Dear Decaturish – An olfactory assessment of LaVista Hills

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt October 29, 2015
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

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Dear Decaturish,

Integrity is the basis of all justifications to start a city. Like many of us, when the incorporation question arose, I felt I needed to learn as much as I could, and I began with an open mind. I attended most of the meetings by the advocating groups. What struck me at the first “Lakeside” community meetings were statements by the speakers that the meetings were strictly informational, that they were not trying to sway anyone, and they would proceed to promote their list of cityhood benefits. I thought, why don’t they just be honest and say they are here to sell us a city? I would have respected that. When they insisted on written-only questions (that were filtered) and had what others have described as snarky attitudes and demeaning tones toward questioners with questions they didn’t like, something didn’t smell right. This pattern continued with “Yes” and “Alliance” groups through every meeting I attended, at multiple locations.

The two LaVista Hills (LVH) groups each originate from the defunct cityhood attempts of Lakeside and Briarcliff. It’s an awkward split-personality lobby, as the two groups appear to simply tolerate each other and held separate pubic meetings.

Both groups have disseminated thousands of flyers, with their individual versions of the same basic claims asserting rosy benefits to incorporation. Using the “Yes” group’s flyer, I have listed a few of the statements from it, followed by my comments:

Efficient Government: DeKalb County wastes millions of our tax dollars every year.  LaVista Hills will use our taxes more effectively with less waste.” There is no LaVista Hills budget yet, so this statement has no basis. If it had been written something like, “…will strive to use our taxes more effectively…,” that would have shown credibility.

Better Services:  LaVista Hills will mean more police on our streets, better parks, and well-maintained roads.”  A far more cost-effective solution to a new police department would be to hire a neighborhood security service that works with the county police. Smaller departments have high turnover rates and lack the technology the county has. I toured DKPD’s 911 response center last year and found the facility and level of expertise of the people running it to exceed my expectations. I walked away with a greatly boosted view of our DKPD. It’s impressive, and I feel fortunate we have this. Its unsettling to think we could lose access to this and take a significant step backwards. Additionally, small police forces are notorious for using traffic citations to boost revenue. As for parks, there is no budget in the Vinson study for acquisition, beyond the county parks. The County has increased their efforts over the past few years in creating new parks in our neighborhoods, including Kittredge (23.7 acres), Mary Scott (10.6 acres), Frazier-Rowe (4 acres), and the new park on Briarlake Rd (21 acres), plus the major renovation at Mason Mill (137.8 Acres).  LVH has no money for new parks, and there is concern for the fate of these parks under city control.

No Tax Increases: No Georgia City created in the last decade has raised taxes, and the LaVista Hills charter caps property tax rates at the current level.” There has already been in-depth discussion on the plausibility of this statement. I’ll add that cities have multitudes of ways to extract money from residents, such as added fees, charges, fines, etc. In Brookhaven, homeowner’s are paying more taxes because property values increased. Good for sellers, bad for anyone not selling and families on tight budgets. One thing is certain: it will cost more to live here, under a city.  Emails from “Yes” members showed admittance to problems with the Vinson study. A more in-depth study of taxes is found here:

Ethical Government: LaVista Hills will come into existence with the kind of strict ethical and auditing controls being forced on DeKalb’s government after years of resistance.”  The section on ethics in the LVH charter has little substantive difference to the DeKalb County Code of Ethics, which came into existence in 1990. What the LVH charter sorely LACKS is establishment of an independent Board of Ethics to review complaints and enforce penalties. The LVH charter leaves it to the Mayor to appoint any future Board members. LVH leaders have used the tired cliché, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Why then have they chosen to repeat what DeKalb did, leaving a loophole allowing opportunity for corruption? The corruption investigation and State focus on DeKalb County clean-up has reached a tipping point, so it seems that the county will not be in a position to do the same things. Obviously, there is still lot of work to do.

Smart Growth: Zoning, planning and permitting decisions will be made by people who live in and understand our community.”  While theoretically great, the footprint of LVH is comprised predominantly of residential areas, which are money losers for municipalities. The Vinson study budget had little margin for error. The likelihood for areas to be rezoned commercial and mixed-use looks high, as a cash-strapped city may have no choice but to do what they need to do to keep from filing bankruptcy.

There is concern within the communities around Briarlake Road that the new 21-acre forest park recently purchased by the county (after a long and difficult community-wide effort to keep the property from rezoning and development), could face new threats if incorporation occurs. In answer to these concerns, during a conversation on October 12 on NextDoor, Kevin Levitas stated, “I am 100 percent behind LaVista Hills and 100 percent behind the creation and preservation of green spaces. That is a primary driver of why I became involved with the cityhood effort.”  While that sounds good, many feel no security with this statement, as Mr. Levitas, who lives within walking distance to this property, was conspicuously absent through the multitudes of neighborhood, County Planning Commission meetings, which occurred over a 9-month+ period, and which may have been the largest mobilizing event in the community’s history.

Both LVH groups filed financial disclosure reports late (“Alliance” 8 days), in contrast to their claims of greater efficiency. Despite the hype of local representation, the “Alliance” disclosure reveals 45 percent of the itemized campaign contribution dollars came from outside the footprint of LVH. 56 percent of itemized dollar contributions came from businesses eligible to financially benefit from contracts with the city. 80 percent of these businesses are outside of the LVH footprint.

I have worked hard searching for roses in this city proposition, yet what I have mostly smelled is a whole lot of fertilizer.  No thank you, please, this time around.

– Kenneth Lippe

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • DianneMedlockJoy

    Kenneth, this is an excellent assessment of this referendum we are facing on Tuesday. Nothing is right about this city proposal–the way it was done, the way it has played out and, most of all, the players.

  • Cities Are Bad

    You left off about the cities wanting to bring in all of those refugees like clarkston does. They are going to need all the federal free government money for each immigrant to pay for all of the new police cars and offices and police officers and pot hole fixes. We don’t need any more people living in government housing. Clarkston is too close already. Keep dekalb strong and vote no in November to keep free Dekalb and our communities clean of the dirty people.

    • A Gok

      Clearly you are a sock puppet. I have never seen a real anti city person post this type of thing.

      • Marjorie Snook

        Yeah, this is a city supporter who has been doing this for months now. Posting absurd statements like, “I am a county worker, and thanks to DeKalb Strong, I am buying a new car!” It’s all so silly.

        • A Gok

          Bizarre is more like it. I don’t understand grown adults using sock puppets. That’s the behavior of a 13 yr old. If you believe in your cause, advocate under your real identity.

          • Cities Are Bad

            Well smelly brown dress sock puppet to you to name caller!

          • A Gok


          • A. Reader

            Your real identity is A Gok?

        • Cities Are Bad

          I dont support a new city. We want them to fail for all of the right reasons. dekalb county is doing just fine without all of these new police running around writing everyone tickets and costing us money. The fewer the police writing tickets the better for us.

          • Marjorie Snook

            We get fewer police with a city, not more.

          • Kevin_Levitas

            This is absolutely false of which you are, of
            course, aware.

            DeKalb’s own staffing studies shows an average
            of 13 patrol officers assigned for the entire North Central Precinct. Actual shift sheets provided by officers show the number can be closer to 7. The North-Central precinct is one of the four assigned to protect DeKalb’s 511,619 unincorporated residents (an average of slightly more than 127,900 residents per precinct).

            It is a shame that you and the anti-city crowd are
            not interested in providing your own neighbors with true data from which they can make informed decisions. Falsely suggesting to voters in your mailed propaganda that the AJC has sided with your bogus numbers does a real disservice to the very people your purport to inform.

            Statements like these and the invented financial figures you and your supporters use to mislead voters with untrue conclusions about the feasibility of LaVista Hills is the wrong way to go about what should be a civil and on-the-level debate.

          • Russell Carleton

            That’s because the number you quote is the number of patrol level officers, and only those at the officer level. In the same document that you link, on page 52, we see that the North Central precinct has 70 patrol officers, but also has several police above the officer level (Sgt, Lt., etc.) who are listed as on patrol. (Again, page 52 shows 95 total officers assigned to patrol duties just for the North/Central precinct, once you include everyone.) As well, there are other sworn officers who work on criminal investigations, neighborhood enforcement and a few other specialist jobs. Police have to do a lot more than just drive the beat.

            In addition to being in the North/Central precinct, the LVH footprint stretches into the Tucker precinct, which has 80 patrol officers, and 127 total badge officers. Some of those are “assigned” to the LVH footprint as well.

            Presumably, there would be sergeants and lieutenants and detectives and specialists in the LaVista Hills PD, yes? If you’re going to do a proper comparison between staffing levels, you either have to count their counterparts in the Dekalb PD. Or you have to allow that those guys don’t count for patrol stats.

            Then you need to account for the Dekalb police who aren’t precinct level cops, but serve on special units that work the entire county.

            But comparing just officer-level patrol cops in one of the two precincts for Dekalb vs. the projected size of everyone in the department seems a rather tilted comparison.

          • RAJ

            Blab,blab,blab……the real issue with public safety is that you get about a 4 minute response time to a 911 call in LVH vs an average 22 minute response time in unincorporated DeKalb…important since most public safety encounters start with a 911 call.

          • jo

            RAJ an analysis by the Dunwoody Crier a few years back by none other than Rebecca Chase Williams showed the officers were responding to the serious calls in 4 to 5 minutes. Faster than Dunwoody. The 22 minute response seems to be some made up number but if you had come to a public safety meeting a month or so ago then you would of heard the various responses protocols used by the officers. Did you see their facebook post the other day where they caught the burglar on Lavista Rd right after he committed a crime, obviously not a 22 minute response. Cutting and gutting police services for the area is plain dumb.

          • RAJ

            jo…thanks for your uninformed opinion. The 22 minutes comes directly from the 911 records. protocols being what they are, I live behind a fire station and with my wife unconscious on the bedroom floor at 2AM in the morning the response time was(probably in your opinion)a very good 15 minutes. I think the extra 11 minutes would have made a difference!

          • jo

            No, Mr Levitus you are wrong. A north central precinct shift might sometimes run as low as 7 but you failed to account for the 3 additional officers from the Tucker precinct which is also in the LVH footprint. Then they have 4 shifts per day. That’s alot more officers than the misinformation your are trying to spread.

          • MediateIt

            The “invented financial figures” to which you refer were not invented. Dr. Baggett at CVI admitted that there were errors in the feasibility study. Further analyses by Dr. Hans Utz, former Deputy COO of the City of Atlanta, and Dr. Gunter Sharp, Professor Emeritus at Georgia Tech, confirmed that the new city would be skating on financial thin ice, requiring an infusion of funds (taxes, fees, fines, etc) or a reduction in the services promised by LVH (police, parks, etc.) in order to survive, much less flourish. If you have other studies to share, please do. Calling the analysis of respected authorities “invented financial figures” does not qualify.

          • Roundtree

            That’s not an accurate representation oh Hans Utz’s analysis. His conclusion likened it to a rounding error:
            “It is vitally important to understand the limitations of this sort of analysis. This is, at best, an educated guess about the potential income of the city. It is not the same thing as a budget passed by an elected body and managed by professionals. A projected deficit of 0.3 percent is completely normal in any budget process and would be easily remedied by any competent city manager without impacting taxes or services.

            For example, hire one less aide to the Mayor. Though, in this case, I would perhaps suggest ensuring the new leadership has a competent analyst on board. And while they are at it, they probably want to invest in improved communications.

            Contrary to DeKalb Strong’s perspective, I would read Mr. Carleton’s analysis to suggest that LaVista Hills is financially viable and would achieve a balanced budget with relative ease.”

          • MediateIt

            The balanced budget to which he refers is based upon a higher millage rate than that utilized by the CVI study, which translates to equal or higher taxes on city residents simply to maintain the status quo, assuming good governance. Dr. Utz very clearly refuses to make that assumption. In his own words: “The single best argument DeKalb Strong can make against LaVista is their to-date terrible track record with information and transparency. Not all cities are bad, but all terribly-led cities are bad. I would be worried that LVH is going down that same path based on what I’ve seen from their leadership.” Given that LVH continues to trumpet a flawed study as gospel, and continues to respond to the critical analyses of both Dr. Carleton and Prof. Gunter with personal attacks in lieu of facts, I am worried about the future governance of this city. Very worried. Which leads me to one other comment by Dr. Utz:

            “Ethics reform, if done properly, sets up an independent internal organization charged with chasing down issues of corruption. Rather than depend on whistleblowers or the press to uncover these issues, you now have an internal investigator tasked with continuously looking for it.

            Don’t underestimate the power of that. Ethics reform led the way to cleaning up many of the now better-governed municipalities in the area. This does not mean you will always agree with their decisions, but it does at least mean the decisions broadly comply with the law.

            It also tends to remove the politicians who resist procurement reform, transparent accountability, etc. Over the long haul it hopefully upgrades the professional talent in office. It is not a short play, admittedly, but on a long horizon it has a compounding effect toward better governance.”

            DeKalb Strong was at the Capitol throughout the past session lobbying for passage of all three county reform bills. Amendments to county procurement policies and the establishment of a new Office of Independent Audit in DeKalb are now law. An ethics reform referendum is on the ballot. By contrast, the LVH charter does not mandate any of those reforms in the new city.

            We should all be worried about the quality of governance to expect if this new city becomes a reality. Very worried.

  • ernest

    Kenneth, the reason you “have mostly smelled a whole lot of fertilizer” is because you have been standing smack in the middle of so much of it! Spending so much time mired in the dishonesty, false and misleading fear, uncertainty and doubt shoveled constantly by the DeKalb Wrong crew has obviously rendered your olfactory lobe unable to recognize the sweet smell of success that LaVista Hills can bring to our area.

    • Kenneth Lippe

      Ernest, you are assuming a lot here. I reached my conclusions independently, and I don’t consult DeKalb Strong. Is what it is.

      • travelingfool

        Wow, I think @ernest just made you’re point regarding “snarky attitudes and demeaning tones toward questioners with questions they didn’t like” He didn’t refute anything you said. something doesn’t smell right indeed.

    • laurelridger

      I’d say it appears any opposition would be “wrong” for you.

  • Eva Shaw

    Won’t you all be glad when all this is over?!!!!

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