Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Political conflict of interest? No. Opportunistic political smear? Most likely.

As a member of the Dunwoody City Council, I purposely (and under advice of City legal council) keep my nose out of the details of actions that come before the Zoning Board of Appeals. This is not to say that I don't follow what happens there nor does it mean that I won't raise procedural concerns if I had them to the City Manager, City Attorney and the Community Development Director; because I do and would. That being said, I would not attempt to influence the members of the Zoning Board of Appeals on their decisions and neither would the Mayor.

The Fox5 story (embedded below) on the Mayor 'appointing' the members of the ZBA is technically correct but it failed to mention that the Mayor allowed each of the six City Council members to nominate one member from the community, whom the Mayor then accepted at face value without prejudice; therefore in reality the Mayor only handpicked one of the seven members.

This zoning dispute started in September of 2008 under DeKalb county jurisdiction, with a blowout/conversion of a sunroom well into the setback, converted into a family room. The existing deck was torn down and replaced with a much larger deck and multiple stop work orders were issued by DeKalb and from what I remember from the hearings were repeatedly ignored by the applicant. The Wrights were one of two affected homeowners with the other affected as severe if not worse since the addition was visible from the side view. The Mayor is being painted as wielding his influence on the matter but the story fails to note that Ken Wright remained “outside” of the process, leaving his wife to fend for the families rights without her husband at her side.

I attended both of the ZBA meetings (1 & 2) when this item was discussed and I am kicking myself that I didn't think of recording the first one and then ran out of batteries on the second one. Mr. Brown in the second meeting did raise these same unfair accusations against the Mayor and the seven respected members of the community serving on the ZBA of being unethical and in the "pocket" of the Mayor. When it happened Susan Mitchell of the ZBA quickly corrected Mr. Brown and I believe even chastised him for the comment.

Long story short, the story is not about the Mayor and ZBA running afoul; it is about a homeowner trampling laws, rights, and value of his neighbors’ property. I do not see any impropriety in the actions of the Mayor or the ZBA and I guess for me the issue also comes down to this... Does the Wright family give up their property rights because Ken is the Mayor? No they don't and it is my opinion that this is just an opportunistic political smear being raised in the media to question the decision made by the impartial members of the Dunwoody Zoning Board of Appeals.

Oh, the joys of serving in a political office? I can't understand why people aren't busting down the doors to be elected.


Steve Barton said...

Harrumph. Good luck to all with this.

Rick Callihan said...

I was at that hearing as well. Based on the facts I heard the ZBA made the correct call. The fact that city staff recommended the variance be approved means nothing as the ZBA does not always agree with city staff. The applicant for the variance clearly has a history of building without permits. This is one of the reasons why we have a city - to stop such actions. To me it looks like we finally have at least one example of Dunwoody stopping what DeKalb did not. Too bad it was at the mayor's house as that does cloud the issue for some not knowing the details.

Wishbone Nolan said...

The real issue here is not whether the mayoral appointed ZBA members should have recused themselves (which they should have), but where in the grand scheme of things in the history of the world does it matter whether this poor guy has built a wheelchair ramp in the back of his home so that his disabled wife can enjoy their backyard. Whether it was within code or not, who the hell was he hurting? Why can't people tend to their own business and leave others alone?

I'm trying to recall how fascist governments addressed their agenda, first they excluded the minorities, then gays and the handicapped, but I guess I don't have to worry until they get to the insane.

But what I find most ironic and actually humorous is how it was white bread conservative Republican Dunwoody's news channel of choice, Fox News, that broadcast this expose. Such fun! It's almost as entertaining as watching Glenn Beck, Russ Limbaugh, and Bill O'Reilly cannibalize each other.

And as far as being worried about inferences as Fox News presented, with the facetious "Oh, the joys of serving in a political office? I can't understand why people aren't busting down the doors to be elected.", I guess what goes around comes around, and now some persons know what Jill Chambers went through when she was the victim of so many vicious and unwarranted attacks.

Let's just grow up folks, and realize that we can be expending our time doing good in the world instead of making some poor guy rip down the wheelchair ramp that he built for his disabled wife.

Bob Fiscella said...

I've known the mayor to be a man of high character - shame on Dale Russell for not doing his due diligence! In retrospect, perhaps the one member of the zoning board picked by the mayor should have recused themselves (I don't even know if that person was there the night the vote was taken). But the mayor playing politics - not a chance!

Dunwoody Mom said...

Agreed that this was a somewhat shoddy piece by Dale Russell. Perhaps Mr. Mayor now has some empathy for the car wash owner on Mount Vernon and what the owner endured.

DunwoodyPerson said...

Yes, it’s pretty clear the deck seems to be a violation of code. Perhaps it should be torn down. However, the ZBA should have recognized, along with the mayor, that the appearance of being unfair is valid… the perception of being wrong or exerting influence counts. I think many city council members overlook this problem. For example, the keys to the city of Dunwoody were presented to the pastor of Dunwoody United Methodist Church for the church graciously allowing the city to use their facilities – a worthy presentation. Unfortunately, the proclamation was also on the same night the church had a zoning agenda item up for discussion - no one appeared troubled by this. How can citizens truly feel they will all be treated equally when red flags aren’t raised for obvious conflicts? Looking at the purpose of a law can help when deciding whether to strictly enforce it. In this case, if noise was the mayor’s fear, then the size of the deck isn’t really a factor – he only extended a few more feet than was already there. If the mayor’s view is truly harmed, then the homeowner could have planted some bushes. He already had a deck, now it’s just a little larger. But now that this has become a legal matter demonstrates the inability of our citizens to work things out neighborly. The mayor and his wife come across as bullies who are using the power of government to get their way, whether true or not. This spat is a sad example of the power governments exert over populations. Sure, there are times government should be involved, but this case seems to show the mayor as just wanting to enforce a law – because it is the law. The deck really isn’t a big deal – but power is. Yet, I don’t see the mayor rushing to enforce all the other violations in our city. This one seems selective and beneficial for him. There are HUNDREDS of code violations that the mayor has not voiced his concern over. [in example: the bushes in front of the Chamber of Commerce are too high.] I do believe in most instances our mayor acts honorably and is a good leader. Blaming the “media” for highlighting this story detracts from the core issues and facts of this situation.

Wishbone Nolan said...

Very eloquently and articulately stated, DunwoodyPerson.

Terri Wright said...

Despite Dale’s fine piece of TMZ “ethical” and “fair and balanced” reporting, let me shed a few facts on the situation since I am one of the primary affected and the one who has dealt with this mess, with my neighbor, this past year. (Oopps, Dale forgot to add that 40-minute interview of factual footage with documentation)

If Mr. Brown had simply put a wheelchair ramp in for his wife, on his then current illegal deck - there would absolutely be no issue here. As well, had Mr. Brown planted any type of shrubbery over these last 16 years to help shield his previous illegal structures, there would absolutely be no issue here …. With no correct permit, (because it is illegal to do what he has done) he has fully gutted, renovated and “connected” to his home a once dormat/illegal sunroom into an obnoxious family room, complete with hanging ac duct work, “Neighbor viewing windows” and a nice big Ole plazma for my kids, my family, and my neighbor to watch from virtually anywhere in our backyards and back of our homes. Ask me what he or his wife is wearing or watching any given night and I can give it to you down to the color of their socks and what is on the tube. Why can I see such detail? Because this illegal structure (and the couch that they sit on) is 25 feet high, 22 feet from our property line. (well within the setback limit of 40 feet)


Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3

Take a look at Dales fireside chat with the Brown’s, see the couch they are sitting on and the beautiful/park like backyard? You’re looking at about $10k of my very hard earned money spent to try and shield us from his original illegal structures. Mr. Brown commented to me in a post BZA 1 email how he really liked all of what we had done to our backyard. I agree, it looks awesome from his viewing platform 22 feet from the fence. Problem is, the view is far from sweet from my and my neighbors’ backyard. Believe me, my kids 529’s could have used that money more than my backyard.

Back to the illegal building-As this illegal conversion was happening, simultaneously, he tore down his old deck and attempted and attempted, and attempted (after the multiple stop work orders?) to build a monstrous deck/screen porch 22 feet from the property line (well within the 40 feet setback limit) and clearly visible from our backyard, kitchen, deck, and back bedroom.

When your backyard neighbor decides to build feet from your property, invade your space/privacy, believe to be above any and all rules/regulations, thumb his nose at the very idea of permitting his structures, and not tell the whole truth - then you can answer “who the hell was he hurting”?

This has nothing to do with my husband’s civic duties and position within the city, never did, never will. It’s unfortunate he feels he cannot dive in, he has not and will not, which is what really frosts me with Dales reporting, Mr. Brown, and lawyer accusations. This is about two separate homeowners equally fed up with the seemingly never-ending illegal and intrusive construction of the house in their backyards.

A few side notes: ask any person who knows me; and I am confident they will tell you I am as laid back, fair, nice, and calm of a person as one can find. I do not enjoy or relish disagreements or confrontations. But when it comes to someone in my backyard having no respect for the laws of the R100 zoning we both purchased our properties under, and we both expect equal protection on, it makes me angry. It severely impacts my families every day lives, privacy, sanctity, and value of our home.

I do give credit to Mr. Brown and his attorney, they are very slick.

Wishbone Nolan said...

After carefully perusing this diatribe and associated pictures, I am still convinced this is "much ado about nothing". Perhaps I'm a bit too mellow after having had an impoverished upbringing and serving in this country's military thereby having experienced that there are more nefarious issues in this world than allowing this lady's wheelchair ramp; "Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est".

Staceka said...

You're right Wishbone Nolan....laws are much ado about nothing. Be it speeding, stop sign or zoning...why both with such nefarious issues? Maybe becaus we lived in a civilzed society. Mr. Brown ignored stop work orders from DeKalb County and yet Dale Russell portrayed him as the victim. Bull. He knew exactly what he was doing and I hope the Wrights prevail.

Wishbone Nolan said...

Ah, I suppose if everyone in Dunwoody were nosy neighbors and worried about what was going on in others' backyards half the homes in the village would be found to have structures not up to code. But though Russ Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin envision everyone to be those type of persons, I think we can be better than that.

And if you want to speak laws, laws also dictated that in Nazi Germany Aryans could not marry Jews, Jews had to wear the yellow star of David, Jews could not own property, etc. And here in my beloved home state of Georgia at one time laws dictated that African-Americans could not drink from the same drinking fountain as whites, use the same washroom, eat at the same lunch counter, etc. Were these laws just?

All these people wanted to do was allow a disabled woman enjoy her backyard with a ramp.

"For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment. " James 2:13

Or as Portia pleaded:

"The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

Why couldn't we live in a world of neighbors, as an America I used to know (although in much poorer circumstances) where when this poor lady in the wheelchair would wheel herself down to her backyard garden, she would be greeted by my children as "Hey, Mrs.____, how are you today? Nice to see you."

DunwoodyPerson said...

Terri, you begin your attempt to tell your side of the story and convince us of your events... by making a fool of yourself. The very first sentence you write attacks Dale Russell for his "TMZ" reporting (alluding to the entertainment show that is somewhat cheesy). You really don't get it do you. If you want to intelligently discuss things, do it. But if you think that you can defend your actions by attacking Dale Russell, you aren't wining anyone over. Rather, you are digging an embarrassing hole for yourself. I really couldn’t give any credibility to your rant when you start off trying to blame someone for what you feel is shoddy reporting – by doing the very thing yourself. Try taking your emotions out of this and maybe you will succeed. Take a deep breath and look at your actions before you get on your high horse.

Dunwoody Dad said...

Is this what they call in England a "sticky wicket" topic?