Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dunwoody and Save DeKalb News

First off, no Dunwoody Red Shirts spotted at any DeKalb County meetings lately and none at the school board meetings/hearings either.  Jimmy Jr. and Mama Red Shirt, please continue to protect the 4-way intersections from improvements, protect the 3" pine trees in Brook Run, and of course save Dunwoody Parkway from whatever/whomever is trying to destroy it.  I see all the mail trucks have moved over to da' Vill  post office yet no mail truck traffic jams.  How 'bout that.  Of course the mail trucks have been dispatched from a two lane road down by 285 with no issues but that does not matter. Carry on Red Shirts, save the tool shed as the main house burns.

State Senator Fran Millar was removed from his position as Chair of Education committee.  He is now Chair of Retirement committee.  That won't help Dunwoody much, not that his position as Education Chair did much for DeKalb/Dunwoody either.  He did do a nice job saving some school district money a few years ago that Lewis and Company failed to apply for in a timely manner.  But of course that money was most likely embezzled, spent inappropriately, or allocated to some ineffective jobs program. Don't expect much change in education as long as Barge is around, unless Jan Jones decides we need change. The Education committee, over the past few years, was successful in keeping a few decent ideas coming to the light of day.  Senator Millar was just one voice and no matter how dedicated he was to the cause, the committee did not put forth any thing the last couple of years that impacted education in Georgia.  That committee cannot take credit for any artificial bumps in rating among other states.

One of the senator's last official duties was to meet with Governor Deal regarding the removal of the school board.  Mary Margaret Oliver was in the meeting, as well as one other person representing DeKalb (another Democrat).   For whatever reason our well-respected State Representative Tom Taylor was not included in the meeting.  Too bad.  We'll never know what happened in that meeting, but I think we needed a different lineup in that game.  The governor is a Republican.  Why is Mary Margaret Oliver, a liberal Democrat, the big-shot DeKalb rep meeting with the governor on the issue?  Hey Nathan, next time get at least one conservative in the room!


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Are you on Twitter?  
 Here's a cheery tweet from the Talkmaster, Neal Boortz, tweeted January 20:


Clayton County now? That's DeKalb County in five to ten years. 
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And let's finish this blog post off with a cheerful link to the AJC.


Image troubles? Yes, the image of DeKalb is bad and continues to worsen.  This is not news, but the AJC is like the late Junior Seau and former Falcon K Brooking, pile jumpers. According to the AJC, at least one $1 million home is still on the market, and many homes in Dunwoody will stay on the market longer due to this 'image' problem.  

By Bill Torpy
The Wisconsin man relocating to Georgia hasn’t yet stepped foot in the state, but he already knows one thing: Stay away from DeKalb County.

Ryan Ward, a Realtor who specializes in the north metro area, said his client wants to buy a $1 million home and the north DeKalb city of Dunwoody was the perfect location. But after hearing that DeKalb’s school system is under probation from an accrediting agency, the potential buyer got cold feet, Ward said. Now he’s looking in north Fulton County.

“We eliminated DeKalb County from the search,” said Ward, who added that another client stopped looking in Dunwoody for the same reason and is closing soon on a home in Johns Creek. “The uncertainty itself will keep people from buying homes in that area. It’s tainted. It’s hard to unring that bell.”
In the past month, DeKalb has undergone a public relations nightmare:
  • Its school system — the state’s third largest — was placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
  • The head of the county’s government, CEO Burrell Ellis, had boxes of documents carted out of his home by investigators looking for possible corruption.
  • A corruption case involving the former school superintendent has lingered for nearly three years, providing a steady drumbeat of negative headlines as it inches toward trial. “Prosecutors say debt led DeKalb school official to criminal enterprise,” was the AJC’s headline last week.

“It’s a worst-case scenario,” said Rob Augustine, a lawyer who headed the Development Authority when it helped bring the Mall at Stonecrest to the county a decade ago. He said selling the DeKalb brand to developers and businesses looking to relocate is harder than ever.  “You’re trying to dig out of a hole,” he said.

Some residents are doing more than complain. Home owners in north-central DeKalb, around the Oak Grove neighborhood, are talking about incorporating their own city. And a Dunwoody legislator is pushing to change the State Constitution to empower the city to create its own school system separate from the county.  Former legislator Kevin Levitas, an Oak Grove area resident, has held panel discussions on the pros and cons of incorporating.

“People are scratching their heads asking, ‘What is going on?’ ” said Levitas, who declined to say how he leans on incorporation. “There is a concern that money is being raised in one part of the county and not being spent there.”

DeKalb was once Atlanta’s bedroom community, known as a place with high-achieving schools and effective, relatively low-cost government where things got done. Manuel Maloof, the irascible barkeep who headed the county’s government in the 1980s and early 1990s, was famous for running a tight operation that focused on essential government services. In the late 1990s, it was even named an All-America City by the National Civic League.

But the county’s transition from majority white to majority minority was politically rocky. Vernon Jones, the county’s first African American CEO elected in 2000, governed during a tumultuous eight years fraught with controversy and racial undertones.
In 2008, citizens in the the predominantly white Dunwoody area of north DeKalb voted to form their own city. Brookhaven followed suit last year to guard against what they saw as inefficient government. In the intervening years, the county faced thousands of home foreclosures in the bad economy, causing tax revenues to plummet.

The recent risk to the county’s school accreditation, however, may be the most serious blow.  “I think Jim Cherry would be rolling over in his grave knowing we’re on probation,” said former DeKalb CEO Liane Levetan, referring to the longtime school superintendent who oversaw integration of the system and who was honored with a school bearing his name. “It’s a sad, sad day.”

A 20-page report by SACS, the agency that oversees accreditation, said school board leaders overspent during a time of economic crisis, improperly interfered with day-to-day administration, engaged in nepotism, feuded with each other and managed a district where academic achievement has lagged.

In 2008, the agency pulled accreditation from the school district in neighboring Clayton County for similar reasons. The action accelerated a plunge in property values and led to thousands of students and their families leaving the the county. Clayton got its accreditation back in 2011.  But the damage to the county’s image hasn’t been repaired, and its experience may be a warning to DeKalb.

“It takes three to four years to build a reputation; it takes just a day to lose it,” said Larry O’Keeffe, a longtime Clayton resident active in the effort to repair damage to that school district. “Perception is reality to the public, true or not. The parents have to get involved. They have to know they can fix this.”

DeKalb school board Chairman Eugene Walker did not want to speak specifically about the SACS report but acknowledged that “the lack of trust (from the public) is a problem.”

“False imagery and unfounded rumors are becoming reality,” he said. “We’ve made a number of mistakes and we intend to correct those mistakes.”  Asked about whether some board members should be replaced or step down, he responded, “It’s lay people who volunteer to do these jobs, to perform public service. The voters have the ultimate power (to remove them.)”

DeKalb Sheriff Tom Brown, who since 1985 has been the county’s fire chief, public safety director and sheriff, said the negative scrutiny, whether from SACS examining accreditation or District Attorney Robert James investigating possible corruption in county government, has hurt the county. He noted that the corruption trials for former school superintendent Crawford Lewis and former chief operating officer Pat Reid, who were indicted in 2010, have been delayed nearly three years.

“These investigations can tarnish our image if they drag on,” said Brown, who remains a golfing buddy with Lewis. “We need to get these behind us.” 


Viola Davis, a nurse who heads a group called Unhappy Taxpayer and Voter, has been a thorn in the side of county and school officials for a decade. She said the recent spate of bad publicity may ultimately be a good thing. “Now they cannot ignore it any longer,” she said. “People are tired of excuses.”

At first blush, she said she is in favor of Gov. Nathan Deal replacing school board members. Then she quickly added, “But the governor has his own cronyism, so you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The problems with the school system and lackluster, but recently rising test results, have caused some families to send their children to private schools. It’s like you’re always waiting for the next shoe to drop,” said state Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody.
Taylor plans to introduce a bill seeking a change in the State Constitution to allow Dunwoody to create a school district. He said he expects to hear accusations that the effort is racially motivated, a charge also leveled when north metro communities incorporated into cities.

“Dunwoody is not 99 percent white,” he said. “My district (almost all of it in Dunwoody) is 30 percent minority.”  Davis, who is no big fan of the current school system, worries about peeling away a large chunk of property tax-rich Dunwoody to create a new, separate district.

“If they start dividing up these school districts, that’s the Pandora’s box,” said Davis, who lives in Stone Mountain. “No one knows where the money really is.”
Gil Turman, a former DeKalb school principal who founded the South DeKalb Neighborhood Coalition, said the unending bad publicity will give the Dunwoody school effort some momentum in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if they pull it off,” said Turman. “If we can’t get this school thing fixed, this thing will go viral. It’s my hope DeKalb can pull this thing together.”
Sheriff Brown believes the county can. He notes that the county bond rating is relatively strong, the infrastructure is good, the county is located close to downtown Atlanta and it has solid transportation corridors. If he were selling the county’s image to potential businesses looking to come there, Brown said, he would tell them, “This is just a little hiccup.”

When a few Red Shirts were asked for comment on the DeKalb image/perception/reality issue they said they will look into it, but only if the effort meant that at least ten pine trees, a gum tree, and at least three Knockout rose bushes would be saved while Saving DeKalb.

Of course, very few of us really want to save DeKalb, we want out. How about DeKalb County gets eliminated?  The following counties all get a chunk:

Fulton
Clayton
Rockdale
Gwinnett
Henry
Milton (the new Milton)

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On a final note, If Representative Tom Taylor is successful in getting support from General Assembly Republicans and getting the New School Districts issue on the ballot, I will kick-start the Tom Taylor statue fund with a nice donation.  The statue can be made of recycled concrete from the Liane Levetan signage wall as soon as we knock it down and replace it with something else, like maybe a wooded sign tacked onto a 4x4 post.