Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011 and Beyond

I write an editorial column in the Dunwoody Reporter.  This week's column had to be trimmed a good bit for some reason or another, so here's the column in full.

Happy New Year, Dunwoody.  Here’s to a prosperous 2011.  What can we expect in the New Year?  Many changes coming for Dunwoody residents including higher taxes (courtesy of the county, not the city), school redistricting, as well as new sidewalks and roads resurfaced to start.  I’ve created a 2011 Wish List for Dunwoody.  Some things on the list are realistic, others are far stretched.

Far stretched first.  How about successful state legislation bringing back Milton County?  A new Milton County that not only includes the north Fulton cities of Sandy Springs, Roswell, and Johns Creek, but also includes the north DeKalb city of Dunwoody. Including Dunwoody in a Milton County proposal makes sense geographically and financially, but will make the passing of such a proposal more difficult.  Being part of a newly formed Milton gets us out of the mess known as DeKalb County School System as well as the constant battles with DeKalb County commissioners.
On the topic of schools, there are two big happenings affecting Dunwoody.  In just a few days the highly paid interim superintendent Ramona Tyson will present to the school board her plan for redistricting, merges, and school closings for the county.  Many Dunwoody residents will most likely find themselves zoned into a new elementary school.  With Vanderlyn and Austin being over capacity by 400 children combined while the new Dunwoody Elementary (now home to 4th and 5th graders only)having 400 empty seats, changing elementary school attendance lines makes sense.  There is an outside chance attendance lines in Dunwoody remain the same with another grade level added to Dunwoody Elementary School.  Looking back on how the school board created the 4th and 5th grade school, nothing will surprise me.  Chesnut Elementary is also over crowded so not sure what happens if their 4th & 5th graders return.  Peachtree Middle School and Dunwoody High School are also over capacity, but would be surprised to see changes in their attendance zones. My wish is that the school system’s plan is one that balances enrollment and provides a great learning environment for Dunwoody students.  

The DeKalb School System hopes to have a full-time superintendent named by July of 2011.  On my wish list is the hiring of a qualified person from outside of DeKalb County. The school system is a $1 billion dollar institution and needs a person with experience in managing a large corporation.  The new superintendent will be replacing a former high school business teacher (Ramona Tyson) who replaced a former elementary school gym teacher (Crawford Lewis).  

DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis wants to increase the millage rate for county residents.  The proposed increase would cost the average Dunwoody homeowner about $370 more in 2011.  Of course the wish here is that the DeKalb commissioners do not increase property taxes but instead cut some fat out of the county government.  The water rate increase is a done deal so no sense wasting a wish there.  There is also a chance the DeKalb School System (the largest part of your tax bill) will push for a tax increase.

Our own city council will be making decisions in regards to Brook Run Park.  This time next year will we be thankful for new baseball/softball fields at Brook Run, or celebrating a new fitness complex?  My wish is actually for no major changes at Brook Run until the city has sufficient funds to make major changes.  My wish regarding parks is for a bond referendum to be put forth to the voters next year. The bond referendum would raise perhaps $25 million dollars to be used not only for Brook Run but also other parks and for land acquisitions.  But the timing for a parks bond is not good considering the recent water rate increase and the proposed property tax increase.  I think a majority of Dunwoody voters would approve forking over money to the city if the soon to be released Brook Run master plan is attractive.  I’d like to see a couple of baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, a biking/walking trail around the park’s perimeter, additional picnic pavilions, an expanded community garden, and an aquatic/fitness center.  Since this is a wish list add an outdoor amphitheater and knock down every existing building in the park (except the green houses and the skate park structure).

Next on the wish list is a new building for the Dunwoody Nature Center, perhaps something like over in Roswell at the Chattahoochee Nature Center.  The current building is cozy yet small.  A new structure would allow for more classroom and exhibit space while allowing for additional social events to be hosted there.
Three weeks ago a newly formed local non-profit group called The Dunwoody Music Conservancy submitted a proposal to bring the Georgia Music Hall of Fame to Dunwoody.  My next wish is that the ‘Dunwoody’ bid is successful in landing the Hall.  Having the Hall here would attract tourists and revenue to the city.  The plan calls for the construction of a performing arts center and an expanded art gallery in addition to the music museum.

The last wish is for more road resurfacing and new sidewalk construction.  The Dunwoody  Budget constraints restrict the number of road miles that can be paved in a year but council seems determined to get as much done as possible.

Friday, December 31, 2010

More Police = Less Crime?

Chip is filling in for the day here at DunwoodyTalk.   All other staff members are on vacation until Monday.  
Chip, at his desk, using a fresh #2, remains anonymous

What a difference 2 years can make.  Back in April, 2009 Dunwoody rallied around its brand-spanking new police department, with 40 officers, 40 patrol cars and a lot of enthusiasm.  Since then, the police department has added another 6 officers, two sergeants, and joined with neighboring Sandy Springs and John’s Creek in a regional S.W.A.T team.

Voters who approved the formation of the City of Dunwoody did so, in part, to improve neighborhood police presence.  Many implied that DeKalb County had all but abandoned Dunwoody neighborhood patrols, and that Dunwoody was not the safe, secure environment it should be.

Thoughts of a bright, secure future were all around on the night of March 31/April 1, 2009 when the Dunwoody Police Department went “10-8” for the first time.   The Crier quoted then City Councilman Tom Taylor this way,” To the folks on the other side of the law, the season is now open."   The Crier also quoted Chief Grogan’s message to all the bad guys, “We want to make it uncomfortable for you to come here. You won't be tolerated in the city of Dunwoody."

The question has to be asked seriously if the amount of personnel, equipment, and money that the City of Dunwoody has committed to its police department has made good on the expectations of its citizens regarding neighborhood crime and the deterrent of “bad guys” from our neighborhoods.   Crimes of opportunity like vandalism, car break-ins, car thefts, etc. don’t seem to have changed much since Dunwoody PD took over.   Bank robberies also seem to have risen, with two in the last month joining three in the summer for a total of five in the last part of this year.   With the exception of one robbery, all the rest remain “open.”

Dunwoody  and especially Dunwoody Village seems destined to become the banking Mecca of north Atlanta area, with 14 banks within a two mile radius plus an application before the City for a new, larger Chase bank on Chamblee-Dunwoody in the works.  Maybe the number of bank robberies is simply a reflection of the law of mass action.  “Build them and they will come” both customers and robbers, alike.

I’m tempted to suggest that pretty soon the Dunwoody Police Department will ask to open a satellite office in the Village to provide more protection against these types of incidents, which will mean more staffing and equipment requirements.  I know this is a “straw man” that I’m creating, but knocking it down may be useful.
No one is saying that the Dunwoody Police aren’t doing their jobs, or trying hard enough, or aren’t up to the task.  In fact, the Dunwoody Police department has done a great deal to bring about citizen participation in the police process, sponsored many outreach programs, and by all accounts is a tremendous addition to the culture of the City of Dunwoody. But the point still remains, we’re spending almost 1/3 of our city budget on public safety and protection which is allegedly twice what DeKalb County was providing, and the crime rates and visible, public crimes don’t seem to have lessened.

Maybe the idea that “more and more” police presence is the answer to security, isn’t the answer that many hoped for when they voted for the City of Dunwoody.    I hope the City Manager and the City Council take a hard look at the cost/benefit ratio before they continue to add to the Dunwoody Police Department.

No trouble here, DPD at Safe Night Out at Target.  A community event.