Dear Decaturish – LaVista Hills supporter concerned about AJC reporting

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt September 16, 2015
Photo obtained via

Photo obtained via

We accept letters to the editor. All letters must be signed and are typically 400 to 800 words in length. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and content. To send your letter to the editor, email it to

Dear Decaturish,

A few thoughts on the page one anti-city article published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  I’m really concerned about the reporting here. I’ve met Mark Niesse several times, and he’s done a lot of important and good reporting for our area. But this article was not his finest work. I speak as someone who used to work for the AJC, and in that sense have a vested interest in its credibility.

1) The key value of the city is that our elected officials, who live in our neighborhoods, will be making decisions on how to spend our tax money. We think that we should have that right, and we can do a better job of prioritizing our needs in our area. There are no elected DeKalb officials who live in the footprint of LaVista Hills, Tucker, Doraville, Chamblee, Brookhaven, Clarkston or Stone Mountain. And we can tell from the results that the DeKalb elected officials do not have the same level of concern for our area that we have.

2) The article is terrible reporting and editorial placement. It’s simply a statement that an anti-city person thinks that a specific revenue source will be lower than CVI estimated. But there’s no basis for the specific statement, other than that he thinks CVI didn’t calculate property taxes correctly. Apparently he’s not aware that other revenue estimates may be overstated also; and some are understated. And this made page one above the fold!


3) Mr. Carleton’s analysis of the “error” in CVI’s report shows that CVI estimated property taxes of $13,435,685; his own analysis shows that the correct property tax revenue is $11,594,978. That results in his interpretation of a total error in the CVI report of $1,840,707. But he has incorrect numbers for the CVI report. The actual property tax revenue in the CVI report is $11,690,718, about $96,000 higher than Carleton’s estimate. So instead of deducting $1.8 million from the net of LaVista Hills, he should have deducted $96,000.  You can see the actual CVI numbers by clicking here.

4) If there had been any legitimate expertise involved (or if he – or the writer – had read the CVI report carefully), they would have noticed many things about the CVI reports that are not intended as specific “accurate” estimates of what would happen. The report for the most part is simply an analysis of what two other cities have done. That analysis doesn’t intend to identify the specific revenue amounts or specific expenses that would actually occur. CVI’s revenue estimates are mostly based on figures provided by the DeKalb County government.  You may have noticed from recent AJC articles that the DeKalb County government is opposed to the formation of new cities. You may have also noticed that not everything that is done in the DeKalb County government is completely straightforward. That could turn on a light bulb in someone’s mind that there might even be a bias downward in revenue estimates.

5) When the city is created, the city council will have to analyze ongoing revenues (which will be different every year) to determine how much money they can spend. For individual revenue sources that may be more, or it may be less than the CVI report indicated. When the city council has an estimate of revenue they will budget what they can spend. Their expenditure decisions may result in some higher and some lower expenditures. In no case will the total expenditures be greater than the total revenue. In no case could there be a “negative net income”.

6) I don’t know Russell Carleton personally. He may be a very knowledgeable and well-spoken person. He may in fact be a great guy. But absolutely nothing in his background gives any credence to his analysis.  Neither education nor work experience shows any expertise in government, finance or forecasting. I would have thought that the AJC would have first considered whether an expert in baseball statistics and children’s mental health is the appropriate person to do a critique of the UGA report. You can find his resume and experience on his LinkedIn Profile.

– Herman Lorenz, LaVista Hills Yes

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

  • Loveit

    Bwah! The emails show that Herman was just as concerned as everybody else in the LaVista Hills leadership about the viability issue. But maybe if we try to pit one news organization against another we can create enough smoke to go with our mirrors

    • Follow the money

      Is this the same Herman Lorenz who said “So the less we say about this the better,” in regard to LVH potentially not being feasible?

      • LoveIt

        Yes, and he’s the same Herman Lorenz (and Allen Venet and Amy Parker and other former members of the Briarcliff cityhood leadership) who spewed venom for nearly a year about MKW, KL, and SS over at the City of Lakeside. I’m astonished, saddened, and dumbfounded that they are so a) desperate to be part of a city, b) unintelligent and naive to the fact they are being used as the “good guys” and Democrats to attract Briarcliff area voters, and/or c) nerdy kids thrilled to be asked to sit at the table with the cool kids. Regardless, it does make for great watching to see these two groups have to tolerate each other publicly while they continue to make each others’ skin crawl privately. Bwah!

        • RAJ

          You are correct! This is about the most interesting cast of characters you will find any where. But the bottom line is they ALL want a better quality of life for themselves own everyone else with respect to four of the many services provided by government…..what’s not to like about that!

  • factivist

    It’s called due diligence, Loveit. The emails show LVH leadership was being careful, responsible – and I appreciate that. They double-checked, confirmed facts with the Institute on Government — a refreshing occurrence in this neck of the woods!

    • MediateIt

      Do La Vista Hills (Alliance or Yes) and/or the Carl Vinson Institute plan to put their specific calculations up against Russell’s, or are they just going to keep throwing mud at Russell, hoping to blur voters’ vision? Facts v. Facts. Now THAT would be a refreshing occurrence!

  • Russell Carleton

    The figure $13,435,685 represents the sum total of the revenue estimates given in the CVI report for real property taxes ($11,690,718), personal property taxes ($1,151,027), motor vehicle taxes ($412,498), and intangible taxes ($181,442). All of these revenue estimates are linked to the property tax millage, and all had to be adjusted. The CVI report assumed that the city would have a combined $13.4 million from these four sources. My analysis shows that the city could expect a combined $11,594,978 from all of them when the millage was adjusted to the maximum of 5.00, a difference of $1.8 million.

    I am happy to show where any or all of the numbers came from. Most of them came directly from the CVI report itself. If you believe that my numbers are errant, I would encourage you to show where you believe that they went wrong.

    I appreciate the rundown of my CV, but if I may point out that it’s entirely possible that CVI simply made a mistake. It happens. And that’s the real question here. Did CVI make a mistake in their methodology? If they did, when that mistake is corrected, what does it mean for the report?

    I don’t see how the statements “The revenue estimates outlined below include all major revenue sources a city representing the study area would have collected had it existed in 2014 and assessed taxes and fees at rates similar to DeKalb County in that same year” (pg. 6, CVI report) can be reconciled to the millage cap of 5.00 contained in the city charter.

    • MasterOfCoin

      So you lumped in motor vehicle and sales tax into the real estate property tax number…
      Where did you get your degree in Finance again?

      • Russell Carleton

        The two are assessed using the same tax rate.

        • MasterOfCoin

          Assessed at the same rate is not the same thing as lumping them all together. Clearly the implication of the article was that the $13,435,685 figure was for real property taxes.
          Again, Russell, you got your degree in finance from where???

          • Russell Carleton

            I regret that the article was not more clear. Real property taxes are not the only income streams which rely on the property tax millage, and would thus be affected by the mis-match between the rate used by CVI (7.64) and the capped millage (5.00). The adjustment for each was done separately. They were combined only in the sense that the combined revenue estimates by CVI and the combined revenue estimates once each had been adjusted for the difference in the millage rate did not align.

            As has been pointed out numerous times, my degree is in psychology. However, I am aware of the mathematical reality that assets taxed at 5.00 will produce less revenue than they would taxed at 7.64.

            I would simply ask: The CVI states in their own report that they assumed the county’s tax structure and used a millage of 7.64 (see pages 6 and 17). If the report had used the city’s millage cap, it’s quite obvious that the report would have said something different. What do you believe it would have said?

          • OldWhiteDad

            Again, It doesn’t take a degree in finance or any work experience to figure out the math concerning the “mistake” Mr. Carleton found in the CVI report. It doesn’t take much more financial experience than balancing your checkbook. Instead of either pointing out the errors in Mr. Carleton’s thinking or admitting the mistake made by the “esteemed” Carl Vincent Institute, the Lavista Hills folks attacked the messenger. It seems the LVH people have no answers to the issues raised. It seems they have no answers except to ban any meaningful discussion.

        • laurelridger


        • factivist

          Of course they have answers – and we can read them for ourselves, don’t need Mr. Carleton or anyone else to interpret it or restate it for us in any way:

          The Carl Vinson Institute(CVI) at the University of Georgia completed an updated feasibility study May 2015, and determined the proposed City of LaVista Hills would be able to provide the desired municipal services with the revenues currently available to the new city, and thus is fiscally feasible.
          Link for the study:

          • Russell Carleton

            What if CVI made a mistake?

      • Follow The Money

        Still waiting on a concrete statement and spread sheet from LVH Yes or LVH Alliance stating/showing that Russell is wrong. Could it be he is right? Could it be they don’t know if he is right? Could it be they have big corporate donors to take care of and those people want a city they can profit from so it doesn’t matter if he is right.

        • MasterOfCouin

          What big corporate donor? Wanting locally responsive government to get out from under the boot of corrupt, bloodsucking, Dekalb county officials *must* be a corporate conspiracy.

          Time to freshen’ up the tinfoil dear, the rays are getting in.

          • m2ap

            Just out of curiosity, you do realize that even if you are in this Utopian city you crave, you will still be in DeKalb County, right? You’ll just have MORE politicians to want to get out from under.

      • OldWhiteDad

        It doesn’t take a degree in finance or any work experience to figure out the math concerning the “mistake” Mr. Carleton found in the CVI report. It doesn’t take much more financial experience than balancing your checkbook. Instead of either pointing out the errors in Mr. Carleton’s thinking or admitting the mistake made by the “esteemed” Carl Vincent Institute, the Lavista Hills folks attacked the messenger. It seems the LVH people have no answers to the issues raised. It seems they have no answers except to ban any meaningful discussion.

      • laurelridger

        no, MasterOfCoin, Russell didn’t. He used that figure as part of the tally of ALL revenue streams.

  • guest

    And every number in that CVI report is already obsolete, so what’s it really matter?

  • Lavista Tax Bills

    Herman Lorenz was obviously concerned about Carleton’s findings because he encouraged a cover up according to the emails posted on Decaturish. His credibility is shot, but he chooses to attack Carleton rather than admit this magical rainbow imaginary city will cause our taxes to go up up up if it is formed! This is transparent as mud.

    • Follow The Money

      Yes their political strategists came up with the plan of focusing on what the man does and labeling him a non expert. They sent their minions out there to post on nextdoor, facebook ect the same message over and over again regarding his background. If he wrong. They just say look at the study, look at the stud. Well Russell says they made a error in the study. If he is wrong PROVE IT!

      • Lavista Tax Bills

        I have noticed that the Lavista Hills people rarely use facts in their arguments. They often try to shout down and bully opposing viewpoints.

  • Tom B. Doolittle

    Oh yes to Herman–and oh yes to Loveit–here are ideas for both.

    (1) Herman’s comment about newspaper’s quoting experts. I have long held that an organization that is outside of Georgia should be doing these studies–or in fact, reveiwing them. The possibilities for Georgia institutions having conflicts of interest are only exceeded by the fact that only two organizations have been deemed “acceptable”–and they are funded by the very organizations that they are in essence “reviewing”. The fact that the organiations were named by the legislature makes this a state enterprise, forming a state constituted municipality–NOT a locally represented municipality. So just go outside–makes it easy to remove doubt–and INCREASE TRUST.
    (2) To Loveits comment–Oh yes–competitioon among news sources would solve many problems with POWER in this big little town (Atlanta). The only competitor that even come sclose in circulation for this is the Creative Loafing–and its only a weekly. The most CAPABLE competitor here is the Daily Report, but a relatively small “reach” (they are willing to dig and best reporter lives in Decatur).

    We definitely need an “AJC Watch”–not necessarily to contradict it–but to FRAME the issues differently. BTW–you can see the results of this when national publications (Times, WaPo and WSJ) do stories about Atlanta–they almost look weird.

  • laurelridger

    Perhaps Mr. Lorenz should reread Mr. Carleton’s chart here. Indeed he does show property taxes of $11,690,718. The $13 million figure is total revenues.

    Further, contrary to Mr. Lorenz’s assertion that the “analysis doesn’t intend to identify the specific revenue amounts or specific expenses that would actually occur,” according to the CVI study: “revenue estimates outlined below include all major revenue sources a city
    representing the study area would have collected had it existed in 2014 and assessed taxes
    and fees at rates similar to DeKalb County in that same year.”

    Consistent misrepresentation of facts, blatant efforts to silence dissent, and personal attacks against opponents have become Lavista Hills’ trademark. When it comes to ethics, they do not practice what they preach or promise.

  • OldWhiteDad

    I’m just an OldWhiteDad with a strong conservative upbringing and a long history of voting Republican. I have been following the cityhood issue for months and have yet to comment anywhere at any time. This is my first post. I have been completely undecided ’til now. I AM VOTING NO. Here’s why.

    It doesn’t take a degree in finance or any work experience to figure out the math concerning the “mistake” Mr. Carleton found in the CVI report. It doesn’t take much more financial experience than balancing your checkbook. Instead of either pointing out the errors in Mr. Carleton’s thinking or admitting the mistake made by the “esteemed” Carl Vincent Institute, the Lavista Hills folks attacked the messenger. It seems the LVH people have no answers to the issues raised. It seems they have no answers except to ban any meaningful discussion.

    I’d also like to add there are three NO VOTES in my house as we have a son away at college who also gets to participate in the process.

    • AnotherDearOldDad

      It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. Th math shows higher taxes are required for less services and in order to give some more politicians – jobs. I’m with you and there are four votes in mine – all voting NO.

      • YetAnotherDearOldDad

        I am more afraid of being annexed into the City of Atlanta than I am that a few numbers might or might not be off. Besides, I trust the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government, who stands behind their study and the statement that LVH is definitely feasible.

        Check that math again, Another, and I think you’ll see that we get lower taxes (like Dunwoody and Brookhaven) and more services, with local elected officials who actually live here, limited to 2 terms. I like it lots better than the “rotten to the core” DeKalb government, that’s for sure. I’ve got six votes in my family, all voting YES.

        • OldWhiteDad

          Dear Dads,
          We don’t live where we worry about the City of Atlanta annexing us, but if we did I’d be voting yes too. If we could start our own school system I would be voting yes.

          The people I know in Brookhaven and Dunwoody would not agree with your claims of lower taxes. With close to 70,000 residents of the proposed new city “living here” really doesn’t mean we’ll know these politicians. I have been following this closely for months and I can say I have never met any of the people who regularly post on any of the sites I can find. For or against cityhood. Not one. I have lived here for more than thirty years and I have kids in HS and college. We are active in the area and know tons of people here. My kids seem to know everybody and everybody knows them. So, thinking we’re going to get representation from folks we know and trust just isn’t reality.

          If the CVI stands behind their study, why haven’t the LVH people shown their hand and proven it? Why do they continue to attack the messenger instead of the message?

          I really wanted to vote yes. Voting yes may mean my $600,000 home is worth a lot more, but I no longer trust the information being spread by the LVH supporters. Still voting NO!

        • Marjorie Snook

          Fear-mongering about annexation into Atlanta is the last-ditch fear-mongering tactic of cityhood supporters who realize they have not built a compelling case for the city, and so want to convince everyone that even though this proposal is terrible something much worse will happen if they don’t roll over and accept it.

          The fact is that annexation into Atlanta is unlikely even for Druid Hills, much less any areas past Medlock. There’s no real proposal to do so, it has no support, it would fail in a vote. If it’s proposed, we will of course fight it although I think it will be an easy task. But it’s not even being proposed.

          • RAJ

            You are sadly incorrect in how aggressive the Atlanta Delegation was in moving on annexation in DeKalb in the last legislative session and schools were the key issue as you may recall. Anything other than a minimum annexation in DeKalb by city of Atlanta would have a serious effect on the financial stability of the DeKalb County School System.

  • follow the money

    Lakeside also admitted early on which they probably regret that a Valdosta law firm donated 5k initially plus pro bono work. How much pro bono work? 2 hours? 20 hours? 200 hours? If you figure these people charge around 3-4 hundred a hour easily that’s a lot of money they are putting behind this. Ironically that’s the same firm that pushed Brookhaven and has made a killing off that debacle. 3 studies costing 75k had to be paid for so for. Other expenses had to be paid for. Lets say Lakeside, Briarcliff, LVH Yes and LVH Alliance have conservatively spent 100k total on this. That is 2000 donors at a average of $50 a donor. You really think they got 2000 donors out of 65 thousand residents which includes a large percentage of kids? You think they even got 1000 people to put a $100 each into it? Some big money interests are funding this city and they will be expecting a lot of our tax dollars back in return.

  • WakeUpDekalb

    Mr. Carlton – The world knows you want to NOT BE IN a city of any kind. Now would you please share with the world YOUR CREDENTIALS that would make you more learned that the Carl Vinson Institute. I would like to know them. Thank you.

    • OldWhiteDad

      WHAT CREDENTIALS does one need to do simple math? Either the calculations are correct or they aren’t. WakeUp, what is so complicated about the claims being made about this possible error in the report. The CVI was paid 75,000 dollars for the three studies. can’t they explain their reasoning to us all now? No need to question the messenger – point out the errors in his message!

    • Russell Carleton

      Sure. I hold a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and have taught statistics and research methods at the university level. I do a good bit of mathematical modeling on a daily basis. In this particular case, I noticed that the model that CVI chose (which they spelled out in their report; using the county tax system and rates) was a poor match to what the proposed city charter said. One of the first rules of research methodology is that you want your model to match as closely as it can to whatever reality you are trying to look at.

      In this particular case, the only expertise necessary is to know that the city could only charge a maximum of 5.00, while the CVI assumed that they would charge 7.64. This is mathematically not possible.

      If I may ask a more salient question. Given the above, is it possible that CVI simply made a mistake? If they did, then that mistake should be corrected, and once it is, what does the report then say?

  • Cities Are Bad

    I am so glad that people like Russell are able to work for Dekalb strong and keep the county from becoming more fragmented and creating more problems with all of these bad cities. Cities are bad. The county is doing just fine as it is and the corruption is really the creation of all of these cities. We need to stand together and celebrate the work we have with the county for they keep the economy going strong. Makes me want to go and buy a new car I am so happy. Job security, what a feeling.

    • Marjorie Snook

      I disagree with you. The county is NOT doing fine, and in fact needs a ton of work. So much work that we really cannot afford to divert our energies into yet another layer of government.

      None of our members that I know of work for the county (there may be one or two, we’ve gotten very large so I don’t know). Job security is not their motivation to be involved with this.

      • Cities Are Bad

        Our goal is the same. Keep these people from creating a city that dilutes the power of the county and takes away money that is used to support the entire county. The county IS functioning just fine. One side is ours and the other is theirs. Not like a whole bunch of white people are going to move to South DeKalb anytime soon just to get some commissioners elected so they can do what they want. Lots of county employees around. They may not say so but we are everywhere. Collecting your garbage making sure that the water keeps flowing working on the roads sending out the tax bills answering the phones patrolling the streets. Busy we are with duties. Many people dont like saying where we work and that is ok.

        Just be glad that so many people are working to keep these cities from happening and be thankful of the supporters you have and dont be so angry we are all working together on this. We really need to focus on tucker now that lavista is destroyed. That is a huge amount of the county that will go away and lots of jobs will be lost with that. Keep DeKalb strong and vote no for tucker too.

        • Marjorie Snook

          We gather employment data, as legally required, for our campaign disclosures. So I do know that we don’t have county employees as donors.

          I also take offense to the ‘their side is theirs and our side is ours.’ I have friends across the county, and the county is becoming more integrated over time. I hope to see the segregation in the county to continue to decrease. It was created over decades, driven by a lot of terrible housing policy that encouraged segregation. It takes time for that to disappear, but there is progress.

          I am not angry, I just am not sure that are values are really aligned. After the cities are defeated we are going to turn our attention to making sure the ethics legislation is properly implemented. I am hope the independent auditor will help reduce the bloat in county government.

          I have loads of respect for our police, our sanitation workers, all of the employees who are doing a good job. But there is significant inefficiency in departments, apart from corruption, that we need to address.

          • RAJ

            $1000 ethics fines for $100,000 ethics violations won’t fix anything nor will a request for proposal for an auditor bottled up in the personnel Department.

  • Smarter Than You

    Those of you who are arguing back and forth about the CVI estimations and revenues may be missing the forest for the trees here. Their only hope to win is to exploit two areas: 1) fear of annexation into Atlanta, and 2) anger and hopelessness over county corruption. Once residents are educated that it requires a vote of 61% of their neighbors to be annexed – that boogieman goes away. And now we see these pro-city leaders are every bit dishonest, deceptive, and arrogant as any county politician we’ve seen. I do not care about the CVI numbers. I care that the best decision they could come up with was to continue to try and confuse the matter and to strategize how to counter criticism when the issue surfaced. None of them know right from wrong, and this Herman Lorenz is especially dirty reading his emails and now his letter to the editor. Shame on the Lavista Hills organizers. You have no moral ground to stand on.

New Ben Ad
Banner Decaturish 300x250_April

Receive the Daily Email DIgest

* = required field