Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year; Update from Councilman Wittenstein

Happy New Year!
The comments below are those of Dunwoody City Councilman Robert Wittenstein. Again, I appreciate Robert's regular updates. While I feel Robert, and the council as a whole, have done a terrific job in starting up the city (I agree with 90 percent of what the council has done), I don't agree with all of the council's decisions.
I wasn't crazy about the bonuses for the city manager and city clerk. Yes, they've worked long, hard hours and done tremendous jobs (from what I can tell), but the timing just didn't seem right. Not in this economy.
And neither did the timing seem right for the council to vote itself health insurance. Do I believe the mayor and council members are underpaid? You bet! But everyone on that council knew the deal going in. And besides (and one thing Robert failed to mention), they are part-time employees. I happened to be at the meeting in which the council voted to give itself health insurance, with more than one council person saying a contributing factor in their vote was to make the position more attractive for future candidates. They pointed out that 3 seats where up for election in 2009, yet no one chose to run against any of the incumbents. But if that was truly one of the reasons for voting yes for health insurance (to sweet the pot to entice more qualified candidates in the future), why not have added the stipulation that only "future" elected officials would be eligible for the benefits? If the council would have added that stipulation, the vote would not have appeared so self-serving.
Nonetheless, a big pat on the back to all of our city officials for a job well done in 2009!
Dear Dunwoody Friends and Neighbors,
I hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas or Hanukah or whatever, and I wish you all a healthy and safe New Year!
I discovered a whole group of e-mail addresses that had been left off my previous distribution list, so if you are receiving this e-mail for the first time, my apologies for not including you earlier. If you received this from a friend and would like to be added to the distribution list, please send an e-mail to If you would like to be taken off my distribution list, please let me know.

We have three final public forums scheduled to get resident feedback on our 20-year comprehensive development plan. Below is the area of focus and schedule for each meeting.
Georgetown/Shallowford Area, January 5, The Atrium, 4355 Georgetown Square
Jett Ferry Area and Tilly Mill Area, January 12, Marcus Jewish Community Center, 5342 Tilly Mill Road
Winters Chapel Area, January 21, Congregation Beth Shalom, 5303 Winters Chapel Road
All three meetings are scheduled for 7:00 pm.
If you are concerned about future zoning decisions in these areas, you should make every effort to attend these meetings. All of these areas have been identified as areas ripe for redevelopment. A comprehensive land-use plan is being developed that will dictate what type of development- residential? commercial? institutional? industrial?--can be built throughout the city. How would you like to see these areas change? Dunwoody residents will be given time at these meetings to voice their opinions and suggestions as to the future of each of these areas.

Switching topics, I’ve taken a couple of controversial positions lately that have generated both praise and criticism. If these e-mail updates are to be as useful as possible then I can’t shy away from discussing these issues here.

Health Insurance Coverage for City Council
I voted in favor of having the city extend health insurance to city council members. (This measure passed 5 to 2.) I get my health insurance through my full-time employer as do a couple of other council members, and several council members are retired and get their health coverage through federal government health programs.
Philosophically, I think employers ought to offer health insurance to all their employees (council members or not). I work in healthcare. My company provides disease management and wellness services. These services are often paid for by insurance companies who are trying to reduce costs by keeping chronically ill people from getting sicker and helping those at risk of developing chronic illnesses from becoming sick by making life style changes.
Some of you on this distribution list are self-employed, unemployed or entrepreneurs and you know how difficult and costly it is to purchase individual family coverage on the retail market. As a matter of principal, I think we should offer our group insurance coverage to all city employees. The fact that I am one of them and I got to vote on the decision is awkward, but in my judgment it was the right thing to do.
The cost to taxpayers is real and should not be taken lightly. But it should also be put in context. The cost is less than one quarter of one percent of our budget. This was a difficult vote, more so than most—and there may be political consequences for voting myself a benefit, but I felt that it was important for the city to set this money aside.

Year-end Bonuses for the City Manager and City Clerk
I voted in favor of providing bonuses to Warren Hutmacher, our City Manager and Sharon Lowery, our City Clerk. This measure passed unanimously. Note that Warren and Sharon are the only two city employees who work directly for the Mayor and Council, all of the other city employees report to a member of the city staff, so these are the only two compensation levels we set. In both cases the bonuses were approximately 3.4% of annual salary; that is the same percent increase we have budgeted for 2010 performance-based raises for city staff.
Bringing the city up from scratch required incredible dedication and many, many more hours than you would expect from an employee. Yes, Warren is well paid and yes, that pay covers the expectation of good performance, but not only did we have to create every department, hire and train every staff member and establish all our policies and procedures, we also completed the build-out and move to the new city hall.
As many of you are aware, we were the only new city that did not award a single, large, contract to CH2M-Hill for services. Many people told us that the only way to get the city up and running was to pay a large premium to CH2M-Hill and have them take care of it all. When we hired Warren he encouraged us to split our service contracts up and the end result was that it saved the city over $1.5 million. Warren also helped us negotiate higher levels of service with the individual vendors. This meant that his workload increased as he had to manage multiple vendors and coordinate between them. In my opinion Warren earned this small ($5,000) bonus several times over.
For much of the year, Sharon Lowery not only filled the role of City Clerk, she also acted as our Court Clerk. She basically had two full-time jobs and she did this without any additional compensation for months. She also brings an attitude of service and sense of competence that helps the City Council function. We (the Mayor and the City Council) are all brand new at our jobs. Sharon’s seasoned and calm guidance has made a huge difference in the City Council’s ability to be effective. The $2,000 bonus we provided is a well-earned token and it comes with a sincere ‘Thank You.’

Please be assured that I will remain very conservative with taxpayer’s money. These bonuses are a small investment in showing our appreciation to city staff who have helped ensure a smooth start to our new city. Will we do this every year? Probably not. Was it appropriate this year? In my opinion, the answer to that question is ‘Yes.’
I welcome your thoughts on both of these issues.
Robert Wittenstein

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Kind of Grade Do You Give DeKalb's CEO?

Below is an article about DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis' first year in office that appeared in Tuesday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Not surprisingly, Ellis gives himself high marks for year one. While I'm not ready to grade the CEO, he's certainly a big upgrade from Vernon Jones. I give Ellis a major thumbs-up for firing ineffective Police Chief Terrell Bolton and for cutting county government. From what I know, I feel he's tried to be fair in dealing with the new city of Dunwoody. However, I think his proposal for an 11 percent property tax increase is above and beyond. What do you think?

By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

One year into his first term, DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis can point to a lengthy “to do” list with a lot of check marks.Last year, as he prepared to take office, a panel of civic and business leaders on his transition team gave him a 91-page book of goals. Ellis was supposed to coordinate public safety in the hands of one person. Check.
He was to name permanent heads of key agencies that had been run by temporary leaders. Check.
He needed to dig into the problems at the county Recorders Court, which allegedly lost millions of dollars in uncollected fines. Check again.
Ellis served eight years on the county commission before running for the county’s top elected post in 2008. He won, succeeding two-term CEO Vernon Jones.
Ellis took office soon after voters approved a referendum divorcing the CEO from the commission. Jones and prior CEOs set the commission’s agenda and presided over meetings. Ellis is the first to operate purely as an elected executive. He moved out of the county headquarters into a nearby building a couple blocks away, as if to emphasize the separation.
After a headline-grabbing row with then Police Chief Terrell Bolton, whom Ellis fired for insubordination, among other causes, Ellis started working on his transition checklist, reorganizing the government and preparing for an ever-shrinking budget. Unlike Jones, who presided over a budget that grew year after year, Ellis has had to cut tens of millions of dollars. Earlier this month, he also proposed a property tax increase of 11 percent.
People still seem to like him. “I didn’t vote for him, but I will more than make up for it,” said Brenda Pace, president of the East Lake Terrace Neighborhood Association in south DeKalb. She was impressed by a recent neighborhood “summit” where officials explained how to access government services and how to establish nonprofits that can push for change. The event drew upwards of 500 neighborhood leaders, and Pace is now volunteering at the county as a liaison to residents.
“I will volunteer with his government. As long as they’re doing the right thing for this county, I’ll give it my all,” Pace said
On the county’s north side, Beth Nathan, president of the North Briarcliff Civic Association, said county staff under Ellis had become “more communicative.” Projects that had been promised for years, such as development of the Mary Scott Nature Preserve, finally made headway, she said. “So far, CEO Ellis’ administration is earning an above average grade,” she said.
Not all praise
There are critics, though. Ann Brown praised Ellis in October when he announced a down payment assistance program to help county police buy homes in DeKalb. But, said an impatient Brown, no officers have bought any of the numerous vacant houses in her neighborhood south of Decatur.
The county recently announced that serious crime had decreased, but Brown, who is president of the Belvedere Civic Club, said she hasn’t seen it. “I feel less safe,” she said.
Ellis took the reins during what was arguably one of the most difficult moments in county history: the national economy was on the brink of collapse, and county tax revenue was plunging. He cut $29 million from the budget in 2009, and proposed a similar cutback next year with the elimination of 760 jobs. It’s difficult to institute new programs that inspire praise under such circumstances.
Ellis touted his accomplishments in a recent interview. He said he eked efficiencies out of county government, thinning a “top heavy” administration in the police department and consolidating police, fire and other public safety agencies under one director. That realignment paid off in tighter coordination, he said, when an historic storm flooded the county. Rescuers scrambled with boats, and no one died though many homes were underwater, he noted. The county quickly opened a disaster recover center with the federal government.
“We worked around the clock. We broke down the silos in county government.” Ellis said. “I think we did a bang-up job.”
Still, a majority of the seven county commissioners complained in November that the government structure wasn’t working and said they’d like to consider a referendum abolishing the CEO’s office and putting them in charge.
They complained that they weren’t getting the information, or services, they requested from the county administration. But earlier this month, one of the leaders of that effort, Commissioner Connie Stokes, reversed herself on the referendum idea, saying that the timing was poor given the problems with the budget. The resolution for a referendum failed after she voted against it this month.
Stokes said that Ellis had done a “phenomenal” job in his first year. “We started off kind of bumpy,” she said of her relationship with him. “I think we ended up on a great note.”
Ellis dismissed commissioner complaints about not getting information, saying that he talked regularly with each commissioner. One can always find critics, he said.
“I think if you went out and talked to general citizens,” Ellis said, “I think we have a strong record of accomplishment.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution drove around DeKalb and polled a half dozen men and women on the street. Two people, including Shari Bumpers of Stone Mountain, had wild praise for Ellis. “I expected him to get rid of a lot of people, and he did,” said Bumpers, 51, who was walking out of the Northlake Mall. She was particularly pleased that Ellis fired Bolton, who irked her because he maintained a home in Texas while working here. “Right there, he got a gold star from me,” she said of the CEO.
None criticized Ellis directly. Then again, most didn’t know who he was, including Dorshel Pitts and Adam Barnett. Pitts, a 26-year-old from Lithonia, complained about potholes that “destroy your car” and long lines at the Recorders Court. But Barnett, 47, praised county government, saying he moved to north DeKalb from neighboring Fulton County for lower property taxes and for services, such as yard trash collection, that he said are more reliable. Fulton, he said, was “miserable” by comparison.
And then there was Reva Molden of Clarkston. Perhaps more than anyone, Molden, 22, illustrates what local government is all about. She was catching a bus from the Gallery at South DeKalb and relies on MARTA to take her and her 4-year-old son to day care. They walk along a dirt path from a bus stop on busy North Decatur Road near East Ponce de Leon Avenue. The path is so narrow that they must travel single file, with her son in front and the speeding cars coming so close that she can feel their wind. When it rains, a muddy puddle blocks their path.
Molden knew who Ellis was and said she was “probably in between with him.” He could sway her into his favor by fulfilling a simple request, she said: build a sidewalk for her and her son.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Elf Yourself for the Holidays

Have your Elfed yourself - and your family - for the Holidays? The Fiscella Family has (click on the photo to watch). Watch our video and then Elf yourself. Guaranteed to make you laugh.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another Laugh at Tiger's Expense

As many of you know, prior to getting into real estate I was a full time sportscaster for both CNN and Fox Sports Net. During that time, I was fortunate enough to host a weekly golf program and cover, first hand, almost two dozen major championships (The Masters, US Open and PGA Championship). While I never got to know Tiger Woods very well, I did speak with him, either one-on-one or in a press conference-type setting, on 40 or 50 occasions. Needless to stay, I was stunned by the recent revalations and am truly saddened that Tiger has become a punchline for seemingly everyone. However, it's his own fault, and even I can't help but laugh when a video like this (click on the picture below) comes across my desk!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dunwoody Elementary Celebrates the Holidays

Dunwoody Elementary School is celebrating the holidays in style. Monday night, Dunwoody Elementary combined with Kingsley Elementary to host an Orchestra Holiday Concert that featured Beethoven's Ode To Joy, with the Dunwoody singers performing last week. Springfield was well represented.

Update from Councilman Shortal

The update below is from Dunwoody City Councilman Denis Shortal.

Fellow Citizens .. the follow are some items of interest:
1. Dunwoody Village Parkway (DVP) flood .... For those of you who tried to drive on DVP after approx. 10 AM during the heavy rains of 10 NOV found all four lanes closed due to flood waters. Our Public Works folks responded rapidly but to little avail. We tried manually cleaning the storm sewer drains and even brought a vacuum truck to try and suck out the blockage but neither effort helped. The next day when the water level went down making it safe for our crews to climb down into the storm sewer we found the culprit to be a large piece of lumber that was stuck in the storm sewer and was acting as a catch basin for leaves. That has all been removed and we should not have a recurrence of that problem. Please be vigilant not to allow any trash be thrown in the storm sewer system.
2. Ashford Dunwoody and Mt. Vernon intersection .... The intersection enhancement has now been mostly completed. As you know this was a PCID managed and funded project with the contract being let before we became a city. Overall I think the result are very good but we are still working of softening the appearance of the large silver pole in the middle of the intersection. The PCID folks have had their landscaper out to the sight and they will be planting some medium height "skinny" trees/bushes around the base of the pole. We are also working on getting the pole painted but that issue is still being worked.
3. Chamblee Dunwoody and Spaulding intersection .... There have been some accidents at this intersection. The problem arises when drivers coming southbound on Spaulding and while attempting a left turn onto Chamblee Dunwwody fail to yield to oncoming northbound Spaulding traffic. The line of sight for the southbound Spalding traffic is very adequate but I guess folks just get in a hurry and/or use poor judgement. I spent about 45 minutes at this intersection with one of the neighbors and we determine that one of the problems was the stoplight timing .... we are currently running a model to determine how best to retime the lights. The thrust is to lengthen the time for the green light for the north and southbound Spalding traffic. We are also measuring the intersection to determine if there is enough room, with the current road dimensions, to install a left turn lane for the southbound Spalding traffic. 4. Speaking of accidents .... Some you have spoken to me about the number of accidents at various locations. I spoke to Chief Grogan and he gave me some rather eye opening statistics. During the period of 1 APR 2009 thru 31 OCT 2009 our police have responded to 1,167 accidents in Dunwoody which computes to 167 accidents / month or approx. 6 accidents / day. My point is there are a lot more accidents in our city than I would have thought. Lets all drive courteously and safely out there and try to reduce this accident rate.
5. Cutting down trees .... Remember you have to have a permit to cut down trees on your property. This is to protect the tree canopy of the city as a whole. You can get the permit from our Community Developing Dept. and there is no cost involved. There is a minimum number trees - assuming you have trees - that must be kept on your property in relationship to the size of your lot and this number is noted in our city ordinance.
6. Convention Visitors Bureau of Dunwoody (CVBD) .... In a recent "Talk Back to the Crier" section of the Crier a writer, in addition to other items, wanted to know basically why the city was giving over $750,000 to the CVBD. I have explained this once before but to clarify, this amount is 2 of the 5% tax that hoteliers pay the city.
This portion of the hotel tax is requires by law to be reinvested in the city to promote tourism, businesses and our city as a whole. Your City Council does not have an option on this portion of the 5% hotel tax. The other 3 of the 5% hotel tax goes into the general revenue account of the city. FYI, there are nine very talented men and women on the CVBD committee. I encourage each of you to always look to do business in Dunwoody first.
7. Budget .... We will close out our 2009 Fiscal Year budget in the "black." HOORAH! We are projecting a small surplus for 2010. If you have been reading the AJC articles this passed week concerning property tax assessments you would note there is reason to be concerned about 2010 property tax revenues. I am one that is a lot more confident in a budget towards the end of the budget period than I am in the early stages of the budget period. I believe it is very
prudent to build an adequate size reserve / "rainy day" fund for
unforeseen circumstances. We know that there will be those "rainy days" and we must be prepared. To that end, I ask each citizen to be vigilant of your City Council's fiscal stewardship.
8. Meetings .... I ask each of you to keep abreast of the agenda/ issues that are before our various city boards, committees and councils and to attend the meetings. I have seen a very small number of folks influence the decision at some of these meetings when there is no one present with an opposing view. I strongly feel that the decisions made in these meeting should be in the best interest of all our citizens and that their opinions must be taken into account. There is no better way to have your opinion heard than being at the meeting and voicing your opinion .... that is the bases of our democracy. The key to staying abreast of all the issues is our city website ... In addition to a lot of very helpful information, on the left side of the website's "home page" is a column titled "Quicklinks." The first item under "Quicklinks" is "Agenda and Minutes" which list the upcoming meeting's agenda and the minutes for previous meetings. The agendas for most meetings are listed approx.
six days prior to the meetings and the City Council's agenda is listed the Thursday prior to the Monday meeting. The last item under "Quicklinks" is titled "Calendar of Events" and this page list the meeting dates for the various boards, committees and councils for that month. Just click on the event of interest and you will see the start time and location of the meeting. As a general guideline, the City Council meets the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Monday of each month, the Zoning Board of Appeal meets the 1st Thursday of each month, the Planning Commission meets the 2nd Tuesday of each month and the Community Council meets the 2nd Thursday of each month ... all meeting usually start at 7 PM. Please see the "Calendar of Events" for the listing of all other meetings. Now you have the information that will assist you in staying informed. The next city meeting is the City Council meeting tomorrow night - 14 DEC - at 7 PM at the city hall and there are some important issue that will be discussed.
9. That is it for tonight. Please pass this on to your friends and neighbors and if anyone wants to be added to my email list just say the word and I will make it happen. As we approach the end of our first fiscal year as a city, my sincere thanks for your continued involvement, interest and support of our City. You are simply the best citizens around and you are the reason that Dunwoody is a class place to live and do business! Meredy and I send our best wishes to each of you for a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or whatever you may celebrate this special season of the year .... and of course a Happy
and Prosperous New Year to all!
Denny Shortal, Dunwoody City Council,
District One, Post - 1 / Mayor Pro Tem

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Should City Manager, City Clerk Get Bonuses

Among the items on the Dunwoody City Council agenda Monday evening is: bonuses for city manager Warren Hutmacher and city clerk Sharon Lowery totalling $7,000. Both have proven to be more than capable, but the question is: should they be getting bonuses?
Fellow blogger Rick Callihan has written a well-thought editorial about this on his blogsite - I highly recommend reading it. I agree whole-heartedly with Rick.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Vanderlyn 2nd Graders Perform Nutcracker

To a standing room only gathering in the cafeteria Thursday evening, the Vanderlyn Elementary 2nd graders staged their rendition of The Nutcracker. The show was a smashing success, bringing down the house!
Among the Springfield children starring in this off-Broadway production: Meredith Tjepkema, Jack Hogan, Isabelle Wagner, Harrison Fuss and Lilly Caplan.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

City Celebrates 1st Anniversary

The City of Dunwoody celebrated its first anniversary on Tuesday, and for the most part, "so far so good!"
Mayor Ken Wright and the city council should be applauded for all the long hours of work in making the first year a success. The city got off the ground with very few hitches. The mayor hired an extremely capable city manager in Warren Hutmacher, who in turn hired a more than capable, community-minded police chief in Billy Grogan. While Hutmacher has managed to put Dunwoody in the black after one year, thanks to smart use of outsourcing, Grogan has made the police department a visible staple of the community, something it wasn't under DeKalb County's reign.
Not to be overlooked, the city's court system, which has contributed to Dunwoody's projected first-year surplus of $2 million. And our elected officials appear headed in the right direction concerning zoning and code enforcement (please don't bring up the chickens).

But like all cities, even one-year old Dunwoody has issues and in my humble opinion our elected officials haven't made all the right decisions. The council clearly dropped the ball in acquiring control of our parks from DeKalb County. Early on, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis offered us a long-term lease at a minimal rate, with full control, as well as the $6 million in unspent bond money. For whatever reason we turned it down. Now we're negotiating to buy the parks for as much as $4 million. And who knows if the $6 million is even part of the negotiations. Dunwoody has an overall budget of $16 million, so there is no way we can afford to pay DeKalb a quarter of that.
Speaking of budget, our police department eats up close to $6 million, which is almost 40 percent (and more than double what the Citizens for Dunwoody estimated). That's way too much, and this is not a knock on Police Chief Grogan. I'd ask for the moon too if I were police chief. The problem is the council is giving him the moon! Instead of those dollars going to police services, we need to allocate more money to improvements in infrastructure. Here's hoping our roads don't get neglected for too long, and our much overdue road improvements happen sooner than later.
The other issue that I have a bone to pick is with business license fees. Because the city whiffed on hiring the right company to collect these fees, tax dollars are lagging behind and at the last council meeting in November city staff recommended that some Dunwoody companies have their fees raised by over 200 percent. 200 percent! Can you image your property taxes being raised 200 percent! The council did the prudent thing and voted against the recommendation.
It may sound like I'm complaining, but as a citizen I have the right, if not the obligation, to ask questions of our elected officials. It's all about checks and balances.
Again, I applaud the mayor and council, and thank them for a job well done, especially John Heneghan who has made our city government the most transparent in the state. But that doesn't mean our elected officials get a free pass. Or free health insurance - but that's a matter for another day.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Update from Councilman Wittenstein

The following update is from City of Dunwoody Councilman Robert Wittenstein. Kudos to Robert - as well as Denis Shortal and John Heneghan - for keeping his constituents informed.

Dear Dunwoody Friends and Neighbors,
This is Thanksgiving weekend and I’d like to start by saying how thankful I am that Dunwoody residents have entrusted me with the responsibility to help lead our new city. I am humbled by the task and feel the responsibility deeply. I am often asked whether I’m enjoying my role as an elected official or whether it is what I expected. My answer is that it is time consuming but very rewarding. Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to serve.
I am tremendously thankful for our city staff. They do the hardest job every day. Warren Hutmacher has done a phenomenal job as City Manager. He was a wonderful choice and has done a great job. We have a city that operates quickly and efficiently and provides excellent customer service. We have vendor/partners who are performing well and being held to a high standard of performance.
Tuesday, December 1st marks our one-year anniversary of cityhood and it is appropriate, I think, to take a look back and a look forward.
In our first year, our challenge was to set up the city and establish a world-class police department. Chief Grogan has done an excellent job building a department that is responsive, professional and dedicated. Public safety will always be our number one priority and our largest annual expenditure.
In our first year, we have also answered the question posed repeatedly during the debate over incorporation: “Can we operate the city at a higher level of service than we were getting from DeKalb without a tax increase?” The answer is a resounding yes. We will end the year with a comfortable budget surplus despite the start-up costs we had to incur.
In 2010 we need to focus on planning. Next year, we will complete our 20-year city-wide Comprehensive Land Use Plan, a Transportation Plan and detailed re-development plans for Dunwoody Village and the Georgetown/Shallowford area. These plans will help guide our long range future. We have two more public meetings planned for January to seek resident input and I encourage you to participate. I’ll publish the dates and times next month.
We also need to begin working on repaving. We are just completing a survey (done by a laser truck that has driven over every street in Dunwoody) of the condition of all our roads and next year we will begin repaving the ones in the worst condition. Road paving is done partly with city funds and partly with gasoline tax revenue collected by the state and distributed to local governments according to a complicated formula. We have submitted our paperwork to be included in the 2010 allocations but we do not yet know how much of the state funds we will have available. Getting this state money will drive the timetable for when we can begin repaving work.
Our other major challenge for 2010 will be to secure city control over the parks in Dunwoody so we can begin to rehabilitate them. The Dunwoody Nature Center, Dunwoody Park ballfields, Brook Run, the Donaldson-Chesnut House and the DeKalb Cultural Arts Center all need much better ongoing maintenance and long-term investment through a capital spending program.
Happy Holidays to everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Listing in Springfield, City Council Meeting

There is a new listing on the market in Springfield - the home at 1657 Courtleigh (pictured). Click on the Buyer Brief Page for more information.
Tonight's Dunwoody City Council meeting could be very interesting. Among the items on the agenda: PUBLIC HEARING - Business Occupation Taxes Schedule of Fees. The council is being asked to vote on raising the taxes on certain businesses up to 400 percent! What do these businesses think about this? Not sure any of them know about it. I spoke with Councilman John Heneghan this afternoon, and as always John is doing his due diligence and is very concerned. Hopefully the rest of the council is doing its due diligence.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Burgers & Light Up Dunwoody

There's little doubt that the heart of Dunwoody could use a great burger joint that is family oriented and community friendly. If two of the city's residents turn their ambitious plan into reality - problem solved!
Ricardo Gonzalo and Matthew Gebhart have taken their idea of Village Burger to family and friends, and now have the financial backing to give it a go. It's just of matter of the numbers and location working out. Right now, the two entrepreneurs have targeted the vacant portion of the Calico Corners building on Dunwoody Village Parkway as the restaurant's site. A lease still has to be worked out, as well as a variance from the city to add an outdoor deck and a new curb-cut to allow right-hand turns into the parking lot.
Gonzalo and Gebhart's concept is a "fast casual" dining experience: walk to the counter to order; food is delivered to the table. The tentative menu has burger prices ranging from $4.49 to $6.49. Village burger will serve draft and bottle beer as well as wine by the glass or bottle. If all goes well, the new restaurant will be up-and-running by spring. Good luck guys!

A reminder that Light Up Dunwoody is Sunday in and around the Shops of Dunwoody. The schedule is below. Hope to see you there!

4:00pm Holiday Kick-Off Parade
4:30 DHS Marching Band
4:45 Dunwoody Elementary Chorus
5:00 PCMS Marching Band
5:15 Chesnut Chorus
5:25 Vanderlyn Dancers
5:35 PCMS Majorettes
5:45 Austin Chorus
5:55 Kingsley Chorus
6:05 Pure Elegance Dancers
6:15 Vanderlyn Chorus
6:30 Lighting of the Farmhouse

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Springfield Real Estate Activity

There are currently no homes on the market in Springfield, unless you include the home for sale on Womack Rd. (pictured, click on the Buyer Brief Page for more information).
In 2009 a total of 4 homes were sold in our subdivision, ranging in price from $975,000 to $247,000 (click on the Buyer Brief Page for more information).
In the City of Dunwoody in the 30338 zip code there are currently 158 active listings, ranging in price from $1.29 million to $200,000 (click on the Buyer Brief Page for more information). In the greater Atlanta area, the real estate market is showing an uptick from the last quarter, but pricing is still down approximately 14 percent from last year (AJC article today).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

This past Tuesday night I attended the community meeting for the Comprehensive Plan concerning the Dunwoody Village Overlay District (which includes Dunwoody Village, the Shops of Dunwoody as well as the entire business district). The meeting was attended by 60-80 residents including Mayor Ken Wright, ever present councilman John Heneghan, along with his colleagues Danny Ross and Denny Shortal. It was an open forum, an exchange of ideas, on how we envision the area in 20 years (while the forum was open for all to speak, a couple of councilman and one mayor-wannabe acted as if they were being paid by the word, but that's neither here nor there). Do we want the Village to remain the same? Should we allow 3-5 story buildings which could increase greenspace? Do we want bike lanes?
While all of those questions received a variety of answers, one thing that was seemingly unanimously agree upon: citizens of Dunwoody don't want the roads widened to four lanes. The fear is that four lanes will only increase cut-through traffic. With all due respect to my fellow citizens, I'm not certain that widening roads and lowering speed limits in the Village - and only the Village - will increase traffic. But that's a topic for another day.
Bottom line, over the next several months, the citizens of Dunwoody have the opportunity to determine our own fate. There is a Powerpoint presentation of the meeting's agenda on the city of Dunwoody website. More meetings are upcoming.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Is the City Spending Our Tax Dollars Correctly?

Is the city of Dunwoody spending our tax dollars as we would have them spend it? Is increasing the police department more important that improving our crumbling roads and infrastructure? It depends on your point of view. But if you want to read a terrific thread on the matter, click on The Crier link here and start reading from the bottom up. From the outside looking in, I cringe when I see additional officers being added to the department after just one year of city hood. History tells us, once government expands it never seems to contract. The genie is out of the bottle.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Springfield Halloween Celebration: New Date & Time

If you haven't seen the signs at the various entrances to the subdivision, there is a date and time change for the Springfield Halloween Bash. It is 3:30pm on Saturday. All the information is below.

When: Saturday, October 31
3:30 - ???

Where: Springfield Court cul-de-sac (off Springfield Drive)

What Should I Bring:
A - K Entree (for 12)
L - Q Dessert (for 12)
R - Z Side Dish / Salad (for 12)

Everyone Please Bring: Your own drinks, lawn chairs

Pumpkin Carving Contest
(Bring an already carved pumpkin if you want to participate)

Face Painting

Fun Crafts & Games

Cake Walk

Meet New Neighbors and See Old Friends
(Please bring a small donation to help cover costs)

If you have any questions, contact Betsy Wagner -

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dunwoody Fall Festival

The first annunal Dunwoody Fall Festival, sponsored by the chamber of commerce, is ths Saturday at the Village. The schedule is listed below (click on the schedule to enlarge). It should be a great time. By the way, the chamber is searching for volunteers to staff the beer tent. If interested, call Phil Minnes at 678-259-9220. Oh by the way, your beer will be FREE!!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Random Thoughts

I was unable to attend the city council work session last night, but thanks to tech-savvy councilman John Heneghan, the entire meeting is available online; not only the audio but video as well (click here to view, you can also find it on John's blogsite at! I can not say the session was compelling viewing (it lasted over 3 hours and I certainly didn't listen to it in its entirety), but it did have its moments.
I keep reading in The Crier about the council's on-going efforts to transfer the parks from DeKalb County to the city of Dunwoody. The latest has the city paying DeKalb $4 million to obtain the parks. My response to that is, "are you kidding me!" At one time the county offered the city a long-term lease on the parks for a nominal amount. I strongly believe city officials ought to revisit this. The city has a lot more pressing issues than "owning" parks; and use of that money would go a long way towards repaving roads and reworking intersections. Heck, I think the lease even would allowed us, to a large degree, to control the parks (of course we'd have to pay for maintenance). Com'on council - tuck your egos and pet projects in your pocket and do the right thing!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Alleviating Traffic in Dunwoody

It's amazing to me how many articles I read in The Crier from Dunwoody residents who think if we add turn lanes to congested intersections - such as the one at Mt. Vernon and Vermack - or basically make any attempt to alleviate drive-time traffic jams within the city boundaries (specifically on Tilly Mill near Georgia Perimeter College), that all it will accomplish is increase cut-thru traffic and make the situation worse. They are adamant that fixing the former will only worsen the latter. Hogwash!
Some 250 years ago no one thought electricity could be harnessed. Some 100 years ago the naysayers put the kibosh on aircraft actually flying. Well if ingenious Americans can figure out how to climb those mountains, certainly we find a solution to our thought-to-be unsolvable traffic dilemmas.
Unfortunately I am not a Thomas Edison or Orville Wright when it comes to traffic, but those individuals exist, perhaps even right here in Dunwoody. Please don't tell me it can't be done, because it can. To quote Franklin Roosevelt, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Click on photo to listen to Roosvelt's speech.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Light Up Dunwoody is Set

Presented by
The Dunwoody Crier
The Dunwoody Homeowners Association &
The Dunwoody Preservation Trust

Sunday, November 22, 2009
Save the date for Dunwoody’s annual welcome to the Holiday Season
All events to occur around the Shops of Dunwoody in the heart of our city
Holiday Kick-Off Parade begins at 4:00 PM
Tree Lighting at sundown.
Don’t miss the chance to create added visibility and recognition for your products and services to thousands of Dunwoody homeowners and residents
· Contact Sharon Collins today at for sponsorship opportunities at the Elite, Premier or Partner Level

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The New Dunwoody High School

The DeKalb County School System on Tuesday night unveiled it's architectural drawings for the $15.5 million renovation to the 36-year old school, to be completed by August 2012. At a meeting at the high school, the architecture fire of Perkins & Will said the renovation includes a new 500-seat auditorium and 24,000 additional square feet of instructional space. An addition floor will be added to the entire portion of the building that faces Vermack Rd. giving the school some much needed presence. The renovations will create an outdoor amphitheatre and plaza. The next step for DCSS is hiring a general contractor. (Click on rendering to enlarge)
While the drawings look great, it's too bad the DCSS didn't incorporate more of a Dunwoody Williamsburg feel into the design (ditto for Dunwoody Elementary)!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Learn About the Expansion at Dunwoody High; Update from Councilman Wittenstein

The Dunwoody High School Council design committee and DeKalb County School System will hold a neighborhood meeting Tuesday evening, 6:00 pm, October 6, 2009 in the school cafeteria for the purpose of briefing the neighbors on the plans for the addition to Dunwoody High School. The addition will bring a renovation of internal systems plus add additional classrooms and a new auditorium. The building will also have a new exterior treatment. Everyone is invited to attend. I hope to see you there.
Below is an update from Dunwoody City Councilman Robert Wittenstein.
Dear Dunwoody Friends and Neighbors,
October is budget month for the City of Dunwoody. On October 19th at 7pm at City Hall we will have a public hearing on the 2010 budget proposal. We will approve the budget a week later on October 26th. Budgets can be boring for some people but they are the most important way for us to set our priorities for the coming year.
We expect our revenue for 2010 to be about half a million dollars lower than 2009. This is primarily a timing issue. In December of 2009, we will collect over $2 million in franchise fees from Georgia Power. Our 2010 GA Power franchise fees won’t arrive at the city until early 2011 so we can’t include them in next year’s budget. To partially replace the GA Power franchise fees in 2010, we will be able to collect about $1.6 million in insurance premium taxes we earned in 2009 but that doesn’t get paid to us by the State until next year. The good news is that in 2011, we will be able to collect both sources of revenue and our income will jump.

Our 2010 budget proposal assumes the same property tax rate. I’m a little disappointed in that; I had hoped to make a small (5%) property tax rollback into the 2010 budget but the one-year gap in the GA Power franchise fees made that impractical. I promise to push harder for that millage rate tax rollback in 2011.

On the expense side, police service continues to be our largest expense, accounting for approximately one third of our budget. The current draft budget includes one additional detective and one additional officer who will join an area-wide narcotics task force. Not currently in the budget, but a source of a great deal of discussion, is Chief Grogan’s request for two additional patrol officers. Adding those two patrol officers would bring our sworn officer count to 44 and cost approximately $240,000. Several council members (Including me) have suggested we wait until our income increases in 2011 before adding additional patrol officers, but the council is anxious to support our police department so it isn’t clear which way this will get resolved.

A related item is a budget appropriation to conduct a feasibility study on switching from DeKalb’s 911 service to either our own Dunwoody 911 center or joining one or more of our near-by cities in a joint 911 center. I believe we can improve response time performance without increasing costs by joining Sandy Springs/Johns Creek or Chamblee or Doraville. I look forward to getting this study completed.

The budget proposal also includes a substantial amount of money for zoning and land use planning. We are setting aside $100,000 to start a multi-year process to completely rework our zoning code. When we incorporated in December of last year, we adopted DeKalb’s zoning code as a placeholder. In 2010 we will begin a massive rewrite to reflect what Dunwoody residents want and to begin to implement our newly minted 20-year Comprehensive Plan which will be adopted next Spring. We have also set aside $500,000 to complete master plans of Dunwoody Village and the Georgetown/Shallowford areas. These areas are ripe for redevelopment and the master plans will provide details to potential developers showing them exactly what the city would like to see (and will approve) for these commercial centers.

Our budget calls for over $1 million dollars to be spent on repaving our worst streets. Over the last several weeks a laser truck has driven over every mile of asphalt in Dunwoody and grading it. Late this year we will build a resurfacing plan and publish it. We will also commission a citywide transportation plan and fund engineering studies for two of our worst intersections: Mt. Vernon and Vermack and Tilly Mill and North Peachtree.

Finally, we have set aside funds to purchase and manage our parks if we can reach an agreement with DeKalb regarding the park turnover. At the moment I’m not optimistic that our ongoing discussions will yield an agreement quickly, but if they do, we will have money in the budget to operate the parks. If we don’t reach an agreement, that money can be reallocated elsewhere.

If you would like to view the budget, you can download it at this link (caution, it takes a while):
If you would like to learn more, or to comment, please come to our public hearing on October 19th, 7pm at City Hall.



Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Road To Recovery, Update on Housing Market

We - Americans as a whole - may not feel like we're on the road to financial recovery, but just consider where we were exactly one year ago today: September 29, 2008. On that September day, the Dow Jones Industrial dropped 777 points, the largest one-day drop in the history of the New York Stock Exchange (even larger than Sept. 11, 2001). The main reason for the drop was Congress rejecting then-president Bush's $700 million bank bailout. While the Dow continued to fall into the early months of 2009, it has made a major recovery and the economic outlook is much brighter. After reaching a low of 6,420 in March the Dow has climbed to 9,742.

While the stock markets all show signs of recovery, so too does the housing market. While prices have not yet started to climb, all the signs are there. And interest rates remain at all time lows (4.75% on a 30-year fixed rate).
Currently there are 175 active listings in Dunwoody in zip code 30338. (Click on the Buyer Brief Page to view all listings). I have a fabulous new listings in Kingsley - a 5-bedroom, 4.5 bath for $575,000 (pictured, click on the Buyer Brief Page link for more details). If you know of a buyer, or someone needing to sell their home, please send them my way!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Register For DeKalb's Emergency Notification

Do you ever wonder how you would find out pertinent details if there were truly an emergency situation in our area? One that could affect us?
DeKalb County now has a local emergency response team in the event of emergencies or critical community alerts. Examples include: evacuation notices, bio-terrorism alerts, boil water notices, and missing child reports.
To register click here on the Code Red link or on the photo top left. It will only take a few seconds!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dunwoody High Homecoming Parade

Hundreds of folks lined Vermack Rd. on Thursday afternoon for the Dunwoody High School Homecoming Parade. The hilite was watching the kids scramble as the students threw thousands of pieces of candy. The Homecoming football game is Friday night at North DeKalb Stadium, with the 1-2 Wildcats playing host to Cedar Grove.

The following is a letter from Dunwoody Councilman Denis Shortal.

Fellow Citizens of Dunwoody ... A quick update reminder on three issues. A more complete update will follow in the next couple of days:

1. Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) Meeting. The last general CLUP meeting will take place tonight (24 SEP) night at the Dunwoody United Methodist Church (DUMC) @ 7 PM. Everyone is invited and strongly encouraged to attend to have your input heard on what you want our City to look like through 2030. This is the best example of democracy in action so please attend and have your voice heard. Very honestly, at the previous four meetings the attendance has been well below expectation. This is the number one reason why we became a city so lets fill DUMC tomorrow night.

2. Sanitation Meeting. The third and final Public Hearing on sanitation will be next Tuesday (29 SEP) at 7 PM at your City Hall. This is a very hot topic but less than 20 citizens attended the first meeting. Please make plans to attend.

3. City Council Meeting. The next City Council Meeting will be next Monday (28 SEP) at your City Hall @ 7PM.Thanks for you continued support and involvement in our City. Please forward this info to your friends and neighbors .....

Denny Shortal, City Councilman District One - Post 1, Mayor Pro Tem

Monday, September 21, 2009

Car Stolen in Springfield

We'd all like to think we can safely park our car in the driveway overnight. Sadly, that is not the case. A Springfield resident reported their car stolen between the hours of 5pm and 8am Sunday night/Monday morning. It is a 1999 green Toyota Rav4 (similar to the one pictured) with GA. tag-WL5671. While the new Dunwoody Police Department seems to be ever present at times, unfortunately they can only do so much.
Here's hoping the rain ends sometime soon (unfortunately, not soon enough for my water-soaked basement. Lesson learned - always keep those downspouts clean)!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sticking with DeKalb Sanitation?

I apologize I was unable to attend the city of Dunwoody public forum at city hall last night concerning the future of our sanitation services. I wimped out! Between the weather, the Georgia Tech game on TV (what an embarrassing evening for the Jackets), and helping my wife (how can I say no), I never made it. Fortunately, fellow blogger Rick Callihan was there and has a great recap on his site Dunwoody Talk.
According to Rick, it appears highly doubtful that we will be leaving DeKalb services anytime soon. Two representatives from the county were there and basically said that if Dunwoody wants to stay with DeKalb it can! And, at the same rate the rest of the county's incorporated areas are being charged. Again, Rick has a much more thorough account of what transpired, right down to the fact that council members were relegated to the cheap seats (the same seats that the rest of us sit on at city council meetings), albeit with custom cushions for their bottoms (Rick, is this really true?)!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lost Dog; Potty Run

One of our Springfield neighbors has found a dog.  Please read below - if you know the owners contact me at 404-644.5220, and I'll pass it along.
Hello neighbors:
I hoping that someone can help me! We found a female brown/white Husky running loose in traffic around Womack Road. We brought her home, and we are trying to find her owners. She is not micro-chipped. She seems to be well-taken care of, and I’m sure that someone will be distraught when they discover that she is missing. I’ve called 5 neighborhood vets and Animal Control and the Humane Societies to leave her description and my contact info if someone calls them to try to locate her.
I’m hoping that her owner will receive this email – or someone will recognize her description as a dog belonging to a neighbor. I do not recall ever having seen her in our neighborhood.
Just let me know if you can help –
Ever go to a movie and have to take a potty run, but instead hold it in because you don't want to miss anything?  Well, thanks to the website, that's now a thing of the past. not only lets you know the best time to take a restroom run during the film, but tells you how much time you have to get back to your seat and what you missed!  It gives you the dialogue - word for word.  No more crossing your legs in agony!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Trash Service, Dunwoody Elementary Update

If you want to keep DeKalb County as our sanitation service provider, now is the time to speak up.  The city of Dunwoody is holding a series of three public forums to discuss trash pick up, the first meeting is tomorrow night at city hall.  I plan on attending, but probably can't stay for the entire meeting as the Georgia Tech-Miami game is on TV and could be a classic!  For more information click here for the Sanitation Services web page or contact Jeff Timler at or 678.382.6809 or Kimberly Greer at or 678.382.6805.
I attended the coffee with Dunwoody Elementary principal Johnathan Clark last night at the school.  It was an informal gathering in which Mr. Clark gave an undate on the first month.  Among the topics Mr. Clark discussed, the ELT (extended learning time) program, the lack of a scheduled recess and traffic.  He said if you drop off your child in the morning and are tired of the traffic in the parking lot, come a few minutes early.  He said if you arrive by 7:15, there is hardly a car to be found.  He also reminded parents to sign-up for the school's email calendar.