Leaders Offer Conflicting Views at Second Cityhood Forum
Dunwoody officials offered their input during a recent meeting as another DeKalb community explores forming its own city.
A Dunwoody state lawmaker and a former city council candidate offered their input last week as North Druid Hills and Briarcliff communities continue to explore forming another municipality.
Local leaders offered conflicting views on whether the area might be a good fit for cityhood at Oak Grove United Methodist Church on Tuesday. Former Republican state Rep. Kevin Levitas, District 82, organized the second meeting to include a balance of opinions, pro and con, on the subject. Republican state Rep. Tom Taylor, District 79, and Robert Wittenstein, a former Dunwoody city council candidate, were recruited to represent the positives of cityhood. DeKalb County Commissioner Kathie Gannon, District 6, and Democratic state Rep. Billy Mitchell, District 88, were present to offer the negatives.
But all speakers claimed they were hesitant to be labeled so neatly.
"I'm indifferent," Mitchell said. "I don't have a dog in this fight per se."
The second meeting was organized to include representatives from both sides at the request of audience members who said they found the speakers at the first meeting in November too supportive of cityhood. Taylor and Wittenstein both said municipalities give residents very local representatives who are more easily reached than county officials.
"You've got a local neck that you can get your hands around," Taylor said.
He said the issues of zoning and law enforcement were primarily what drove the incorporation of Dunwoody in 2008. Wittenstein, who was involved in the creation of that city, agreed.
"Being able to set zoning and also code enforcement... the ability to decide what we wanted to be when we grew up was a big part of what drove us," Wittenstein said.
The divisive leadership of former county CEO Vernon Jones was also a major factor, he said.
"If Vernon hadn't been such an ass, we wouldn't have had 90 percent [support]," Wittenstein said. "Burrell Ellis is a far cry from Vernon Jones. We’re far better off today."
Gannon said that an area that wants to become a city needs concrete things they want to change, to improve. And residents need to be united in the cityhood process.
"What is it that I want to fix? What do I want to change? ... A city may not be the answer for everyone," she said. She referenced the tight Brookhaven cityhood vote that passed with 55 percent in November. "To me, that says, 'We're not quite ready yet.' It's different when you have 80 percent, 90 percent."
Mitchell added that most residents who find themselves members of new cities across the country generally see their taxes rises. Though Wittenstein said that has not happened in Dunwoody.
"Our taxes didn't go down," he said. "But they didn't go up."
The struggling economy has also played a major role in cityhood movements, Gannon said. Property values have fluctuated, dramatically for some people, and the disparity in wealth is greater.
"A lot of it is the anxiety of this domino effect," she said. "Year after year, the county is losing revenue [from new city incorporations]. ... You can only cut so fast and change the way you do things. ... We certainly don't have the kids of efficiencies that we should have across the board. But when the economy changes, I think you'll see things stabilizing again."
But cityhood movements in DeKalb County aren't necessarily unique to the northern half, Taylor said. He said he was asked to speak before residents in the Stonecrest area about cityhood.
"I was actually shocked. This is kind of an interesting thing to invite Tom Taylor down to Stonecrest to talk about cityhood," he said. "This is not an issue of party or race."
At the end of the meeting, Levitas, who organized the meeting on behalf of the Briarcliff Woods East Neighborhood Association, said it was up to the residents what happens next. No additional meetings were scheduled.
"If this happens, it's got to happen from the bottom up," he said.