Sunday Morning Meditation – The nature of DeKalb

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt December 7, 2014
House DeKalb County Cityhood Subcommittee on Governmental Affairs meets on Dec. 3. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

House DeKalb County Cityhood Subcommittee on Governmental Affairs meets on Dec. 3. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

There’s a scene in “No Country for Old Men” where Anton Chigurh, a hit man, has a gun pointed at another hit man, Carson Wells. They’re sitting in a hotel room, staring at each other. Chigurh has a peculiar grin on his face.

“You should admit our situation,” Chigurh tells Wells. “There would be more dignity in it.”

“You go to hell,” Wells says.

Chigurh laughs. “All right. Let me ask you something. If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”

Our legislators have a few rules for forming new cities. It’s a two year process. People who want to incorporate can’t just draw random lines around anything on a map. New cities must include enough commercial property to be deemed financially viable, meaning there’s enough of a tax base to support the residents that live in them. Residential doesn’t really support itself. That’s why cities like Decatur and Avondale are suddenly interested in unglamorous things like Wal-Marts.

Wal-Marts print tax money. Neighborhoods eat it. That’s the municipal ecosystem, its nature if you will.

Tucker had a feasibility study. So did Lakeside and Briarcliff, which have merged to become the proposed city of LaVista Hills. Unfortunately, their feasibility is based around some of the same pieces of commercial property.

Now a five-member subcommittee of the House Governmental Affairs Committee, a group of folks who probably wish they didn’t have email addresses and cell phone numbers right about now, are going to play Solomon with the whole thing. They’re required to draw up and agree to a map that enables one or both cities to move forward next year.

Doing that might mean splitting up some of the commercial property in each map. LaVista Hills also has another problem there. The city of Brookhaven, the Hungry Hungry Hippo of DeKalb County annexation, wants some of the property in LaVista Hills’ plan, too. That would be Executive Park and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for those of you keeping score at home.

The Brookhaven City Council tried to do something similar with Chamblee which resulted in a huge lawsuit. Chamblee eventually won out, but not before an appeals court weighed in.

So if Brookhaven gets CHOA and Executive Park before LaVista Hills does and if some of LaVista Hills’ commercial property goes to Tucker, is that still financially feasible? And isn’t LaVista Hills supposed to have its own financial feasibility study anyway?

Well, no, actually. During the Dec. 3 hearing we learned that the House Governmental Affairs is waiving the feasibility study rules. Representatives of Tucker and LaVista threw a lot of different numbers out during the hearing. Until now there’s only one set of numbers the General Assembly has officially recognized. That would be the figures in feasibility studies provided by the fine folks at the Carl Vinson Institute, or an entity comparable to CVI.

Rules got us to where we are. The House, exhausted by Metro Atlanta political drama, is channeling its inner Anton Chigurh. If the rule they followed brought them to this, of what use was the rule?

If we’re going to start suspending rules, then I would assume the proposed City of South DeKalb, which is undergoing a feasibility study and may not be economically viable, should be able to form a city this year without one. Right? Because the rule obviously didn’t matter, or you wouldn’t be so casually discarding it to get DeKalb County out of your hair.

Or what about Stonecrest? It hasn’t completed a feasibility study for its new map either. Does it even need one?

Or what about Decatur? Decatur’s trying to annex property on the premise that it needs a better ratio of commercial to residential property to provide better services for its residents. Do they really need that Wal-Mart after all? How about Avondale Estates?

If you’re going to make up rules for one cityhood movement, you better be careful about the precedent you’re setting for another. What happens if you allow LaVista to move forward without knowing whether or not it will be feasible and then you tell some other city, “Nope. You’ve got to follow the rules”?

If we’re going by the rules, these cityhood groups would have to agree on a map, then get a feasibility study before moving forward. That takes two years, at least. They should be able to move forward, but they should play by the same rules as every other cityhood movement before them. Why not and spend the next session fixing the basic problems with DeKalb County government? The fundamental reason this is all happening is DeKalb County dysfunction. Fixing that dysfunction is entirely within the purview of the legislature, if that’s what it wants to do.

But instead of fixing the problem, the House has created a panel that is potentially enabling the creation of governments that aren’t financially feasible. Or they could create one government that is feasible and leave the rest of unincorporated areas with DeKalb’s pension debt. Because the best solution to a dysfunctional government is creating a government that possibly can’t raise enough taxes to support itself, or creating one that can and saying “good luck with that” to everybody else.

Right before Chigurh shoots Wells, Wells looks at him and says, “Do you have any idea how crazy you are?”

Chigurh says, “You mean the nature of this conversation?”

“I mean the nature of you,” Wells says.

Crazy may be in DeKalb’s nature, but the last time I checked three of the members of that panel don’t live here. Let’s hope DeKalb’s crazy isn’t contagious.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • MediateIt

    Like a cold in January, crazy is incredibly contagious during a General Assembly. Nevertheless, the simple, logical, and fortuitously politically feasible treatment for the current DeKalb fever is to suspend all cityhood and annexation votes for one year (per current GAFF committee rules) to allow time for agreements on boundaries to be reached and feasibility studies to be completed, while simultaneously enabling a Charter Commission to revise the DeKalb Organizational Act during that same year. You nailed it exactly! Now, for the hard part …..

    • Bernie

      You propose suspending all cityhood votes for one year to allow time for agreements on boundaries to be reached and feasibility studies to be completed. However, that reasoning should not apply to the proposed City of Stonecrest. Representatives of Stonecrest and South DeKalb reported that they were at the August 26 meeting where Rep. Mike Jacobs issued directions for resolving cityhood boundary disputes, and were assured that the process applied to them as well as to the North Central DeKalb cityhood groups. After receiving his instructions, Stonecrest and South DeKalb resolved their boundary dispute and presented their written boundary agreement to him. Later, on November 17, they again presented their written agreement on boundaries, this time to Rep. Amy Carter’s staff. Stonecrest is currently under contract with the Carl Vinson Institute, and anticipates that a feasibility report will be completed by the end of this month, and that it will be favorable.

  • Tom Doolittle

    BTW–the “nature of DeKalb” will require several books of meditations. It ain’t what it appears on the surface–it was “fixed” a long time ago. Thanks for engaging the subject however.

  • SOS

    Glad Decaturish is seeing that the crazy is in the county and not in those who have been trying to call it into the sunlight. What is even more astonishing is that “Tucker” doesn’t look anything like the map being presented. Perhaps that is because Tucker 2015 is led by Smoke Rise, a Stone Mountain community that wants to be associated with a city, just not a city of Stone Mountain. And, how exactly is it considered to be a “compromise” between Briarcliff and Lakeside when their resulting new map takes in MORE of Tucker? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just go back to Levita’s original plan for Northlake and include everyone in the Voting District? Or perhaps… just perhaps… one should no longer accept the solution of “MORE GOVERNANCE” for the problem that originated from POOR GOVERNANCE.” Is anyone else even the slightest bit concerned that these city groups were so adamant that the schools had nothing to do with their plans for new cities, yet every leader that steps forward for either side has been one who was on the winning side of the “old school” way of doing things and they were all working together prior to their sudden inability to compromise.

  • Cheryl Willis Miller

    There was never an official rule about this new map drawing process, btw. As Rep. Taylor pointed out, none of the groups involved have CURRENT bill sponsors or feasbility studies. They are all back to square one.

  • Cheryl Willis Miller

    There never should have been any arguments on boundaries. Tucker’s map has not changed from what it has always been. For anyone to just come in a lay a claim to anything that is actually called “Tucker” is outrageous. And, as so many people in Tucker tried stepping up and doing the right thing when it came to our schools and the children, why would anyone think that it would now be okay to force us into cities being led by the same people who operate in the same manner as the ones they point their own finger at? DeKalb provides good services but we elect bad people. Please don’t give us more opportunities to vote for more of the same! Please!

  • DecaturMax

    Putting flip flop Mary Margaret Olliver on this committee is bad for everyone but Druid Hills. Druid Hills best interest is to be the only city movement moving forward to take as much prime real estate as they can.

    On a related side note……No one is talking about how an Emory/CDC MARTA rail line would get out of Emory to Avondale. They are no longer talking about a spur. My guess is they will recycle the old plan through Fernbank. I can’t see any other options except the already over congested roads. Druid Hills would normally have their torches and pitch forks out. Why so quiet?

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