace either dead parent so please keep your public performances in line with what is consistent with honorable public service rather than what one would expect from an abusive alcoholic character in a Pat Conroy novel.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pop Quiz

This comes from a discarded SAT test found near Dunwoody High School.
Examine the following picture and select the best answer to the question below

Muscle Milk is to Milk as a local politician is to
  1. Honesty 
  2. Integrity
  3. Humility
  4. Apology

This is obviously a trick question as the only proper answer is "all of the above".

Monday, December 10, 2012

Transportation Modes

We seem all wrapped up in roads these days and we always come around to the question of "how do we get cars off the roads and get pedestrians and bikers on them?" yet we never question the underlying assumptions: pedestrians good; bikes better; cars bad. Unfortunately Dunwoody has more than its fair share of Luddites who cannot get past the antiquated idea that roads are purpose-built for cars and other motorized vehicles. To them it seems obvious, but those wanting to take their fair share of the asphalt away from cars see things differently.

Perhaps it would facilitate discussion if we could properly characterize transportation as one of two categories: destination transportation and recreational transportation.

Destination transportation is that antiquated fossil-fueled ICE driven modality, emphasizing effectiveness and utility over more important things like "it's good for you". Basically, destination transportation means automobiles. Parking. Commerce. Getting there, getting it done, getting back.

Recreation transportation is about the journey. Scenery. Fresh air. People contact. Basically, recreation transportation means "human powered". Walking, running, and biking. Not swimming yet, but plans are afoot to install a network of swimming canals throughout the 'Hood. Rumor has it a former mayor has a plan to freeze the canals so we can ice skate to and through the Village, much like what is done in Ottawa. Except their water just freezes.

The simple fact is we're not about to see grocery shoppers pedal up to Publix and Fred and Ethel are not going to waddle on over to Hickory House. And back. Weather, hills, and yes, automobile traffic make this less than unlikely. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with recreational walking and biking but let's be honest, only a very small percentage of human powered locomotion is for anything but recreation (while it is a stretch, we're considering exercise "fun").

The real question we need to address is just how much of our taxes (and yes, grants and other OPM) do we want to spend on recreation transportation and what are we willing to sacrifice with regards to destination transportation?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Village Gets Sewerage Plant

Construction has begun on a "micro-facility" sewerage treatment plant in the heart of Dunwoody Village.

This facility is being funded in part by a Federal grant that is part of a program to ensure that the effluent of the affluent is processed as close to the source as possible. Critics of the program have applied the derisive label "Keeping the Stink Where Republicans Drink".

But folks in Dunwoody think it is a Good Thing. At least fifteen hundred of the usual suspects comprising the Citizen Input Contingency are said to be enthusiastically in favor of the project. Or so say City Hall.

Fortunately this Smart City is ahead of this expected wave of enthusiasm. Upon hearing of the grant opportunity City staff immediately issued a Memorandum of Understanding committing the City to accepting the funds and moving forward with the project. When a disinterested citizen challenged the cost/benefit of the project a spokesman for the City claimed "we'll drink each other's bathwater if it means we get a grant".

How true.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bank Operates In The Hole

There has been some confusion surrounding the siting of the Chase bank at the corner of Dunwoody Village Parkway and Chamblee Dunwoody Road in the heart of the Village. Some say it is situated "in a hole" and if one is standing on the sidewalk near the city-mandated, never-used park bench, the building does indeed sit below sidewalk level.

The problem is that folks have it all backwards. Literally. When you are looking from the CDR sidewalk you are actually looking at the back of the building. The picture below is of the actual front of the bank. Notice the porch, signage and those little things blocking the view...they are called "automobiles". These are often used by what business folk call "customers" in order to get to and from the place of business.

It is all the rage for governments to legislate how and where a business is allowed to put its own building on its own property. Dunwoody is neither unique nor unusual, but they have kicked it up a notch down to the Village requiring bike racks, park benches and lighting in addition to the signature "beige and brick" and the more commonly mandated sidewalk.  Whilst all the greenies are fawning over the "artists renditions" of folks perambulating up and down the sidewalks, some taking a brief respite on the bench and generally having a good ole time, businesses have been laboring diligently to make this nonsense workable.

And they did.

They were forced to situate the building near the "frontage road" (Chamblee Dunwoody) with parking "in the back". And to make this work they simply turned the building around so that from a functional point of view it is the back that faces Chamblee Dunwoody Road. The functional front is "in the back" where all the cars are parked. While they did dress up the functional back, don't be too surprised if the doors stay locked if only for security reasons. Still not convinced? Well, where is wheel-chair access located? Do you usually put handicap access as far as possible from the front door?

You can legislate all you want in an attempt to coerce your own brand of silliness, but businesses are going to do what they must in order to remain in business. Some folks maintain that the City should not have allowed this bank to be built in a hole, but the fact of the matter is that is exactly what the City insisted be done.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Planning the Plan

A local retired US military officer who served in WWII and was involved in planning the D-Day invasion retained possession of his copy of those plans. As one might imagine these plans evolved over time as better G-2 became available and open issues were resolved. The Allies managed this development by issuing update packets containing revised pages and additional pages to plan holders who were instructed to remove and destroy updated pages. This particular officer never got around to destroying the superceded pages and consequently maintained not only a completed set of plans, but a historical trail of the creation of those plans.
He had the Plan of the Plan. 
While today's endeavors pale in comparison to That Day, we, through our public officials, do make plans that affect our daily lives.These plans evolve, and as they evolve the document that we commonly call "The Plan" goes through many drafts. Just as it is fascinating to see the development of a historical document it is even more revealing to see the progression of plans and other documents created on our behalf by our public servants.

We have one such work in progress before us today: the KPMG audit of DeKalb County Schools' finances. It would be very revealing to compare and contrast the currently available draft document with the final document to see what additional items surface, what items are changed and which are eliminated. It would be even more revealing to acquire copies of all correspondence between the System and KPMG related to this effort since it is very likely that many updates will be driven by those in the System responsible for "damage control".

A "Reasonable Man" would suggest that all documents, especially something as important as a financial audit, should be proactively made public. Though it briefly was posted online that was only after it had been "leaked" and it was subsequently removed. This is unacceptable. Government organizations, DeKalb Schools, the County and the City, must maintain full, proactive disclosure of all documents and communications related to the people's business. And let's be clear, they should be doing nothing but the people's business.

One final observation: KPMG seems to think they own all distribution rights for a work product that we, the taxpayers, purchased and perhaps, by contract, they do. If this is indeed the case then our public servants should never again be party to a contract with such anti-transparency clauses and if that means KPMG walks away from our money then so be it.