Monday, April 28, 2014

Bright Flight

The recently published CCRPI scores paint the expected and unflattering picture of a DeKalb School System in complete failure. Outside of Austin (who knew?) if your child is not in one of the well rated boutique schools they are attending a school that sucks. If you want spin go to the DeKalb School websites because you're not going to get it here.

And, as has been pointed out many times before it really is just us. Within a stone's throw there are systems doing a far better job. You are well advised not to believe this because you read it here but a quick check with the AJC reveals a handy map showing some areas with schools as good as ours are bad.

The question at hand is "can this be fixed" or are we simply throwing good money after bad? Some say all our good teachers have been poached by neighboring systems. Others claim the system spends too much money on administration and too little on the classroom -- considered synonymous with "teacher pay." Even hinting that teachers only perform to the level of their pay does not speak to the admirable traits of the teaching profession leveraged in other attempts to boost their paychecks. But that's just the money which time and again has been shown to negatively correlate with desirable outcomes.

What if the best and brightest--teachers, principals and administrators--have indeed fled the scene of this crime? Or what about the parents and students? What if the cream of this crop have left for the greener pastures of magnet programs? After all isn't that exactly why the defenders of public school status quo are so adamantly opposed to even this mild form of school choice? And heaven forbid parents have moved out of DeKalb to gain access to a better opportunity for their children.

The nearby systems that are better beg the question of "why can't we?" The answer is that their community, their parents, their students and their schools place a much greater emphasis on academic achievement than we do. We need a system that addresses our community and our needs, not theirs. We ignore these realities at the risk of continuing our downward spiral not because that is where we want to go but because we futilely attempt to be something we are not.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fundamental Analysis

Fundamental analysis involves evaluating a business based on its financial statements and health, its management and competitive advantages in the context of its competitors, markets and the overall economy.  While technical analysts see the market as a voting machine the fundamental analysts see it as a weighing machine and use analytical techniques to evaluate current value and gain some insight into value evolution. These techniques are often applied to value investing where investors believe that revenue drives earnings, earnings drive stock price and management drives them both. This thinking underpins the investment philosophy espoused by Warren Buffett who has focused on finding outstanding companies at reasonable prices rather than generic companies at bargain prices.

Mere mortals make similar investment decisions but are probably more susceptible to the influence of emotion than the Oracle of Omaha. Sometimes investors consciously choose to invest unwisely to align investments with a personal philosophy (e.g., picking a "green" investment like Solentra) or avoid certain market segments (e.g., "sin" industries like liquor and cigarettes) in spite of the possibility of significant losses or the opportunity for lucrative returns.

And that's just getting into an investment. Where emotion all too often rules the day is getting out. Even with fundamental analysis and routine review it is difficult to be dispassionate when you see a company's fundamental performance fall and almost impossible to acknowledge that a favoured stock is in a death spiral. Investors get emotionally attached to their investments.

Sometimes it is the investor's needs that change. Young investors can tolerate high risk in their portfolio as they have time to recover from risky investments that don't pan out. Older investors may not be able to weather a business down cycle quite as well and may favour lower yield but more stable portfolios. Youngsters may eschew dividend income (if only due to tax impact) while the retired may rely on dividends as a key component of income. Investment needs change and portfolios must be adapted to those changes.

Most Dunwoody homeowners grew up being told that their home is their largest single investment. For many that is true. No matter when they purchased Dunwoody homeowners performed an analysis no matter how informal and determined at that time and for their objectives that the home they now own in Dunwoody was the best option for their needs. They analyzed the particulars of the home, the neighborhood and the overall community. They evaluated the HOA and the local government and the decided (based on their purchase) that Dunwoody was better suited than other competitive options. We're a city of smart people and that's what smart people do.

They made the investment.

Now things have changed--if they bought more than five years ago many things in the local community have changed and their original evaluation is no longer valid. It may also be that their needs and objectives have changed. Empty nesters do not need the Dunwoody Four Four and a Door and stairs are often unkind to older knees. They need to re-evaluate their holdings to determine if they have the right investment for their current needs. Every portfolio, even real estate portfolios, should be subject to regular (if not constant) review.

Often investors are reluctant to perform these reviews since it often becomes painfully clear that it is time to change one holding in favour of different holding. One that yields a better investing outcome or is just better suited to the investors' current needs. When it is your home, a home you had previously been quite happy with, it can be even more painful. But facts are facts.

Dunwoody has changed. It has a new government, some say better, some say nay. If you came here for "good schools" those are long gone and not likely to return. If you came for the parks you were simply misinformed. If you came here for low crime and a quiet lifestyle you now have The Mall. If it was convenient access to shopping and restaurants traffic has eliminated all hope for convenience.

Things have changed. It is time to take a cold analytical look at what Dunwoody is rather than dwell on what it once was. To evaluate what it may become, guess at the future trajectory and determine if that is a place you want to call home. You should be asking yourself "if I didn't live in Dunwoody already would I really want to move here?" and if the answer is "yes" you still have a sound investment. If the answer is "no" you should upgrade your portfolio.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Brand Dilution

In the local city stampede one of the most powerful brands is that of the Carl Vinson Institute. While there are alternatives a CVI study is all but required to get the citihood boulder rolling down the hill. One political use of the study is as a measure of support--there must be enough sincere interest from the City Crusaders to pony up around $30,000. Once the study is successfully completed it becomes a stick to beat back any naysayers with a few simple words : "the CVI study says that the City of St. Somewhere will be financially viable." 

And generally that works. 

However the recent crusades ran into a spot of bother with overlapping land grabs. Since the CVI study is basically a back of the envelope balance between a proposed city's revenue and service costs with the former largely supported by business taxes and fees and the latter associated with residential areas the actual map of a proposed city is critical. It was the competing city maps showing Northlake (and its associated revenue) on the books of more than one proposal that not only made it clear that residents cannot afford their own city but that there are not enough businesses to pilfer to pay for all the cities on the docket. While the issue of multiple claimants on the Northlake revenue was never resolved one thing did happen rather late in the game--maps were redrawn! To be very, very clear redrawing a proposed city map after the CVI study is complete makes that study worthless. 

To propose that a CVI study based on a map that is no longer valid is still somehow valid is not only logical nonsense it calls into question the validity of these feasibility studies. For CVI to allow these studies to be bandied about after map changes dilutes their brand and undermines their credibility. CVI should make it clear that map changes invalidate previous studies based on different maps. 

These changes also undermine the process. 

Changes make it clear that City Crusaders are either ignorant or lying when they claim significant, majority support for their plans--were that the case changes to the map would not occur. Furthermore these changes make a joke of the process put in place to protect citizens and the legislature should make a simple change to restore integrity: whenever a map change is made any previous study must be re-done or updated before the march to citihood continues. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Young Lectures Wiesenthal

After honing his schtick in standup venues here in Atlanta, former Ambassador and Mayor FROM Atlanta, Andrew Young is taking his "Forgive Before Forever" tour international. He recently completed a one-day engagement at the Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem where he lectured Center leaders on God's role in delivering justice in this world, chastising them for "relentless prosecution of Nazi war criminals" noting that they were either "all dead or very near the end of their lives" with the implication that this somehow absolves them of their heinous crimes. He spoke fervently on behalf of those whose time here on this earth is short saying "they will face the judgment of their maker very shortly and the time for justice in this world has passed."

His attempts to characterize this as some noble form of mercy was not well received with one attendee remarking "the Jewish people empathize with the plight of African slaves in America and persecution African Americans have endured but we suspect that they have neither forgiven nor absolved those who held their ancestors in slavery nor those who persecuted them and to suggest that we should forgive perpetrators of the Holocaust is baffling." Another audience member noted the former Ambassador's ignorance of Jewish history observing "he seems to think 'Set My People Free' was written by Dr. King and is about the Civil Rights movement in America." This elicited observations from her partner, "perhaps Young can learn something from us regarding enduring slavery and persecution. We dedicate ourselves first to God and then to knowledge and education. Perhaps he should go home and apply these principles to set HIS people free. Instead he seems to fighting to keep his own people ignorant."

Musical Chairs

A tri-state corruption investigation has resulted in a Federal indictment that cites a yet-to-be named DeKalb County Commissioner as someone who has solicited bribes.  The case will be prosecuted this summer in South Carolina at which point the individual will be named in public testimony.

Until then the band plays on but when the Feds lift the needle it will be interesting to see who's seated in the audience and who's standing in the docket.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Big Bother And The Holding Company

Eee-Laine won't you P-Card my Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Audis--I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from your friends,
So Eee-Laine won't you P-Card my Mercedes Benz?

Eee-Laine won't you P-Card a 4K TV?
None of your staffers have gotten back to me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So Eee-Laine won't you P-Card my 4K TV?

Eee-Laine won't you P-Card our night on the town?
We're countin' on Eee-Laine to help us party down.
Prove that you love us and buy the next round.
Eee-Laine won't P-Card our night on the town?


Eee-Laine won't you P-Card our Mercedes Benz?
Our friends all drive Audis--we must make amends.
Worked hard all our lifetimes, no help from your friends,
So Eee-Laine won't you P-Card our Mercedes Benz?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Legislative SNAFU

No not the Gun Bill, this is more know where we have more "control."

Apparently a significant number of sitting County Commissioners really, really thought it went without saying that they were in elected office to piss away taxpayer money whenever and however they feel like it.

Observationally that seems undeniable.

When asked by the AJC quite a few stated they were totally unaware that administrative rules and restrictions regarding P-Card use applied to them. Upon learning that fairly well respected legal beagles concluded that these rules do indeed apply it has been determined that the first legislative order of business will be to clarify and codify these politicians' exemption from any rules, regulations or oversight.

However since this will be a legal document document they will approve and sign off on they've kinda screwed the pooch on that as well. Turns out they all approved and signed off on a commitment to abide by the same rules that apply to the "little people" when they got the card in the first place. Clearly they neither read nor understood that so why would this be different?

That's because this document ensures they can piss away our money unsupervised, unfettered and unaccountable just like they always have.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hop Scotch

For a City like Dunwoody the Manager's position is a stepping stone, a way stay on a trajectory towards bigger (budgets) and better (seats on boards). We are not likely to change this so we need to accept it and act accordingly.

When a position is transient, as this one is, the larger organization needs to understand that in the first half of a given tenure the person holding the position is very likely to align their actions with the best interests of the organization. Toward the second half these ambitious individuals will begin to act in what they perceive as the best interests of their next position which will open a gap between what is best for the job at hand and what is best for the aspirant to get another job.

This behaviour is not unusual but it is another reason why structural changes must be made in our compensation system. No one who has been paying attention to the goings on at City Hall should be surprised that our City Manager is moving on to another city and a seat on Chatcomm's board but they might want to reflect on some of the statements made about, and handling of, the CAD-to-CAD epic fail in which Chatcomm played a significant role. We were seeing second half behaviour and getting second string performance.

Let's not make that mistake again.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Love It Or Leave It

In the never ending debate over citihood we have finally reached the inevitable rhetorical deadlock: Love It or Leave It. In comments to the AJC point-counterpoint we find this nugget:
"And frankly for those who would see Dunwoody lose its cityhood, you are welcome to move to an unincorporated areas[sic] of DeKalb."
Like many of the City Crusaders this glosses over a foundational truth in this matter: many of those unhappy with current City operations and actions already moved to unincorporated DeKalb County in a nice little area known as DUNWOODY!

Or at least it was nice. Now, not so much to oh so many.

Crusaders might argue that change is inevitable (it is) and suggest that no matter what the form of government Dunwoody is not what it was 35 years ago (it isn't) and if that pastoral community enjoying the benign neglect of a distant government is what you want (some do) then it is indeed time to move somewhere that looks like Dunwoody of yore. On the other side of the ledger one might argue that those who want to live beside the Beltline or Silver Comet Trail should move to the Beltline or along the Silver Comet. Or that those who want to see the world spin around a bicycle hub should move to an existing cycle-centric city. Or if organized sports are your thing find a town with six baseball diamonds and move there. If you came to avoid traffic, you're part of the problem. Like successful city schools? Move to Decatur.

At the end of the day the "Love It or Leave It" rhetoric rings hollow. No one, not even Jill Chambers, suggested the City Crusaders should leave unincorporated North DeKalb for an existing city but instead called for moderation, vetting and debate. Instead we plunged headlong into citihood with a mid-summer vote engineered to carry the day on the backs of a minority of registered voters. Even in the weakest HOA such a dramatic change (on the order of changing the Articles of Incorporation) would require a super majority of all eligible (e.g., registered voters) homeowners. Rather than address the issues and define the details upfront we've kicked the can down the road. We seem to be out of road.

Those advocating that you love the new (and changing) Dunwoody or leave it have a point: the good ole days are gone and they are not coming back. If you've been here for more than ten years and you want to continue to live in the kind of community you got when you came here then you really need to move.

Don't look back, just mourn the loss and move on.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Street Renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard

As you may remember our soon-to-be-former City Manager and his Staff determined late last year that in order for Dunwoody to be counted as a major league southern city it would be necessary to rename a local street after civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You may also remember this decision was not taken lightly nor received well, at least in some quarters.

While there have been months of secret meetings to identify the proper street and every rumour (City Hall probably calls it a trial balloon) has been bashed in pubs, coffee shops and papers, those at City Hall who know what is best for us have rendered a decision. This august body was drawn from members of the Perimeter Center Improvement District, the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce, City Council, the Visitors and Convention Bureau and local PTA groups. It was decided to hold the deliberations in secret based solely on the presumption these discussions would be contentious. Or that's just the way this City rolls. And how could we in The Other Dunwoody take issue with anonymity?

Regardless, there were leaks. No surprises there, except reliable sources indicate Bonser was not engaged in these discussions. In any event the street of the Great Gas Station Leak of oh-twelve was never under consideration. At least not serious consideration.

Dunwoody Village Parkway was a popular suggestion at the outset especially given it had at one time a "boulevard" configuration. This was defeated by those still upset that the median and trees have been ripped up for pedestrians and bikers. Logic could not prevail and it was never made clear why they cared what it is called given they so much detest how it has already been changed. But not even a jarhead wants to die on that beach.

Some consideration was given to Winters Chapel, but that was quickly batted down. While it hews true to Chris Rock's observation about MLK anything and nearby violence there was concern this would appear offensive. The real reason is more likely that Winters Chapel is a "border street" perceived by many as only partly in Dunwoody if in Dunwoody at all.

Dunwoody Club was suggested, but near the country club it suffers the same border street limitation and many feared golfers would no longer be able to find the club. After all, how could there possibly be a country club on Martin Luther King Boulevard? As for the other section of Dunwoody club there was sufficient concern that no one would be able to find the street at all so it too was taken off the list.

The suggestion to rename Dunwoody Road was met with astonishment. Most in attendance didn't even know there was a Dunwoody Road and when shown on a map they remarked "where the hell is that"?

Someone suggested some place in Hidden Branches until someone (correctly) observed "that's just mean".

It was decided, and unanimously approved, to change Nandina to MLK Boulevard. Not a person in attendance could identify who "Nandina" ever was though several concluded "whoever it was they must have been black".

This momentous move forward for Dunwoody did not go unnoticed by the King Center in downtown Atlanta and they sent a representative to the ceremony where the name change was announced.

MLK Selection Committee Receives Award
While initially mistaken for someone else when the mistake was resolved he was embraced with all the warmth and charm the South has to offer and stated "I am very glad to [still] be here to toast your good work". He left shortly afterwards explaining he had a pressing engagement across town but there is no doubt that this resounding endorsement makes our founding fathers proud.