Sunday morning meditation: A word from Mr. B

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt January 26, 2014
Chris Billingsley. Source:

Chris Billingsley. Source:

Chris Billingsley sat behind me the other day.

We were both there early for the Jan. 21 Decatur City Commission meeting. Commissioners would soon face hours of withering criticism from residents over a proposal to encourage tree planting and restrict tree removal. They eventually deferred approval until March.

“Hey there, Mr. B,” I said to him over my shoulder.

“Chris,” he corrected, his eyes focused on the meeting agenda.

Billingsley is a retired Decatur High social studies teacher. He has a voice that sounds like a loud smack. It commands attention and you can feel your spine straighten up a little when he talks to you. For whatever reason, he’s taken an interest in Decaturish. He frequently leaves thoughtful, funny comments. He always uses his real name, which I appreciate.

During the meeting, Billingsley stood in front of city commissioners, the first among many speakers who tore the tree ordinance apart limb by limb.

He scowled at them as though they’d misbehaved in one of his classes.

I think I saw their backs straighten a bit.

“My wife and I basically want to be left alone in the city of Decatur,” Billingsley barked. “I would like for you to not only represent the interest groups but also the people who want to be left alone.”

He’s taken to calling Decaturish “Dish” for short. It’s a name I like so much that I made it the title of my forthcoming editor’s blog that will appear when we re-launch.

He sent me this photo on Jan. 23 and a little story to go along with it.


“On this cold winter afternoon, one which the dogs did not want to go for a walk, while on a stroll in the eastern half of the Decatur cemetery, there in the distance, fluttering in the evening a wind, was an American flag. In a neglected part of the old cemetery, someone took the time to post a flag on a grave site, hoping that anyone passing by would stop and ponder what this American went through while serving in Korea on a night like tonight more than sixty years ago.” – Chris Billingsley 

Like any good teacher, Billingsley always encourages everyone to look at the big picture.

A few days ago, he warned me that if I started meddling with his comments – tampering with them because I disagree with his views – he’d bolt for more welcoming internet pastures.

It’s a thought that never crossed my mind. If anything, I’m more concerned about him correcting me.

I’m just glad he’s on my side.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Chris Billingsley

    Thanks D-ish. Sorry about the gruff response, both to you and the commissioners. Sometimes my true inner self comes out, that of a mean old, burned-out former teacher and right-wing curmudgeon but I’m trying to be nicer and reach out to those who often misunderstand me. For example, in my new job as a property manager, I find myself explaining to tenants, who are often much younger than me and of a different racial group, that unlike government, the owners of the property have limited resources and cannot provide everything the tenant wants. Just last week, after a long conversation with new tenants, both of whom had noticeable tattoos and piercings, I tried to engage them in casual conversation. I asked the young couple their occupations. “I’m a tattoo artist and my partner does piercings.” Sensing an opportunity to find common ground, I said, “You know, I’ve always wanted a tattoo across my chest that says, THUG CHRIS (FYI-no one calls me Mr. B anymore)”. They suddenly seemed very interested, with the young girl smiling and the guy saying, “You know, I could hook you up with that and some skulls, fire and lightning. What do you say?”. When I told them that I would have to ask my wife first, the guy laughed and the girl said, “Forget about that. She will never approve.” We all laughed and it appeared that three very different people had found some common ground and shared a smile.
    As to the proposed tree ordinance, I told the commissioners that I opposed it 100% but I’m willing to compromise if a proposal includes some of the following. If the commissioners truly feel that increasing tree canopy is important, then everyone should support this effort by paying a yearly flat fee similar to storm drainage. Let’s say $25. Every business and property owner would pay the fee (I favor exempting religious organizations but since they pay the storm drainage fee, I can live with it). Property owners would be required to notify the city when trees of a certain size would be cut down with the understanding that these trees would have to be replaced with at least ____ trees provided by the city and paid for out of the tree fund. All property owners would be eligible for ____ trees free on a yearly or by-yearly basis. The city would organize a tree festival to promote tree replacement and encourage private groups to plant trees on both public and private property (with permission) throughout the a year. At least half of the total amount of the fee collected per year would be spent on tree planting. Finally there should be a sunset provision, maybe after five years, when the ordinance is re-evaluated and a decision made to continue, change, or end the program. I favor this approach because everyone shares the pain of taxation/fee assessment, it is fairly simple, the money must be spent for the intended purpose, and it can end if not effective.
    Finally I want to explain the quote in your piece, that my family wants to be left alone. What we want is to be allowed to spend our money without unreasonable government interference. We believe that hundreds and thousands of dollars in fees and bonds takes away our basic property rights guaranteed by the Georgia and U.S. Constitution. I am personally disgusted with the way so called progressive interest groups, along with their allies in city government, have manipulated the process to take my money for their personal agendas. That is wrong.
    Thanks also for posting my cemetery picture. Another very interesting story is the recent placement of a monument that honors John J. Buffington, a CSA veteran who died in 1921. Not only did Mr. Buffington and I share a birthday, June 17, but his last known address was on Ponce de Leon Place, the street I grew up on. More info on Buffington can be found by googling John J Buffington Decatur Cemetery. His monument can be found in the new cemetery past the sexton’s office, up the hill and on the left. It is next to the tall, Buffington family obelisk.

    • Not to worry on my account. It cracked me up

    • Laura Nieto

      Hello Mr. B,

      This is Laura Nieto, previously known as Laura Nieto-Studstill. I hope you remembered me, I taught Spanish at Decatur H.S. I just would like to congratulate you for trying to speak out for those like me who speak other language. I agree with your statement 100%. It will help many people. I have been living in the City of Decatur for thirty-one years. I have a great tree that felt almost two years ago beside my home which is not in my property. I have contact City of Decatur and Dekalb County neither of them would like to take responsibility of removing this tree. It is creating a sanctuary for wild life, it would be nice to live next to raccoons, rabbits, possums, snakes but not next to my home. I believe, animals must have their own space but not next to my bedroom!.
      I just wanted to share this information with you. Have a good day, and I am glad I got in touch with you.

  • Brad

    The Tree recompense idea is common to most other jurisdictions (like Atlanta) and sadly I am not as familiar with Decatur’s ordinance (even though I’m a landscape architect, I haven’t had any projects in Decatur) but I think they use it to put the majority of the burden on developers, who tend to have the money to do it if they can clear cut a site for subdividing. However, Decatur has more of it’s share of DIY rebuilds and renos, with small lots requiring recompense if there is no room for all the replacement trees, spreading that burden to more average homeowners.

    That said, Mr. Billingsley’s idea is fantastic. You could take it further, and use that fund (over time reduce the fee significantly; that would have a huge pot of cash over time) to assist the elderly or maybe everyone with removal of hazard, invasive or diseased trees. Trees really should be considered a public utility, even outside a right of way.

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