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

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