Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dunwoody Candidate Forums. A Waste of Time or Time to Meet the Candidates?

Two years ago, during the citywide elections of our mayor and three city council positions, a group of local residents wanted to host a candidate forum.  The forum was going to focus on Sustainability issues.  I recall this series of events as I was running for office at the time.  Some of the candidates, myself included, were not exactly excited about a forum just on sustainability.  Some people thought the event was intended from the start to favor a couple of candidates over others.  But when you run for office you attend as many functions as possible.  The group of local residents wanting to host the event are all nice people and they have passions that sometimes differ from mine.  Many of these folks were friends of mine from the Community Garden, others I knew from schools or other groups around town.  The Dunwoody Nature Center was going to be the official host and the event was to take place at Dunwoody United Methodist Church.  A church spokesperson said in an email that the Sustainability Forum needed to have an official non-profit as its sponsor, and the Dunwoody Nature Center is/was such a group.

But then things got cloudy.  The Nature Center receives money from the city.  Did the group want to get involved with a forum that some candidates focused on a specific function of government / lifestyle (sustainability) that may have favored one mayor candidate over the other or one council candidate over another?  The Dunwoody political wheels started turning, a couple of phone calls made, an email here, a sticky note there, next thing you know the Nature Center pulls out of sponsoring the event.  DUMC then informs the residents behind the idea of the candidate forum that they could not have the event at the church because they did not have an official non-profit sponsor. 

An email from the church spokesperson read:
"I am sorry that the original group you proposed was unable to sponsor the forum and that you could not secure another community group to take their place.  As a church we will always do all that we can to support our community and  appreciate your understanding that we must always remain neutral in political matters"

In the end, the event was moved and sponsored by a different group because the Nature Center was pressured to drop their sponsorship of the event, thus triggering a church spokesperson to withdraw the venue because the Sustainability group did not have an official IRS-approved Non-Profit as the sponsor.  No problem.  Rules are rules.  The church spokesperson made it clear they would not make their meeting room available for the forum because the group of residents lacked an official sponsor.

The Sustainability forum was moved to Peachtree Middle School.  See Sustainable Pattie's blog HERE for a recap.

Fast forward to this week in Dunwoody.  The same church is now hosting/sponsoring a candidate forum, ..... on its own.  No Non-Profit as the leader looking for a nice site to host an event - this is the church (via a couple of members) deciding to be in control of the event.

On behalf of Dunwoody United Methodist Church, I invite you to participate in HEAR THE CANDIDATES on Sunday, October 6, from 7 - 9 p.m.  The non-partisan, community-wide event is open to all residents of Dunwoody who want to be informed about the candidates for Dunwoody City Council.  We are inviting all candidates from each district to attend and share their priorities and vision for Dunwoody.  Each candidate will be given a limited time to present his or her platform before taking questions from the moderator, who does not reside in Dunwoody.

In promoting the event, we will not indicate which candidates will be in attendance but that all candidates have been invited. However, we do need to hear from you by 5 p.m. on Day, September 25, as to your participation.  Specifics of the meeting format will be provided shortly after this deadline. 

In the meantime, please respond to this email or call me at the number below and let us know of your plans to participate.  You may respond to this email xxxxxxxxxxxxx or call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

On behalf of the community, thank you for your consideration of our request.

P**  Eub**k

Wow, quite the reversal from two years ago.  I suppose it has nothing to do with the spokesperson having SaveDunwoody signs and now Clean Sweep signs in her yard, does it?  And a high-ranking SaveDunwoody leader is a member at the church.

The church in question is a great place.  The facility is beautiful, they open their doors for many local events, and the members support many charities.  In summary, the church is a great institution in Dunwoody.  So why get involved in this political battle in Dunwoody? I have no issue having the event at this site, but where is the Non-Profit sponsor they required two years ago?  Is it absent because SaveDunwoody is not an official group and there is no Non-Profit in Dunwoody willing to host a forum that is shaping up to be nothing more than prepared statements by candidates?  

I wrote before that I think it is good that there are actual races for council spots.  Dialogue is a good thing and there are obviously differing opinions on things happening here now, and there are future decisions to consider.  The issue here is the way this forum was put together at DUMC..

When I participated in the candidate forums the candidates had no idea what questions were going to be asked by the moderators.  Back then we had a couple of hot-button issues relating to parks and the parks bond vote.  Everyone then wanted sidewalks and streets paved.  But at all the events the unknown questions added some credibility to the forums.  You could sense if a candidate knew what was going on in the city or not.  A question was asked and you'd better know your stuff (we all did, I think) or else the audience knew it.  

And what about this new forum at the church?  Each candidate has the questions ahead of time.  They will read well-prepared (probably by others) "answers" to questions.  The topics will focus on things already decided by one or two full city councils over the past five years.  We will hear rants about the Dunwoody Parkway project, Project Renaissance, and bike lanes; the same stuff we've been reading about in The Crier since January.  Audience questions?  Not going to happen. The forum organizers have made that clear.  What next, teleprompters for candidates?

Here's a LINK to a Dunwoody Reporter article from earlier this year.

Discussion of three ‘hot button’ projects pops up at Dunwoody Homeowners Association meeting

Displeasure with three planned public projects in Dunwoody spilled into the discussion during a question-and-answer session during the Dunwoody Homeowners Association’s annual meeting Jan. 6.

“When we formed this city, I don’t know anybody who wasn’t excited about it,” resident Pat Eubank told DHA president Bill Grossman after he invited public comment from about 75 DHA members and guests attending the meeting at Dunwoody United Methodist Church. “About a year ago, I lost some of that excitement. … I still am not necessarily happy with these three hot-button issues.”
The three proposals call for a 12-foot-wide concrete multi-use trail through a wooded section of Brook Run park, a roundabout at the intersection of Vermack and Womack roads and a redesign of Dunwoody Village Parkway that would add bicycle lanes.
Spoiler Alert:

Below are the actual questions and guidelines for the candidate press conferences forum:

The candidate format is as follows:

·     Brief introduction of each candidate by the moderator using 100 word introduction supplied by candidate.

·     Moderator will draw names before each question to determine the sequence of responses and closing remarks.

·      Each candidate will have 2 ½ minutes to respond to the following questions:

-      Q. What are the three most important items for the City of Dunwoody to address with citizens’ tax dollars?
        A. First I'd like for everyone to think how much they pay in taxes and fees to the city.  Now take that number and multiply it by ten.  For you 'outcome based' math students please add a zero (0) to that number.  The result is what you pay, at the least, to the DeKalb County school system.  Where are the Public Comment folks at the DeKalb school board meetings?  Where are the signs and letters to the editor over the millions and millions wasted in DeKalb schools?  Where are the protests over incompetent teachers?  Why no call for an independent auditor for the school system?  

      Oh, you wanted three items for Dunwoody?  Sorry Ms. Moderator, I'll stay on task, I promise.  

      First I want to address the need for turn lanes, especially at Vermack and Chamblee Dunwoody Road, where that horse used to walk around in the field and eat grass.  Since the city owns that land where the old farmhouse (not THE farmhouse, this is the other one with four surnames to it) is located, how about taking some of 'your' own land for a turn lane there?  I am in a bowling league down at '300' on Savoy and that intersection messes me up.  Last week I was late and all the lanes were full and I had to bowl duck pins on the end, with bumper rails up.  How embarrassing. We also need a right turn lane on Tilly Mill turning south on N Peachtree.  Then make the right turn lane on Peeler a little longer (where it meets N Peachtree).  Then a couple of simple left turn lanes on Mt Vernon Road as well.  But hold that thought because I will talk more about Mt Vernon later in this forum, because I already know that question is coming up soon.  Oh, and fix the intersection at Chamblee Dunwoody and Spalding.  That's all for now on roads because I am in office for only four years and that's four years worth of stuff.  Oh, I may as well mention Dunwoody Parkway.  Rip out the trees and median, make it single lane most of the way with turn lanes at each end.  Wide sidewalks on both sides, but no need for bike lanes on this road.  That compromise makes most people happy.  Oh, put in a parking space for that MARTA bus that sits by Mellow Mushroom every day, and put in a porta potty for that bus driver so he doesn't have to go in to the Mellow.  Smelling that pizza every day must drive him crazy knowing he doesn't have time to eat it.  The city has plans for a north/south (Roberts) major bike lane and an east/west (Mt Vernon) major bike lane.  Dunwoody Parkway is a retail road and a cut through road for cars.  Bike riders like to exercise so they don't need a cut-through road like us car drivers.  One more thing, no more left turns out of Publix unless you are using the traffic signal.  And let's rename Chamblee Dunwoody to Main Street, from GA 400 all the way to 285.

      Second, I believe we continue paving roads and sidewalks like the city did this year.  Although I am not in office now I know the city did a great job putting down the blacktop.  I like the smell of fresh cut grass in the summer, but the aroma from freshly brewed asphalt is a close second.  

     Third? That's tough.  Do I use this opportunity to vent about wasting $200,000 on a dog park that is primarily used by non-residents of Dunwoody?  No, dog owners vote. Maybe my 3rd item is hiring six new police officers, who would be required to be in front of the six Government schools in Dunwoody every morning and afternoon.  In the summer these officers could cross-train and do code enforcement perhaps.  Nah, that's too logical and most voters in Dunwoody don't give a crap about kids and schools.  Hmmm, how about impact fees?  That's it. $3,000 per new housing unit.  High Street would contribute $9 million to our piggy bank. 

     And my 3rd item is...................what?  I already said three?  Please, Ms. Moderator, one more thing.  We have time.  I would support a land swap with DeKalb County School District to guarantee that Austin remains in the neighborhood and not down by the mall somewhere.  I know, there is a deal in place, I heard that too.  But you know that guy won't be superintendent much longer.  He'll get an extension soon, but 18 months is it for him.  And this 'deal' is not in writing anywhere, is it?  It's a simple plan, really.  We build Austin where the two baseball fields are located.  Those folks living by the ball fields like kids, right?  The school system knocks down Austin and we make that a park with a nice playground and a pavilion for picnics and such.  Since Peachtree Middle has a team in the Dunwoody Sr baseball league the school system builds a replacement field at the middle school.  Those private schools in the league can afford to build a baseball field somewhere to make up the difference.  Oh, we get that abandoned old school across from the new park also, but we are going to flip it and pocket the cash.  I think it is zoned for residential, and Johnny Wieland Homes could use a little competition, right?  After all, our city is all about bidding everything out to create competition. 

-      Do you support construction of a trail connecting Brook Run with the Georgetown project?  Why or why not?
       Excellent question, Ms Moderator.  We are a city of 50,000 people, home to the PCID with 29 million sq feet of office space and 5,000 companies and $3.4 billion in commercial real estate (a large chunk of which is in Dunwoody) and the largest office market in the USA's 9th largest metropolitan area and you are asking me about a trail?  Are you serious?  You have four questions to ask potential council members of Georgia's 15th largest cities and you want to know about a trail?  Why is Bob F. not the moderator?  Did you know he made Wikipedia's top list of famous Dunwoody people?  He is right up there with Ryan Seacrest, Erin Andrews, and Black Lips, see for your self HERE.  Yes, I support the trail.  But seriously, a trail question?  What's next, a question on the best ride at Lemonade Days?

-      Do you support the City of Dunwoody assuming fire protection responsibility, or should the City continue to rely on DeKalb County for fire protection?  Why?
      This is a tough question.  I'd really like to see a Dunwoody fire truck and a Dalmatian riding in the Independence Day Parade.  By the way, I think the parade route should bypass the parkway next year.  I say we run it right down Mt Vernon and hang a right and go through the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru then end it at Ernie's barber shop and the growler store.  First off, I don't see many structure fires in Dunwoody.  I suggest a bucket brigade.  It would save money.  Maybe a horse-pulled water tanker.  That guy on the History Channel restored one on last week's episode.  It looked vintage cool when it was done.  Or, we can continue with DeKalb as long as they keep raising the costs and cutting the staff from 4 to 3 people per shift.  I think it is great that our insurance rates will increase hundreds or thousands of dollars per household because of a lower rating.  I'd rather pay my insurance company an extra $850 or so a year instead of $150 a year to my own city for our own fire department.  Makes perfect sense to me.  And all those companies in the PCID would rather pay higher insurance rates than pay dividends to shareholders. 

-      What is your vision for the Mt. Vernon corridor?
        It's about time we got to a serious question.  I suggest lollipops, unicorns, and cotton candy  for all the children.  And the adults all get a cold beer in a frosty mug, French onion dip with dip-style Publix potato chips, and Jerome from Costco will always be your cashier.  And use easements as needed for turn lanes, even if the homeowner doesn't understand that an easement is a right to use the land without possessing it. And remind people that homes facing a road with a double-yellow line on it are worth less than those not on a road with a double-yellow line.  You paid less for it than that house on the quiet cul-de-sac for a reason.

·         After the 4th question, each candidate will be given a final 2 ½ minutes for closing remarks. 
      I'd like to allocate my 2.5 minutes to these two videos :

I give the CleanSweep Candidates credit for taking the initiative for taking control and setting up their own forums.  To many, the DHA forum belongs to 'the establishment' and the Clean Sweepers, aka Save Dunwoody, are suspect of a DHA sponsored debate.  The Clean Sweepers were worried about the questions that would be asked, and the possibility that the questions would be known ahead of time to the other candidates.  I suppose that's possible, but not likely.  The end result is the questions are known in advance.  I think this makes the entire forum a near waste of time.  

I'd prefer to have The Crier, The Reporter, The Neighbor, DunwoodyTalk (of course), Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce, the PCID, and the DHA all submit three questions each.  The questions are placed in a box and pulled out one at a time by each candidate.  You answer the question pulled with your opponent(s) given 30 seconds to respond to your answer.

A lady, not from Dunwoody but apparently interested in our city's Sustainability, Tweeted comments (ours and hers) during that forum.  Beth, the Tweeter said in her review of the event, "There are some editorial tweets in there when I thought candidates were a little too, well, clueless."  One of her last tweets was in response to my prediction the T-SPLOST would fail big time (it failed 67% said NO), with Tweeter adding the #really?.  My delayed response: Yes, #really, #iwasright.  Go read the tweets from two years ago as they are interesting.  Most of the things discussed never happened, but some did.  Terry and Robert seemed to have had the best comments that night, with their content still valid today.  So HERE are the tweets from the 2011 Sustainability forumThanks to Sustainable Pattie for keeping DunwoodyTalk in check.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Archie Bunker video is classic and spot on. The sponsorship issue is disappointing and I have to wonder how the entire church might feel about this inconsistency. The issue that should scare the candidates the most is the possibility of the city messing up the Austin rebuild. Choose wisely because you don't want to be on the wrong side of that one.

Anonymous said...


Question...Lets say the stars and moon align, the State Assembly/Senate pass an amendment allowing new school districts, then citizens of Georgia pass the amendment via a general election....

Would the City of Dunwoody then have to put the establishment of an Independent School District up to a City wide vote? If so would it be a legal requirement due to State Law or Municipal Law? Or would this type of election just be a good idea so the people can be "heard"

I see certain groups/candidates want to be "heard" regarding the establishment of a fire department with a vote. At five bucks a year even fifty to be honest, it still seems like a no brainer to me.

I worry a city vote on a school district (if we are so lucky) would quickly degrade into to a platform for certain people to pontificate their feelings about education in general. The irony is many of these people no longer have children in the school system. There is no silver bullet here, but I think most people would agree a Dunwoody School District would be better than the DCSS.

Can we ask the candidates how they would personally vote if such an election takes place? Would they as a Council Member actively support its creation if we are fortunate enough to have that debate?

Bob Lundsten said...

While I support Tom T's bill for Independent school districts, I will predict that it has no chance, despite of all of his hard work to pass this year.
If it does pass, a Statewide amendment to the constitution is another battle all together.
I might not even publish my blog post about the hijacking of public forums by the Cleen Sweep/Save Dunwoody group.
On second thought I probably will.

Joe Seconder said...

There is nothing to prevent an individual from posing a series of questions to all of the candidates, and then posting their response for all to see. 2 years ago, at least one of the local bloggers did so.

Rick --- how about setting up some type of "Question Repository" (Google Docs, setup an on-line form??) for folks to submit questions. Take the best & submit them to the candidates, then post their responses....

Anonymous said...


if it fails in the Senate blame Fran Millar. Not one word from him in favor of this. Has anyone heard Fran say he will fight hard to pass this Bill? I haven't.

Max said...

@anon 2:55

How about sending letters, emails, showing up and contributing toward Rep. Taylor's efforts - This is a long shot Bill.

Better'n blaming thus and such for something that has yet to occur.