Saturday, December 1, 2018

City of Dunwoody, my personal look back at ten years since incorportation by Councilman John Heneghan.

Councilman John Heneghan

Today marks the Tenth anniversary of the creation of the City of Dunwoody and I have had the distinct privilege of serving on the City Council since the very beginning. Please allow me to give some personal perspective for those who are not aware of our history.

Many years ago I was President of the Dunwoody North Civic Association, looking for ways to improve the quality of life for 1,200 residents within the subdivision boundaries in which I live therefore I had an extensive history of dealing with DeKalb County (our local government) on various zoning, transportation, infrastructure issues as well as police coverage, therefore based on what I had seen with the County I thought we could do better. I was a supporter of breaking away from the county for municipal services, pro Cityhood and along with many other people, we successfully worked toward that goal to become our own city.

Incorporation was a multi-year political struggle down at the Capital with partisan gamesmanship being played on both sides, but in the end the residents wanting the right of self determination won out allowing the referendum to take place. That summer many people worked to support the vote. Then on July 15, 2008 the residents of Dunwoody went to the polls, putting their faith in the pro-cityhood leaders passing the referendum by 82%. On December 1st 2008, "Atlanta's Classic City" of Dunwoody was incorporated, we passed lean budgets yet started a world class police force from scratch just four months later by offering fair wages, good benefits and offering every police officer a take home vehicle on day one.

There are lots of great memories from those early days as I remember running for office and standing in front of Bruster's Ice Cream on hot summer nights talking to whomever would listen about cityhood while standing in the long lines. After being elected to a citywide, at-large position, most of the City Council was sworn in on September 24, 2008 but the District 2 local race eventually won by Adrian Bonser was to be determined by a runoff at a later date. Several days later, on September 28th the first meeting of the Dunwoody City Council was held at Dunwoody Methodist Church and here is that agenda. I remember the work being put in to determine the service delivery plan, the late nights work sessions making decisions which still stand today; those of us who were on Council will never forget those early days. Here are a few videos detailing those startup memories, here is Mayor Wright and some of the other members of Council telling stories of incorporation and start up that are not widely known.

If you watched some of those videos I linked in the previous paragraph you may have noticed that I personally wasn't front and center in any of them but know I was the guy documenting, compiling data and influencing decisions at every level. One insight I can share on incorporation was that the political partisanship at the Capital with the tit for tat, back and fourth, you vote for mine and I will vote for yours on important subjects that seemed to be decided solely on personal relationships literally turned my stomach. Though I enjoy observing and studying politics, seeing the highly political sausage being made up close and personal in hearing rooms, as well as watching the petty arguments on the floor of the chambers spreading Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt made me never to want to become a politician.

Luckily the City of Dunwoody is a non-partisan city council election whereby we the elected officials can concentrate solely on doing what is best for the city, providing improved services, upgraded quality of life and focus on spending our collective tax money on paving, parks and police. Ten years on the Dunwoody City Council and I can honestly tell you that from my perspective; political politics nor tit for tat, you scratch my back & I'll scratch yours has ever happened between council members, we are elected officials and not politicians - for that I am grateful.

In my ten years of service, I have had the pleasure of meeting thousands of people and had more conversations on topics of substance shaping this community than I could even fathom measuring.  Proud of the personal service I have provided individuals.  I’m extremely proud that I have preserved 10 years of city documents on my private servers that I make readily available to whoever is interested, proud that I started live streaming meetings before it was in vogue and proud that I have maintained this blog from the beginning. Since the initiation of cityhood, I have written over 3,700 blog posts providing the community (and various new outlets) with the same information that I receive as a City Council member so that you can help guide us on policy and important decisions. For the last ten years, I haven't wavered from my Philosophy on Public Service which is when I have the ability to make a difference, I have a responsibility to do so and second, transparency in Government breeds self-corrective behavior.

At times my little blog has allowed you the opportunity to peer deep into my soul, to see my personality, to meet my bride Kristin, my boys Riley, Gavin & Declan, my family, over time if you were paying attention you have seen what makes me click by learning what is important to me. As an introvert, this electronic forum has allowed me to do all of this from behind a keyboard, yet it has also made me extremely accessible when someone needs help on a city matter. Helping people and affecting positive changes within these 12 square miles are the two most rewarding aspects of serving on the City Council.

Serving the community in this capacity doesn’t always make City Council members popular as we are required to make tough policy choices, make budget decisions that have long term implications on personal safety & public welfare. I have had to interpret the zoning codes we put into place in ways that do not always make everyone happy. I have been forced to tell neighbors and friends that the traffic laws in place (like the no Left hand turn into my neighborhood that was in place before cityhood) are there for them to comply with. I was an advocate for the Brook Run Trail and the Dog Park when members of our community were dead set against such projects saying that we were ruining the beauty of our park. I was pro-backyard Chickens when the issue was first brought up in 2010 and people had strong opinions on both sides of the coop. As much as I wanted to save the Theater in Brook Run, the renovation and long term operating costs without a viable tenant were something I couldn't support. In short, at times we the elected officials are the local throat to choke when things don’t go as planned, city services are lacking (as are restaurants with roof top bars) or when people believe there should be a different outcome. When people are unhappy we hear about it in our email, as comments in various social media accounts and people are not bashful about calling our home phones as we are all readily available to anyone who wants to reach out.

Looking back at historical blog posts I have written, the priorities I set for my governance have worked for me personally and they helped us get started.   I believe the City of Dunwoody which started during a deep recession has been very successful in being good stewards of your tax money. We started slow and only worked with the cash on hand and have made numerous solid investments into the community, be it a new City Hall, land swaps with the County, improved sports fields, new parks, intersections or miles of paving. The Dunwoody Crier in this week’s edition highlighted the changes since incorporation and when comparing that data to an interview now Mayor Shortal gave after we passed our first budget; I would agree that we have kept our financial promises. We haven’t raised the tax rate and yet the services for paving, parks and police have all been raised dramatically since before incorporation.  The future of Dunwoody looks bright with numerous projects ready to move forward and I believe we are planted on firm ground moving forward.

Looking back at photos and videos of that era, it seems like much of this stuff happened just yesterday, yet I now see that all three of my little boys are all taller than their mother. Ten Years moves pretty fast - Happy Birthday Dunwoody; it has been an honor and a privilege.

To the citizens of Dunwoody, I thank you for allowing me to continue to serve this fine community.



Pattie Baker said...

That was beautiful, John. Thank you (and your family) for your service. After ten years, your blog is still my first stop every morning, and you will continue to have my vote.

Alan Mothner said...

Great recap of the past decade, John. Thank you for all of your untold hours of service to our community. You should be proud of your accomplishments and know what a difference you have made. Alan

Mark said...

Your commitment to community and family is beyond doubt, John. I've never noticed introversion on your part. You hide it incredibly well, as I've seen others do when need or opportunity required it. You may recall our conversations wherein I was opposed to incorporation, and after ya'll had been governing for a fairly short time, I acknowledged I was wrong. I stand firmly by that assertion. Overall, incorporation has been the best thing to happen to the area since I-285 was finished and the Perimeter Center district flourished to provide the tax base for our excellent city.

As always, thank you for your service to us and here is wishing you well in all your endeavors in good health.

TGSMYK said...

This was a great post that I really enjoyed reading. You're one of the really really good guys. Keep up the great work, John!

SusanH said...

Thank you, John, for your commitment to Dunwoody and its citizens. You have always been one of the most responsive city officials whenever issues have arisen in my part of town. I was proud to have your magnet on my car when you first ran for office, and you continue to have my support--and friendship--today.

John Heneghan said...

Thank you very much for putting your trust in me and I am very appreciative of all your wonderful comments, it means an awful lot to me. John

kbg said...

Well said! Thank you for the insights, and for your years of service to Dunwoody!

Kathleen Heneghan said...

Awesome post, John! I see your introverted nature (I think you fall into the extroverted introvert category) and I love how you have used the power of being behind the keyboard to create good government and real development in communities. Great re-cap of the past 10 years in local government. Dunwoody residents are blessed by your service. Well done, big brother.
~ Kathleen Heneghan