Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Animal House and the Dunwoody City Council

Wondering what the movie clip above (click on the photo to watch) has to do with the Dunwoody City Council?  Keep reading.
Monday night I received a city of Dunwoody update from Councilman Robert Wittenstein (below) - he and Councilman Denis Shortal email updates on a regular basis. 
Normally I try to get the updates turned around and posted ASAP.   However, this time I had to think twice before posting Wittenstein's update.  The reason being - and as you will read - Robert talks about creating "transparent government."  He talks about becoming, possibly, the first city in Georgia to put its checkbook register online. 

While I think that's great, the lack of transparency the city council showed in the proposed $19 million, 42-acre purchase off Peachtree Industrial is a slap in the face of every resident of Dunwoody.  City council should be ashamed (Councilman Shortal was the only one who voted against the purchase). 
In what appears to be an obvious effort to sway next Tuesday's vote on the parks' bonds, and perhaps to ensure there was no public dissent (especially from the families whose lives this decision effects), council waited until the final minute to put the purchase on last Monday night's council meeting agenda (why the rush)?  You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to come to that conclusion. 
This very well could be the largest purchase by the city in our lifetime, yet council takes a vote on it before letting the taxpaying citizens of Dunwoody have their say.  Are you kidding me? 
Whether you are for or against the parks' bonds, this was flat out wrong.  That's the kind of transparency we got from Vernon Jones.  The citizens of Dunwoody deserve better from a council that had, previously, earned very high marks for transparency.
Wondering about the photo above?  Council's last minute, dark-of-the-night October Surprise in putting this item on the agenda, reminded me of the scene in Animal House when Dean Wormer put the Delta House on double-secret probation.  Except the Dean's move had some merit. 
By the way, below is Councilman Wittenstein's update on transparency.

Update from Councilman Wittenstein

I talk a lot about creating "transparent government" and I want to share an important success with you. I have worked over the last year to get the city to put its checkbook register online. As far as I know, we are the first city in Georgia to do this. While doing research on a different topic, I stumbled upon a city in Florida that posted its check register on its web site and I thought this was a great idea.

The check register has always been public information but historically it required an open records request to find out exactly what the city was buying, who it was buying from, and how much it was paying. Now Dunwoody residents can go online and see the details here: Explore Check Register.
This is dry reading and there is nothing earth shattering in the details but I think it is important to all of us to be able to see exactly how our tax dollars are being spent. I appreciate the other council members and the staff supporting me in this initiative. In the future, I hope we can enhance it so that it is searchable and sortable but this is a great start. This is what it means to create transparent government and I challenge other cities and DeKalb County to do the same.
In other news...we heard loud and clear that many Dunwoody residents were "for parks" but wanted to know exactly how funds would be spent before voting for the parks land acquisition referendum on November 8th. To help voters understand the intended use of funds we have now signed a letter of intent with the owner of two old, run-down, apartment complexes next to the Water Works that front Peachtree-Industrial Boulevard. If the parks acquisition bond referendum passes, the city will purchase one apartment complex for a park and the current owner will demolish and redevelop the other apartment complex into owner-occupied housing.


Joe Seconder said...

The Sustainability forum showed the greatest differentiation among the candidates. Between a) those who have participated and understand what the citizens of Dunwoody have voiced as documented in our Land Use Plan, Transportation Plan, Parks Plan and Character Area Plans; and b) those who choose to ignore those voices. Please take some time to watch the videos as posted at the below link.


Robert Wittenstein said...

I’m disappointed. We made this announcement a bit prematurely IN THE NAME OF TRANSPARENCY. We wanted voters to know what they were voting on.

Can you imagine the uproar that would have occurred if we had announced this at our November 14 meeting, a week AFTER the election rather than two weeks BEFORE? Yes, sure, it would have been great to reach an agreement with the owners eight weeks ago, but we simply weren’t there. In fact, all we have done now is enter into a non-binding letter of intent.

Everyone has to decide for themselves whether they think this is a good plan or not. I see arguments on both sides, but what was important was to have this spirited debate we are now having before the election. I think we did the right thing to get it out before the community and it is disappointing that we are being hit with “non-transparency”. Bash the plan all you want…vote against the bond referendum if you disapprove, but to bash us for releasing everything we have to the public before the election is disappointing.

Greg said...


A letter of intent could be written with two contingencies, as well as with one.
The two, preferable contingencies would have been:
1) Passage and approval of the Parks Acquisition Referendum;
2) Majority council vote, after completing a series of Public Hearings for/against the purchase.

Laying out the Letter of Intent on this time frame was, plain and simply, a maneuver to influence the bond vote.

Council should have known and been more sensitive to the issue of public perception and agreeableness to purchasing occupied property, rather than vacant.

That's where the disappointment lies. Obviously, this had been in the works for quite some time. It would have been just as appropriate for Council to defer signing of the Letter of Intent until after the Nov 8 referendum.

I seriously doubt that there were any competitors vying for this property, that created this sense of urgency.

Even if the referenda pass, you still have several weeks of due diligence and final negotiations to enter into before the deal is completed. Starting on Nov. 9 instead of Oct 24 (approximately 16 days) would hardly have been a burden to the deal.

And, that's even before we discuss the valuation and agreed purchase price, which is exorbitant to me.

DunwoodyMan said...

Councilman Wittenstein,
I really don't understand how anyone can use the word TRANSPARENCY when this enormous proposal was not even on the city's published agenda. Why even publish one? No one knew this was going to be discussed and the merits or faults have never been heard from the residents you represent. It doesn't matter that it would have been worse to introduce this later. That's like saying "It would have been worse if Charles Manson shot someone 22 times, rather than 21." What matters is what you and all but one other council member did do: YOU violated part of the mission statement of Dunwoody - to be transparent. Our leaders’ actions are disappointing and very deserving of bashing.

Bob Fiscella said...

I'm sorry you're disappointed - a lot of us are.
I think you're missing the point.
Our City of Dunwoody charter says council can call a special meeting outside the normal semi-monthly meetings. For an action of this magnitude, a special meeting could have been called to consider the Letter of Intent business item and it could have been advertised to the public in advance.

The call for a special meeting to consider the Letter of Intent should have been the added Council agenda item last Monday instead of the letter of intent itself.