By Jay Scott
The DeKalb legislative delegation’s public hearing Wednesday night was an ambitious effort to hear from a wide range of people – the interim county CEO, the school superintendent and board chairman, cityhood groups and the public.
While many legislators and one cityhood group could not attend because of conflicts (see earlier story), a number of citizens expressed opinions on a number of issues, but mostly on cityhood, during the 2 ½-hour meeting. And from their comments, opinions were decidedly mixed.
Interim CEO Lee May, appearing the night before his first “State of the County” address, said regardless of the issues, the most common thing he has heard after talking to thousands of county residents is that they want “better outcomes.”
“It’s more important than ever that we sit down and talk about the future of DeKalb County,” said May. He has called for a one-year moratorium on cityhood, with a study commission “to figure out the rules of engagement … a better process to determine the full impact on the county.”
When Dunwoody became a city, May said pension costs were not discussed. Now, in Dunwoody alone, he said preliminary numbers show “we’re stuck with another $1.5 million” in obligations. “Make it a fair process for all of DeKalb County,” he said.
However, May added that the cityhood groups are simply “just doing what the rules of engagement allow them to do.” “We can’t say no, no, no. We have to sit down and figure what is a more balanced approach.”
School Superintendent Michael Thurmond, who received a standing ovation after this week’s news that the district’s probation had ended, was upbeat, saying “things are moving forward.” He asked the legislators for funding help in eliminating furlough days, a request that was echoed by board Chairman Melvin Johnson.
City of Briarcliff Initiative board member Don Broussard and Tucker 2014’s Frank Auman each had five minutes to speak about their respective cityhood efforts.
As previously reported, the Lakeside City Alliance said they did not learn about the hearing until Monday night and that they did not receive an invitation to make a presentation. Therefore, they chose to appear only at a Merry Hills Neighborhood Association meeting, along with Briarcliff. COBI board members split time between the meetings.
After the cityhood proposals were presented, two people were allowed to speak for and two people against each proposal. Comments also came during other public discussion. Highlights revealed a wide range of views, except those from Lakeside, whose supporters were attending the Merry Hills meeting:
Robert Stamper of the Stone Mountain area spoke twice against the Tucker cityhood plan, which he said requires $3.9 million in new fees without reducing taxes. He said those new fees would amount to $171 a year per household. However, an unidentified woman who lives in the Smoke Rise area, also spoke twice in support of Tucker.
Bob Morris, who said he has lived in Tucker for 39 years, said he was a proponent of cityhood and hoped that there could be some kind of resolution between the three proposals. He pointed out that there had been discussion in 2006 in Tucker for cityhood but the county asked it to cease. “Here we are again with the same discussion. I don’t think so,” Morris said.
Cynthia Moe, a 45-year resident of Tucker, said she was “fearful of losing my voice through the cityhood process.” She asked legislators how to get their attention.
An unidentified woman living in unincorporated DeKalb was concerned about not having a vote on new cities, which she said affect quality of life, property values and safety and security.
John Merlin, 48-year resident of DeKalb, complained that Lakeside had cherry picked all the commercial areas and left the area south of North Druid Hills Road without any chance to become a city. He said he felt abandoned.
A North Druid Hills Residents Association member said she preferred being in unincorporated DeKalb and said she was happy with the representation from Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader.
A woman who lives in both Lakeside/Briarcliff boundaries, said she feels “cityhood was pushed on us.” She preferred “an improved and strengthened DeKalb County.“ “I like my address being Decatur,” she said.
Judy Perras, who has lived in the Medlock area since 1989, said she lives in a “funny place where Lakeside doesn’t want us and Decatur wants our commercial properties.” She presented a petition from business owners in the Clairmont/North Decatur Road area who don’t want to be in the city of Decatur.
John Ridley, who previously served on the Decatur City Commssion, expressed concerns about that city’s debt and said he respected the municipal autonomy of others but the county’s first obligation is “to ensure viability of existing cities.”
Valerie Payton, who has lived in unincorporated Scottdale for 50 years, said she was not opposed to Briarcliff but said things are moving so fast that more time was needed.
Terry Cole of Tucker said: “We want a small city that is legitimate based upon what we’re doing. We ask that you look at Tucker as the most sensible case to be made.”
David Armstrong of Druid Hills said people worried about Lakeside “dragged us into it (cityhood).” He told the legislators there needs to be consensus on cityhood and time to think about it.
Dawn Foreman, who lives in the Lakeside/Briarcliff area, asked if cityhood leaders are so concerned about problems in DeKalb, then why don’t they run for county office. She also claimed that the cityhood groups have not released enough information on their proposals.
The last comment of the night came from a man who asked: “Why aren’t there townships in Georgia?"