Mason Mill and Medlock fight inclusion in LaVista Hills’ map

Posted by March 28, 2015
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

This story has been updated. 

By Dena Mellick

The neighborhoods of Mason Mill and Medlock are fighting a recent map change by Sen. Fran Millar, SD-40, that puts them in the proposed city of LaVista Hills.

Last week, the Senate State and Local Governmental Operations Committee approved proposals to create the cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker, but with controversial changes to a compromise map that was created last year.

Sen. Millar’s map alteration moved residents of the Livsey precinct from Tucker into LaVista Hills. It also put the Toco Hills retail district and North DeKalb Mall in LaVista Hills. As a result, portions of the neighborhoods of Mason Mill and Medlock were also placed in the city of LaVista Hills map, essentially dividing those respective neighborhoods.

The Senate passed the bills with those changes on Wednesday, allowing for the proposed cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker to move forward, and now they go back to the House.

Mary Hinkel, president of the Mason Mill Civic Association, said the Senate changes caught her completely by surprise, especially since the leaders of the proposed city of LaVista Hills had agreed early on in the cityhood process to take Mason Mill out of the map.

“We have been drawn out of the LaVista Hills map that passed the House. So we had no worries until all of the sudden Sen. Millar changed the map,” said Hinkel.

She explained Mason Mill’s opposition to Sen. Millar’s changes in a press release, saying, “While the Mason Mill and Medlock neighborhoods remained intact in the original House-drawn map, Senator Millar presented a new map to the Senate created by the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office. The office relies on census-block mapping techniques, rather than more up-to-date geographic information software. As a result, in order to draw the commercial areas of Toco Hills and North DeKalb mall into the new LaVista Hills map, the office also had to include the residential properties in the same census blocks, thus splitting the neighborhoods.”

Hinkel and Lynn Ganim, president of the Medlock Area Neighborhood Association (MANA), quickly asked for a meeting with Sen. Elena Parent, SD-42, and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur.

Hinkel said a meeting was set up for Tuesday morning.

“We met with Steve Schultz, a political consultant who has been working on the LaVista Hills cityhood effort. Sen. Millar told Sen. Parent he would make whatever changes Steve Schultz agreed to. Representing Sen. Parent’s office were her Chief of Staff and Becky Evans, her staff assistant working on cityhood/annexation matters. Also in the room were Rep. Oliver’s Chief of Staff and two representatives from the Medlock neighborhood,” said Hinkel.

She said the group had a good meeting and felt it had come to an amicable agreement that would allow the neighborhoods to be removed from the LaVista Hills cityhood plan.

But the situation changed quickly.

“We got an email, I think that evening from Becky Evans, saying that Senator Millar had already put this through the rules committee in the Senate, and I guess it was voted on Wednesday. And Senator Parent tried to put amendments forward, they apparently were voted down … there was heated discussion, and now it’s back in the House,” said Hinkel.

“It’s like everybody is agreeing to this solution, but the system isn’t allowing it,” she said.

Both Mason Mill Civic Association and MANA released a joint statement after Wednesday’s vote, reflecting the frustration over the decision. The statement was included in a post on MANA’s website entitled “Fran Millar wastes everyone’s time; Medlock appeals to House to rectify La Vista Hills boundary”:

In spite of the fact that neighborhood leaders from Mason Mill and Medlock reached boundary agreements with LaVista Hills prior to the Senate’s adoption of HB520 on March 25th, Senator Fran Millar (R-40th district) refused to delay action on the bill, thus splitting two neighborhoods in two for no apparent reason.

In an emailed statement to Decaturish, Sen. Parent said, “I am very pleased that so many different people – from my office, Rep. Oliver’s office, neighborhood associations, and LaVista Hills YES worked so cooperatively together this week to get the right southern border for LaVista Hills. I was very disappointed that those common-sense changes were not made on the Senate floor, though they may yet still occur during the legislative process.”

Mary Kay Woodworth with LaVista Hills YES, the citizen group working to create the city of LaVista Hills, said the organization did not ask for the changes to the map.

Kay said of this week’s negotiations, “For whatever reason, Senator Millar would not accept the amendment. I wish I could tell you why. … We were very, very comfortable with Sen. Parent’s amendments.”

Last week, when Decaturish contacted Sen. Fran Millar to ask about the map changes, he deferred to LaVista Hills’ Steve Schultz to explain the changes to the southern part of the map.

“You’ll have to have Steve Schultz answer exactly what those areas are,” Millar told Decaturish.

When asked why she thought Millar deferred to Schultz on the boundaries and if Schultz was indeed playing a part in the map changes, Woodworth said, “Steve was not alone in making any negotiations or making any decisions. He had that map in front of him that we as a group have gone out in the community for over a year with a combined effort and what those very clear boundaries were and trying to make sure they were maintained.”

Decaturish reached out to Schultz to get a statement, but he did not contact us by publication time. We will update the story if we hear from him.

When asked if she was concerned the last-minute changes to the map could jeopardize the cityhood measure, Woodworth said, “We’re hopeful, we’re optimistic that the parties are still talking, but there’s no guarantee. We would be very very disappointed if now after more than three years of work, we end up back at square one.”

She said a revised feasibility study is on hold until it’s determined what the boundaries of LaVista Hills will actually be.

So what happens next in the legislative process?

“That’s a very good question. We’re not really sure what’s going to happen now. As far as we know, and we’re not involved anymore in this, Sen. Millar, Sen. Parent, Rep. Oliver, Rep. Holcomb, and whoever else is involved are hopefully going to work something out,” said Woodworth.

Hinkel said, “We are calling for a conference committee to be called for on House Bill 520, and that they honor the solutions that we came to on Tuesday and that they do a metes-and-bounds description of this southern boundary.”

Hinkel said Mason Mill’s ultimate goal is to remain in unincorporated DeKalb County. She said the Mason Mill neighborhood does not feel strongly about whether LaVista Hills takes up the Toco Hills commercial area. They just don’t want to go along with it.

“It’s very disheartening to neighborhood civic leaders to be so dismissed by the political process,” Hinkel said.

Here’s a look at various maps of the areas in question. (Note: The first two maps were provided by Rhea Johnson, who is a private citizen who has followed the cityhood process closely. Johnson said the maps were obtained from the county GIS Department. Johnson is not a member of LaVista Hills Yes. Woodworth said she has not seen either of these maps and said, “These are not our product nor do they have our endorsement. We have repeatedly told legislators and media that Mr. Johnson does not speak for or have a leadership role in our organization.”)

ProposedLavistaHillsBoundary5-1 Map provided by Rhea Johnson, obtained via DeKalb County’s GIS Department.

ProposedLavistaHillsZoning5-1 Map provided by Rhea Johnson, obtained via DeKalb County’s GIS Department.

LaVistaHills-p2-2015 – 11×17 map, full detail

Mason Mill, Lavista and Census Blocks v1.1s

Medlock map

Map of current Medlock neighborhood. Provided by MANA.



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  • MAC

    There are a few interesting points to take away from this article, which I’m so glad was written for all to digest before the House decision goes down. First, the blatant hypocrisy of the LVH position, whose supporters, while adamantly justifying the last-minute removal of the Livsey district from the Tucker map on the basis of the “will,” “rights,” and “voices” of the most vocal of those residents, simultaneously disregard and down right trample on those of the Mason Mill and Medlock residents, who have made clear from the beginning that they did NOT want to be in the LVH map. What about their will? Their rights? Their voices?

    Second, the underhanded, conniving slight-of-hand trickery at play in this performance whereby Senator Millar plays the role of fall guy, drawing the true heat for the amendments while the LVH leadership effectively plays the role of the innocent, unknowing bystanders. Allen Venet at the SLOGO: “oh, we didn’t know about these changes.” Cut to Mary Kay Woodworth. Mary Kay: “oh, we didn’t know about these changes. Ask Steve Schultz.” Cut to Steve Schultz, then silence, then the sound bite of crickets chirping. An Oscar-winning performance.

    Any objective observer can see that the LVH leadership (and I’m CLEARLY and DELIBERATELY distinguishing LVH leadership from the LVH supporters), have been disingenuous players in a process that should build bridges rather than burn them down; a process that requires fair play and good faith give-and-take to set a tone of cooperation that will be useful (if not needed) somewhere down the line. Neighborly cooperation will still be needed if/when Tucker and LVH make it out of this newest quagmire. Still, it is my hope that the House send a message that fair play and a spirit of cooperation will be rewarded over trickery and Machiavellian deceit. And LVH supporters should hope that their leaders have not left a bad taste in the mouths of the voters that will ultimately determine the fate of their city however the boundaries shake out.

    • HB

      Seems reasonable to me: Let the citizen voice be louder than the politicians, whether they want IN or OUT.

      Are the LVH leaders actually fighting this as you say, MAC? If you have seen this please post a link and inform us. Word from both Elena Parent and the Mason Mill community leaders was that LVH had actually “easily agreed” to all these tweaks, but it was Millar who crushed the idea, not them. If that is the case, it would be completely wrong to label LVH as hypocritical. I tend to believe Mason Mill and Ms. Parent more than an anonymous poster.

      I hate being in the position of standing up for any of these groups, but I don’t like to see misinformation spread.

      • guest2

        Really. MAC’s points about the LVH leadership are totally opposite of what the article says. And the article quotes several people outside the LVH group.

        • RAJ

          The article is full of poor reporting,inaccuracies,and relies on one-sided statements. I think Fran is a great, fun guy and an astute politician. Guess no one noticed that LVH gets park land for $100 an acre, and lots of happy people to be part of their city. I provided maps at great expense and had to suffer through sautéed filet of steelhead trout seasoned with Apple wood rub accompanied by an innocuous mildly sweet white wine….food budget is limited. That being said we have until summer of 2016 to change the map so I think this is just a tempest in a teapot. Great political theater from EP and MMO. Bill passes House on Tuesday!

          • Guest

            What happened to your City of Briarcliff?

          • RAJ

            Briarcliff is alive and well(for now)and may reappear as annexation “A” and annexation “B” if the LaVista Hills bill passes Tuesday! More later.

  • notapunk

    Translate: I made all this up based on my own personal biases. Text and subtext.

    • MAC

      Notapunk, you and I have sparred a few times, and if anything is clear from those sparrings, I’ve been consistent in my wholehearted support the cityhood movement in DeKalb County. I’m in no way biased against LVH cityhood or its supporters, who are my neighbors and even my associates and close colleagues on the job. (My best friends are LVH supporters, as the saying goes–LOL). But seriously, I do have my issues with the LVH leadership based on my observations and close following of the cityhood matter in print and in my many civic-motivated trips to the Capitol. And you know what? I’ve heard similar criticisms in varying degrees by LVH supporters, by Tucker supporters, by TIA supporters, and by DeKalb strong supporters (just re-read the archives that you’ve been witness to over the months). Does criticism and not towing an official line 100% evidence bias? I think not. It’s called responsible citizenship and it’s the hallmark of a healthy democracy. When all this is over, let’s meet somewhere in LVH or Tucker and have a drink. My treat.

  • RAJ

    I am just about to open a bottle of Quinta do Noval “Silval”2000 Vintage Port and think over what you just posted! Sitting a few feet from Alan Venet does not qualify you as an expert on this subject, fact is Fran will do what he pleases irrespective of the LVH leadership until the bill is passed….then what? I’m not willing to step out at this point but to say that if the bill passes Mason Mill, Medlock and others have their fate in their own hands! Few people have an inside understanding of Briarcliff, Lakeside and LaVista Hills.

    • MAC

      Raj, who has claimed to be an expert? I’m only reporting what I saw and heard at the SLOGO hearing. This is a public forum. I don’t oblige that all or any accept my views, but I do have the right to voice them just as you frequently voice yours.

      • RAJ

        Thanks for your contribution, some of what I post has an objective of listening to other points of view; useful in making ones own decisions. Fran is the only one who knows what is really going on and he says the bill will pass Tuesday, if not we just work another year on city hood in Central DeKalb!

  • RAJ is wrong

    RAJ has been open in his proclivity to impaired posting and so a couple of clarifications are in order. This is an issue of technology plain and simple and its a bit sad that in Georgia we have not figured out how to easily draft a map for legislative purposes. The legislative apportionment office does these maps and they do them as if they were developing voting districts. So splitting neighborhoods is less a big deal. It’s really bad for determine city services zoning and long term governance. Putting aside the absurd fact that the U.s Census Bureau is in essence determining what cities we are in in Georgia by virtue of their arbitrary census lines, anyone ever seen a bill with metes and bounds descriptions? Might could be done but whose to say a survey would not be needed to get it right? It would create a bill he size of the healthcare act. How about recorded plat numbers? They are and can be changed at the whim of the county. Let’s just expand that parcel and get us some commercial eh! So the sad truth here is the technology is mandating the result – another case of technology rules over common sense. Elena Parent and Fran Millars offices and the legislators themselves did work mightily most of Tuesday to fix it. They called in some special real estate expertise. They could not figure out a way to get away from the census blocks (remember the crazy Atlanta annexation P2 map last week? Again, census blocks). LVH leadership doesn’t want this either but they’ve been working in their city three years while Dekalb continues to go down the tubes and gets ever more aggressive in opposing citihood so LVH is understandably needing to get this done now. Millar and the general assembly are sick and tired of Dekalb issues and they are right it’s a perennial mess. So raj is wrong (again) Mac sounds like a conspiracy theorist. I am not affected by any of this but have watched it (literally) unfold and I am afraid the answer is: SR743 resolution on annexation and incorporation delaying it all one more year. LVH tucker and raj and the legislators should have known about the technological limits at the legislative apportionment office before they brought their first maps and would have quickly seen they are truly trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’s absolutely not right or fair to limit a cities boundaries due to mapping software and you better bet a judge will toss that rationale out on its ear and invalidate the whole mess. Message to legislators and LVH: step back and fix this and pass it next year.

    • RAJ

      Special thanks for the excellent post. A mapping explanation was long overdue. I agree with most of what you say, but don’t think that RAJ is to far wrong. The map I provided to Decaturish(first seen by Mary Kay) was the first I have had the GIS Dept produce using census blocks and is an exact replica of the SLOGO map which is public property. All other maps in my personal account at GIS are parcel maps from which accurate property valuations can be obtained. Valuations at the top of the map will be used by CVI as part of an updated feasibility study for LaVista Hills. CVI obtains this and other information for the study from the DeKalb County GIS Dept. I think Fran said that we can change the map in January.

      • RAJ is wrong – not so much

        RAJ the change the map in January position creates huge legal problems. Imagine, in November I vote in a referendum for an entire map, then in January the General Assembly changes it. Do I not vote again? I think you have to vote again. Particularly if all the while a change in the map was contemplated. It becomes a due process issue (notice plus opportunity to vote). If what I voted for changed then I need to vote again. The map scope affects services, boundaries, feasibility, community. You cannot change the map in January without another vote. And you do not get another vote unless the absolutely predictable General Assembly decides you do (a tad of sarcasm there sorry). You can de-annex actually right after the November referendum through that cumbersome legal procedure but (1) the outcome is not certain and can be held hostage by a smaller group, and (2) it can get expensive – attorneys fees are going to be substantial. It is not a good way to govern. Finally, it is not right to upset all those people erroneously in the over-sized map when, again, the problem is mapping technology. If this deannexation or changing map process is followed it will be more than a year before our neighbors would know their destiny. We have people saving the world from Ebola in this community and I would rather they focus on that, right? We have teachers and preachers and refugee supporters and parents and kids and elderly and its just not right to mess with their destiny because of a mapping software issue. That is very poor governance and should not even be considered an option. I personally see absolutely no successful path in passing an over-inclusive map with the idea the General Assembly changes it in January. I think LVH has to go through SR743 study, the GIS folks at the legislative apportionment office need to buy a new software package layer, and legislative counsel need to weigh in (maybe with the AG’s office informal opinion) on how we can legally draw maps that actually conform to communities and citihood proponents desires.

        • RAJ

          I think splitting MANA and MM is probably a political tactic on the part of FM and Steve Schultz, and a good one at that. Fran can “fix” the map in January 2016 in the Legislature as an “oops” administrative error if the referendum passes… vote needed. If the LVH bill passes Tuesday as expected, it sends a message to MANA & MM to vote FOR LVH in November to insure FM will take you out of the map in January. Fran checks the precinct numbers after the November election and if he is not happy(really tough order)then he keeps you in the map and you get no park money or road paving. This is just the way things work, so don’t say “gee I didn’t know that was going to happen”…check with Brokenhaven! Everyone see why I choose to stay independent! If you want to spend the $5K, $10K on legal fees, have at it….I have been down that path! Kicker is that I plan to introduce annexation A,B,&C in February 2016 to put MANA,MM and other areas back into the LVH map. I think this works out best for everyone long term considering the direction of DeKalb County Government. I plan to work with MMO and EP on this. Don’t worry about the current LVH leadership, if they can’t cut it we just find new leaders. By the way, I think we should send in a few bucks to Decaturish for providing this forum.

    • MAC

      Raj is wrong, truly informative post on the mapping issue in the state. I say with all sincerity that I’ve been enlightened. You conclude that LVH should step back, fix the problem, and come back next year. I get that. My question to you is what is your weigh in on Tucker? At the end of the day, Tucker’s only conflict was a border dispute with Stone Mountain, which was resolved at the SLOGO hearing. But for the LVH amendment with respect to Livsey, Tucker, unencumbered by any other mapping disputes or conflicts, should be green lighted to move forward to a November referendum. Because the Livsey amendment affects the Tucker map, it holds the Tucker cityhood bid hostage procedurally. Making it all the more easy to read in a stand still that the other cityhood player (Tucker) was powerless to avoid, unfairness (if you’re an enemy of cumbersome and asinine legislative bureaucracy), strategy (if you’re a fan of politics and political theatre), and/or conspiracy (if you’re a skeptic).

      • RAJ

        Last I heard Billy Mitchell tried to amend the Tucker bill, Tom Taylor tabled the bill and BM withdrew his support for Tucker. Could it be that without BM on the bill, FM and TT will force SH to also withdraw from the Tucker bill! I only spend four days a week at the Capitol and am in just my second year so I need all the help I can get on this one. FM told me LVH will pass on Tuesday. Could Tucker fail to come off the table, LVH pass, and as part of the map adjustment LVH gets the rest of Northlake! It’s your move MANA & MM! I try to maintain a sense of humor about all this having been involved since 8/08, and enjoyed seeing the city hood movement restarted in 11/12 by Kevin, Don and myself. My independence comes at a very high price, which I am more than willing to pay. If the LVH bill passes with revisions, my friends at MANA and MM are not off the hook, since I plan to produce annexation A,B & C for consideration in 2016, MMO & EP will love this and I hope to work closely with both. Of the proposed city hood services I am most interested in: Economic Redevelopment(Planning),Public Safety & Courts(Police) and Parks, all which I am currently working on with key individuals. Tuesdays and most of my spare time I spend on DeKalb County Government reform.

        • RAJ is wrong

          As I sit here enjoying peanut butter from a spoon out of the 8 pound Sam’s club jar (only 4.99 folks) with a fine glass of aged Countrytime lemonade (the mix went hard but if you wait it will dissolve), I have to say RAJ is wrong again. There is no way legislative support is there from MMO, EP and others to unwillingly jam MANA and Mason Mill into an unwanted LVH map. You should not want to do that either RAJ. We should have dinner together sometime it would be, at least, diverse! Enjoy the day everyone!

          • RAJ

            I can see that my poll numbers are down this weekend and I think I’ll pass up the dinner invitation(sounds some of my body parts may be on the menu)…..MMO & EP(I love them both)will come to terms with themselves at some point. See my post above.

          • We love RAJ

            All in jest actually thanks RAJ for your insight its a different point of view its important. Kudos to Decaturish

        • DH

          Pull back from the brink RAJ! You’ve become power mad!

          • RAJ

            Power resides within! Don’t fear me. I spent a 42 year career empowering others. To live on the brink is to love the brink!

      • RAJ is not too far wrong

        Although I can see the argument ‘do all these at once’ since Tucker’s boundary issues are resolved it sure would be nice to eliminate one piece of this mess by passing it. I would pass Tucker subject to an amendment: I would probably slip one line in the bill stating that notwithstanding OCGA [insert state city annexation provisions], no annexation increasing the boundaries for Tucker may occur prior to January 1, 2017.” That puts everyone on the same fair playing field. Tucker cannot pull a Brookhaven until after January 1, 2017 and LVH has a fair chance of getting on a referendum. I think this should be put in the Decatur Bill as well as a quid pro quo. Atlanta also once they get their expanding boundaries set (Atlanta seems to not be targeting commercial so less an issue).

  • Factivist

    Everybody does understand that we sound like a bunch of kids, arguing “I want in!” and “I want out!”, right? At some point the adults in the room, in this case the General Assembly, have to do what is best for the majority of us, not just a relative few of the total. Agree or disagree, we the people move forward and life goes on. I just hope that it goes on with HB-520 passed and a LaVista Hills referendum for next fall. At that point we could all think/speak with facts in hand.

    In this particular article and its content, I do hope that ALL the people of Mason Mill and Medlock currently in the map approved by the Senate understand that if they get drawn out of LVH, they will be gobbled up in the new Atlanta annexation map that goes all the way out to 285, south of 78 to E Ponce and abutting Clarkston. Given that choice, I think that most homeowners would definitely prefer to be in LaVista Hills. Atlanta taxes will be higher, especially for senior citizens who will lose their senior homestead exemption if they get annexed, and ATL law enforcement or streets/sidewalks dept. will not get out this far in any meaningful way. I do not believe that Mason Mill and Medlock want that to happen to their seniors or themselves.

    Dedicated LVH volunteeers and members of the General Assembly have worked on this for three years – it’s not like it was brand new to anybody. During that three years, DeKalb corruption has gotten progressively worse and none of our taxes paid have gone back into our crumbling, pot-holed streets. Nor to crime prevention and safety for our homes and families, nor law enforcement in our area of DeKalb. It is way past time for the Legislature to pass the LaVista Hills bill and give taxpayers a chance to vote in whatever map area Rep. Taylor and Sen. Millar agree upon. They are the two sponsors who have worked with both the House and Senate committees, and are the most knowledgeable. Any of us who get included in the map should consider ourselves lucky, especially with the land-grab now going on for Atlanta to take over the universe!

    • RAJ

      Someone thinking ahead here……most unusual indeed! I may have an offer if the bill passes.

    • Hugh Bean

      Just a note of thanks for the gallows humor of calling the General Assembly “the adults in the room.”

    • Russell Carleton

      “[N]one of our taxes paid have gone back into our crumbling, pot-holed streets. Nor to crime prevention and safety for our homes and families, nor law enforcement in our area of DeKalb.”

      Even though I know that “none” is a rhetorical flourish, would you kindly enlighten us where you believe those taxes went? What exactly do you mean by “our” families. Who are “their” families that apparently got the benefit?

      • Factivist

        You’ll have to ask DeKalb’s government to tell us where they spent our taxes that should have gone to street repairs in this part of DeKalb. All we have is prime facia evidence that it was not spent to fill pot holes and resurface/repair crumbling streets around this neck of the woods. Nothing says anybody got the benefit of safety for home and family; there is no our/their in my assessment. I cannot speak to the whole county, only the growing lack of it in the area where we live.

  • Hugh Bean

    A couple people here have said something about Tucker’s border dispute with Stone Mountain having been “resolved.” Those assertions are not accurate. Steve Henson’s amendment to remove the Stone Mountain CID and several nearby large-tract residential owners – none of whom want any part of Tucker cityhood – from the Tucker map failed at SLOGO on a party-line vote. These people haven’t stopped wanting out. The issue is far from resolved.

    • RAJ

      I think Tucker was tabled by TT after a motion failed on the House floor, then Billy Mitchell withdrew his support for the bill? This stuff is hard to keep up with and I’m down there a lot! Is it possible that Tucker will stay tabled and FM will push LVH to a vote? Could Tucker fail??

      • Factivist

        RAJ, you know as well as I do that anything can and does happen during the last days of the Session every year! I think we just have to hold onto our hats on this thing.

    • RAJ

      DeKalb Delegation meeting at noon today….should be interesting!

      • RAJ

        Howard suddenly cancelled the DeKalb Delegation meeting a few moments ago! Anyone know what the heck is going on down there!

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