Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Various Items of Dunwoody Interest, Meeting Recap, Doraville Vote, Crime, Geography and the Taste of Dunwoody

Tonight's Dunwoody City Council meeting started at 7 p.m. and ended after 11 p.m. with an extended executive session talking about personnel issues and real estate. Since I am not suppose to discuss the details, I'll just let you decipher for yourself what I am allowed to tell you, ersonnelpay issuesway & ealray estateway. I hope that cleared that up.

The audio from the meeting is up available beginning here and then half way though starting here. Take a look at the agenda, the first audio clip is from the start until our Tax Note and the second clip is from our zoning fee schedule until the start of the executive session. No audio was recorded in executive session.

As far as a recap, it was an uneventful meeting whereby we adopted DeKalb's Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Map until we completely redo them in the Dunwoody comprehensive plan later this year.

We deferred the Comcast franchise agreement since the Council still had a few questions that had to be hammered out prior to it being ready for our vote. We pretty much passed the other items on the agenda, many of which were put in front of us several times prior.

The change in the meeting procedures to allow public comment and the alcohol amendment to allow permitted drinking in the parks under a special use permit were both tabled until they could be discussed at a City Council Retreat coming up on the 20th of the month and then possibly reintroduced at the next voting session.

We have a new Finance Director by the name of John Grotheer who's resume looks impressive and he starts very soon. FYI: this was not part of the executive session so please don't go filing ethics charges on me just yet.

I received the Dunwoody Crime stats for the holiday season and it looks like shoplifting and entering autos were a mainstay of looking for that perfect gift. Ho, Ho, smash & grab.

It was finally decided that Doraville will be voting for annexation again on Jan 27th and I hope it passes this time in order to remove the pockets of unincorporated DeKalb that will still be serviced by the DeKalb PD if it doesn't. Nothing against DeKalb PD doing it, except that it will be inconvenient for them to continue to do so since they would have to go though Doraville to service the little pockets of the unincorporated areas.

My favorite night out event with the wife was just announced and I'll be looking for a large group of our friends to join us. Great food, good atmosphere and even a better cause, the Taste of Dunwoody at the W Hotel.

Congrats to the Vanderlyn 3rd and 4th grade team who finished 3rd in the County wide Geography Bowl. This was an awesome event hosted by the DeKalb School of Arts and if you think you know your Geography, test your skill here.

11 comments:

Thaddeus Osbourne Dabell said...

John,

I had hoped Dunwoody would set itself apart from, if not above, DeKalb County, but a few things in this post are disturbing.

First--a RETREAT? Seriously now, is that considered responsible use of funds by this government? When, where, how much and what about public access?

Second--there is a point of view that contends that companies don't pay taxes, they collect them. That makes franchise agreements/fees no more than another tax. We were led to expect better, in fact public statements were made on behalf of the cityhood movement that promised as much.

Finally--personal personnel issues (individual pay, performance evaluations, etc.) are not reasonably subject to open records laws. However, the case for or against public discussion of real estate acquisitions is hotly debated. Outside of your efforts, this mayor and council have given little more than lip-service to transparency on this and many other issues.

I have these suggestions for the mayor and entire council, more so that you:

1. be boldly open and brutally honest when taking actions that you know (or should know) are going to cost citizens and businesses more to live and/or work in Dunwoody. Replace the politics with responsible governance.

2. make transparency a top priority: IE: nothing gets done until all CfD, DY!, and city records are on the Dunwoody web site and all official city meeting records in all forms are online (what it was, what it is, what it shall be). Then put in place a government portal that provides for public comment and interaction (we all have a voter registration number) on all city actions including zoning. After that, post videos of all city meetings and make all city operational and MIS data (except individual personnel data) accessible. This should include web apps like DeKalb's online property tax lookup as well as free-form search and record download. Citizens should have easy online access to data as well as being empowered to perform their own data analysis.

3. don't waste OUR money on feel-good events and items (like "welcome to dunwoody" signage) until the fundamental aspects of a responsive, open government are in place. It is an insult to our intelligence and our pocket books.

Thanks,
TOD

Mitch said...

Wow. I guess if you had been at the meeting, you would have known that the retreat would be open to the public. Life's too short . . . .

Thaddeus Osbourne Dabell said...

And if I go to the City Web site? Folks, it is the 21st century.

tarheeltim said...

I continue to be amazed and concerned that there seems to be so much opposition to public comment with our City Government.
It seems, hoewever, that all of the rhetoric that was produced and generated in the attempt to get us to vote for our elected officials about just that... "a voice for all of us"... was, well, a lot of frontier jibberish.

My battle line for this thought is with respect to our Planning and Zoning methodology to date.
1. I served on the Planning and Zoning Task Force and worked my butt off on that committee, because, that is my vocation and I took a lot of pride in my particular work product, but also the work product of the committee as a whole.
It has come to my attention in the meantime, that there has been another committee established to do nothing but essentially refute all of the work that we did in the Task Force project. I cannot confirm this first hand, because, well, it hasn't been a part of any puiblic reporting mechanism...but a committee that the Mayor apparently set in motion.

2. I have also learned, because I was copied on the email chain (I was probably not supposed to see these )that there is a committee working , or possibly complete in their task, that was to determine if the present guidelines for the Dunwoody Village Overlay District should be expanded to cover all of Dunwoody.

Couple of things here:
A. We were never granted any hope that any of our work from the Task Force would see the light of day...so no naievete' there, but there was some really good work done there. If the product didn't meet the expectations of the Mayor or City Council, or the inner circle of the DHA, so be it. But let that be a part of public discussion. Not the derailing at the hands of some connected bunch who at the drop of a hat make moot the work of dedicated people who spent countless hours doing their volunteer duty to the formation of the City.
B. The Dunwoody Overlay District is the most obtrusive thing that could be done City Wide with respect to future development.I know that right now hairs are standing up on the backs of necks because someone has dared to take issue with the Overlay ordinance. I have a reputation in acquisitions and development of some stature, and had an analyst come in from New York with a hedge fund a couple of years ago to look at a deal we were trying to do in Marietta. He asked me where I lived and I said "Dunwoody." His reply was "Oh...you have that goofy Williamsburg Overlay there."
Something of this magnitude should happen after and only after fierce public debate... not at the behest of some people that our Mayor owes favor to.
C. I have a lot of respect for Bob Lundsden, who led our Task Force, and one of the few things in his words that we did as Dekalb County was the public hearing format. But it seems on the surface that our elected officials are going to go to great lengths to limit the public input and that is a shame, and will certainly be the catalyst for campaigns, maybe already in motion, to unseat the present elected cadre.

I voted for the City...and I voted for the current District 2 Councilwoman. I voted because I guess I was foolish enough to believe that we would really have a voice. If the real government is going to be administered by the same 10, 12, or 25 people that have always done the thinking for Dunwoody and the real government is for the people who now get to say " this is the way we have always wanted it" then we have come a long way for nothing in my opinion. I guess I now know whay I cannot get my Councilwoman, after being invited to do so at the Light Up Dunwoody event, to answer repeated emails to her for an opportunity to sit down and discuss some Planning and Zoning philosophies... my philosophy probably doesn't match hers, or that of the people pulling the District 2 strings, therefore, no return call.

If we do nothing we will get nothing...open your hearts and your minds folks.

Dunwoody Mom said...

Yes, the Dunwoody web site is pretty sad - in fact, there is little to no information of any substance. It is rather embarassing.

John Heneghan said...

Thaddeus, The retreat was arranged by the City Manager to bring together the entire staff and the Council to discuss each person’s roles, responsibilities and expectations. i.e. What does the Mayor and Council need or expect from the City Manager (Department Heads & then staff) for the City Council to be successful and what does the City Manager need from the Mayor and Council for him and staff to be successful. The “retreat”, is just a fancy name for an all day meeting and training session. It is open to the public and I would like to personally get a chance to meet you there if you are interested in attending. The all day session will take place from 8 am until 5 pm at the Marriott Evergreen Conference Resort, 4021 Lakeview Drive, Stone Mountain, Georgia 30083. As far as cost, I don’t have the specifics and I will agree with you in advance that it may have been cheaper if we attempted to have it in Dunwoody but I trust that the logistics being what they are for a group of this size, that this location was picked for a specific reason for which I may not be privy to. I have no reason to believe that this meeting will be anything but the proper use of the City’s finances and our valuable time.

You and I agree on the transparency issue and the City (with my help) is doing the best it can at the moment but it will get better. As an amateur webpage designer, I totally agree with the Dunwoody Mom that our page is rather lame on the surface, but please remember that this only the interim placeholder site until our official webpage is released in a few months. The City contract for administrative support includes website design and maintenance. When that contract was approved, I met briefly with the designer to tell him my personal expectations for the site, though it is City Hall who sets the official expectations for the contract.

I have sat in a number of meetings with the City Manager and I believe that he and I share the goal that Dunwoody’s website will be robust yet usable for the less technically savvy. It will have not only document searching capabilities, service requests and public information generally found on a city site but imagine at some point in the near future having searchable video streams whereby you could search for specific terms within a date range and then view the videos associated with those terms? I have heard grand plans and not yet seen any implementation but will make inquiries as to where we are and where we could possibly be.

Another point is that there are a fair number of documents on the current Dunwoody site, if you know where to look. At my insistence, the current webpage posts every public document that City Hall provides me in order to prepare for a City Council meeting. If you click the word Calendar at the top of the page it brings you here which lists all of the past meetings. If you click the Jan 6th meeting notice you will see every document that was provided to me on the Friday prior to the meeting. In fact I saw a few errors in the original minutes, notified the Council and the City Attorney and the errors were corrected and the updated documents were then reposted to this site seamlessly. This coming Friday, I will probably receive electronic documents to prepare me for the meeting on Monday Jan 12th and at that time those same documents will be uploaded to the Dunwoody Calendar behind the Jan 12th link. As far as final ordinances passed by the Dunwoody City Council, all final versions can be found under the Documents tab under Ordinances.

This is an interim website to do basic things so please be patient with us; projects like this take proper planning and then it takes design time. I know for a fact that the City web designer will be reading these comments therefore specific examples of web tools and good websites might be beneficial to all, so please feel free to continue this thread to make suggestions on the future site.

Tim, I disagree with a number of your comments and I am not sure where to start. First let me say publicly that Dr. Adrian Bonser has been a valuable member of the City Council working tirelessly on RFP’s, vendor selection and contract negotiation. I have been copied on numerous e-mails where she has replied to constitutes and know for a fact that she responds directly and effectively with the people in her district, therefore not knowing the specifics, this issue of her not replying to your e-mail seems out of character.

Second the Planning & Zoning Task Force wrote a nice report, in fact here it is and as far as I can tell we have been following what has been written? I acting as a private citizen and former last minute addition to the Citizens for Dunwoody Board, have published and maintained every document I could post on line in order to foster public input on the future workings of the City and as a City Councilman I along with the other Councilmembers have instituted policies also fostering public comment. I believe that this current council will be implementing yet another tool to provide us public comment but the details just need to be hashed out. I believe we (the City Council) are attempting to implement most if not all of the Task Force recommendations. In fact if someone could compare the Task Force reports against what we have implemented, I would be very interested to see what we are doing differently from the recommendations from those committees.

Everyone please be patient with us, remember that we attempting to do the best we can with the manpower we have available and that many of your elected officials also have other full time jobs. In the coming weeks our new City Clerk will be on board and I believe she will have the task of maintaining much of the website content and providing public documents to the community. Thanks for understanding.

Thaddeus Osbourne Dabell said...

John,

Thanks for the pointers to the site content. Thanks also and again for your commitment to making this government transparent. Were it not for you I have no doubt that CoD would be just more of the same. That said, it is almost terrifying that you must insist on posting public documents. What will happen to this city if you get that relo-promotion you simply can't refuse? Or, if you simply find the drain on your time is too great? The transparency procedures of the City pale in comparison to your individual efforts and there is no ordinance in place to ensure proper operation nor consequences for failure. Perhaps at the retreat the Council can work on an ordinance regulating THEIR activities to protect OUR city since they present a greater danger to our community than a gentleman's club. (Only partly tongue-in-cheek ;^)

I agree with staged deployment of web apps--experience indicates this is the happy path because you simply cannot anticipate all the requirements. While the site should be usable by the less technically savvy, the designers should also keep in mind that technical competence is a moving and broad target and avoid an app that is useful only to a novice. Sophisticated features, like access to raw data and facilities for online data mining, should also be part of the Product Requirements Document. In fact, access to raw data might encourage the creation of useful web apps by others (a 'real' simcity combining data from GIS, zoning, tax, and traffic stats to model a proposal's impact on 'walkability' comes to mind). And of course the PRD should be posted for public review.

TH Tim,

I've always felt that the Task Forces, and both CfD and DY!, took on the obligation to act in the open when they took upon themselves the responsibility to act on the behalf of all of Dunwoody. You might observe that they did not. You might further observe that many of those in charge of these two organizations are now in charge of the City. What I see is the same folks acting the same way--they work diligently to promote their agenda and as is almost always the case, full disclosure does not support that cause. I'm not surprised, but I am disappointed.

As for the vote, I found myself in quite a dilemma. I still want to believe that cityhood is the better alternative. That's the emotional side. On the intellectual side I was given a CVI study that Fran Millar indicated was directed in its contents. Unsavory. Then there were the shenanigans surrounding House passage of SB82. Perfectly legal--absolutely odious. A vote scheduled for July 15th when primaries and general elections were not far off was an obvious manipulation. With all due respect to the hard work of the Task Force members, no reports were published before the referendum. Consequently, unless you were an insider, any vote for incorporation was an emotional decision. At the end of the day, we cannot expect a group that succeeded promoting a heart-over-head campaign to make a sudden reversal.

Dunwoody Police Watch Group said...

I see the listing of crimes in the area, mostly shoplifting and car break-ins. Is this a full account of the "crime" in Dunwoody for this period?

Robert said...

While I don’t contribute often, I am a regular reader of John’s blog and I have a keen appreciation for the time and energy it takes to publish this. Thank you, John!
As John’s fellow council member, I’d like to add a couple of comments.
I appreciate John’s support of open and transparent proceedings. Everyone should note that all of us are committed to this. We recognize that we are doing the people’s business. John is not the only one committed to making this a top priority.
Why then did we have a closed executive session on Tuesday? We did two things at that session:
1. We interviewed a finalist for an open position. It truly isn’t appropriate to conduct a job interview as a spectator sport. Until we have selected a candidate, we need to respect all the applicants’ privacy. When we make a final decision to hire, that will be publically announced.
2. We received an update on progress in finding a place for city hall and our new police department. Everyone knows that we are looking for office space, that is no secret, but to reveal exact details of each potential landlord’s offering doesn’t make sense. Telling all the bidders what each of the other bidders is proposing isn’t ethical and frankly, letting selected bidders know which proposals we like better weakens our bargaining position with them. Once we have negotiated a deal, we will publish it.
There is only one other type of discussion that the law allows us to discuss in private. That is pending legal disputes. Again, you wouldn’t want to discuss your strategy for winning a legal dispute in a forum where the city’s legal opponent can listen in.
We cannot and will not ever vote in a private session.
Our planned ‘retreat’ is really an all-day strategic planning session. At the start of the year it is very appropriate to set goals for the year. We are bringing in a facilitator from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government to help us establish a strategic plan (their participation is funded by the state.) I’ve asked that the meeting be moved from Stone Mountain to Dunwoody. We expect the cost to be no more than a few hundred dollars.
Finally, we are committed to adding additional opportunities for public comment. One of the things I hope we will discuss at our all-day meeting is the best way to format that. How many times in each meeting? How much time for each speaker? How many speakers? Should we alternate pro and con or always do the pros first, then the cons? If you have suggestions, please let us know.

Robert Wittenstein, Post 4 City Council member

Dunwoody Police Watch Group said...

Robert

Thanks for your continued service. I know the council is keeping ongoing negotiations quiet, for obvious reasons, but what is the status of properties in Dunwoody owned by Dekalb, i.e. Brook Run, North Precint, library? I would think that the office space at Brook Run would make for a great city hall.

Robert said...

As a long-term solution, I'd like to see us consider Brook Run as a location for City Hall. There are buildings there that are in good shape and reasonably sized and laid out.

There are some issues that prevent this from being a short-term solution. First is the need to acquire the parks from DeKalb and those negotiations may take months (or potentially even a year or more) to resolve.

The second issue is the current restrictions on the use of the facilities at Brook Run. When the State sold the land to DeKalb they placed restrictions on the use of the property. Those restrictions are contained in a "Quit Claim Deed". Before we could house administrative offices at Brook Run we would need the State to agree to modify the Quit Claim Deed.

So, we will have to make other arrangements for the first few years at least. Eventually, we may be able to leverage city-owned property.