Dear Decaturish – Frankencity

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt October 31, 2015
Image provided by Don Weston.

Image provided by Don Weston.

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Dear Decaturish,

Like Shelly’s grotesque creature, Lavista Hills has been cobbled together from parts of neighborhoods stretching from an area outside Emory University all the way to the north of Pleasantdale Road outside of 285. Communities have been dissected and dismembered, and in addition to it’s odd shape, a lot of odd things have happened in the six months leading up to this vote. I send this letter hoping those deciding how to vote will see the monster for what it is.

Broken process

The previously contentious cityhood groups of Lakeside and Briarcliff kissed and made up long enough to agree with the pro-Tucker city group about shared boundaries. Unfortunately, that agreement was breached at the 11th hour and the monster shifted form again, surprising many residents whose homes were now included in its girth without any participation in the process at all. Streets were divided down the middle, parks split – the boundary even bisected a grocery store.  The bakery is in unincorporated DeKalb, and Lavista Hills has the frozen entrees.

The lobbyists for the new city could find no legislator in the LVH footprint to initially introduce the bill, so they turned to a Dunwoody politician to be the primary sponsor. Unlike the process for every other new city, no feasibility study was required to ensure LVH was a viable city before the bill was passed. It was after the referendum date was set that the feasibility study surfaced which contained erroneous assumptions that would challenge the city’s basic economics – problems that would have been discovered if the process had been followed. Rather than address those mistakes publicly, emails uncovered that LVH leadership plotted to attack the citizen who noticed the errors and then conspired to “say as little as possible” about the problem.  “Let’s pass this in November and we’ll fix it in January.” The question of cityhood was forced on the voters without full disclosure of potential feasibility issues.

True to their strategy, it was difficult for residents to get answers because the once unified Lavista Hills group had suddenly split into two – LVH Yes and LVH Alliance (the former Briarcliff and Lakeside cliques were on their own again).  The Alliance group refused to debate the opposition, and instead conducted one-sided “voter information presentations” where the audience was prohibited from asking direct questions – only written questions from the “audience.”  What a relief for them that no difficult questions were ever asked!

LVH Alliance attempted to sell its brand of police force in a series of “public safety meetings”.  At these presentations, panels composed of law enforcement from other small cities spoke, but the DeKalb County Police Department was not invited. The strategy of scaring people with outrageously inaccurate data about the DCPD was working, as residents left the gatherings thinking a LVH police force would provide better public safety than the county. The facts definitively prove otherwise.

Broken truths

The LVH groups unapologetically spread inaccurate information on many issues. Regarding police, the facts are easily verifiable.  The LVH feasibility study provides for 104 police personnel, including civilians and command staff. After subtracting for the requisite administrative and support personnel, the resulting force of 1 sworn officer per 1000 citizens is a number far below current county staffing in the same footprint. LVH police would have no SWAT, no K9, no specialty units such as major crimes, CSI, bomb squad or aerial.

The LVH leadership claims that these deficiencies will be addressed through intergovernmental agreements, although there is no funding for these agreements in the feasibility study.  They suggest a Sheriff department helicopter could be used for police functions. Unfortunately, these specialty units must continue to exist in order for intergovernmental agreements to even be possible.  The huge tax revenue drain to LVH would most certainly require a shrinking of the DeKalb County police force, and possible elimination of some the specialty units that we all currently take for granted.

Pro-city advocates love to point out that there are no current DeKalb council members living in the LVH footprint and that the county district has 110,000 residents.  The also agree that the population of LVH would be 67,000 people. Simple math proves that LVH actually has a numerical majority and could elect a representative. It’s not the structure of the government preventing representation. Could it be that an appealing candidate has not run, or that the turnout from the footprint has been too low to win?  Or both?

There have been so many promises made to so many different groups – LVH advocates say anything to sell this city. If you drill down on any of those promises, the truth comes out – the only people who can actually speak to the policies and priorities of a new city are the 7 politicians who will be elected. We don’t know who these politicians may be, but don’t worry, because we will have one representative for only 11,000 people which is better than one for 110,000 at the county level. Citizen voices will be heard!  Seriously? I live in a condo community with 1 representative for every 25 people – and people can’t agree on priorities.

The myth of closer representation is further demolished by Brookhaven’s real world experience where the southern districts accuse the northern ones of getting all the paving and the park improvements. Sandy Springs where neighborhood associations are having to resort to suing their own city over zoning changes that increase density but destroy their quality of life. The city council of Dunwoody never met a developer they didn’t like – and their traffic proves it.

Broken ethics

There have been numerous questions about LVH’s actions and ethics. City organizers retained a least one lobbyist to represent them at the Gold Dome during the legislative session, and yet their financial disclosures do not identify lobbyist expenditures at all.

LVH advocates have tried to scare neighborhoods like Merry Hills, Toco Hills, and others that annexation of residential property by Atlanta is inevitable, and voting for LVH is the only way to prevent it. What is left out of the discussion is that residential annexation requires popular support of 60 percent of the voters – a very high threshold to meet if the residents want annexation, and impossible if they do not.

Other areas, like Laurel Ridge and Medlock, have been blanketed by materials claiming their neighborhoods are in the “crosshairs of annexation” by other cities. These hysterical claims are implausible since by law a city can only annex areas contiguous with their boundaries.  There would be huge pieces of real estate to get through before those neighborhoods could be affected – and even then the residents would have to agree to annexation.

The split between the two LVH groups resulted in lots of finger pointing when it came to the expensive anonymous and inflammatory mailers flooding our mailboxes.  Similarly, neither of the LVH groups are willing to claim responsibility for the illegal robo-calls that voters continue to receive day and night. And perhaps most disturbing, LVH Alliance’s campaign disclosure filing (eight days after the deadline) did not explain how significant expenses were paid for, including the thousands for the feasibility study and lobbyist costs.

Since the predecessor city movements of Lakeside and Briarcliff that raised funds and contributed to LVH were never required to file disclosures, we may never know where the lion’s share of funding for the proposed city came from.  But what we do know is that many vendors attended a $500 minimum pay-to-play fundraiser, and donated money to LVH Alliance with the hope of doing business with the new city. After all it worked when they contributed to the Brookhaven effort.

The very premise of the LVH campaign has been to play on the frustration voters feel regarding corruption in county government.  Ironically, the people who would be our city leaders have no problem accepting large sums of money from contractors and developers.  It sure seems a lot like the reason Burrell Ellis got convicted.  LVH excuses its questionable behavior because it’s not illegal since “there is no city in existence yet.” Illegal – I guess not; unethical – I think so.

Unbroken people

I understand a new city of Lavista Hills has an appeal to people who genuinely want to do something about improving our government. But like magic weight loss pills, few problems are solved without actual work and sacrifice.  A new city is definitely not an answer to DeKalb’s problems.  It would actually create an entirely new layer of problems. And we don’t need to punish the county – we are the county.

The more difficult truth is that DeKalb voters cannot afford not to be involved any longer.  We must come together to recruit, campaign for, and elect higher quality county politicians. That is our job. The county ethics reforms are a start but must be continually watched and adjusted, and there must be citizen oversight at every level of county operations.  We must require integrity in our public officials and continue to identify and prosecute every breech.  We are better together, and together we can make DeKalb strong again.

No distractions.  No new layers of problems.  No Thanks, Lavista Hills.

Don Weston

Unincorporated DeKalb County

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Mark Knowles

    Thank you Don Weston. The community is better served with a No vote on this referendum. If municipalization is to occur, then we should proceed in a sound manner. The current maps leave significant funding gaps that will cause long term harm to our community’s police services. Placing the referendum before the voters with this gap shows the flaws in the current cityhood process. The voters are left to send a message back to the General Assembly to tell them to send us a plan that works for the community as a whole and not just a subset.

    • Ernest

      Mark, how’s your lobbyist business coming with DeKalb County, Stan, Larry, and the gang?

      • Smarter Than You

        “Ernest”, how’s YOUR lobbyist business going? Hope the FCC doesn’t track back any of those recorded illegal robo-calls. Are Federal fines more than North Carolina fines?

        • Ernest

          Gong! Wrong again, Mark. And I didn’t expect a straight answer about your connections with the DeKalb politicos that you are trying so hard to help prevent LVH residents from taking back some of their power. What about all the disclosure you and the DS folks rant about? I guess that only applies to the other guys.

      • Mark Knowles

        Your Google search fails you. I served as a lobbyist FOR cities on behalf of GMA until 2000. I use my own name to speak about a serious issue impacting our community. Your personal attacks and robocalls serve no purpose.

  • Ernest

    Gotta give you credit for being persistent, Don, but wrong. On so many levels. Too many to clog up Dan’s site with. Broken truths and broken ethics? Those are what DS is made of, not LVH. I just hope the public sees through your group’s push to help DeKalb’s crooked politicians continue stealing our money, while our area keeps going down.

    But about that financial report thing, Why hasn’t DS filed a complete and accurate disclosure? The deadline is way past, but still your group is hiding all it’s sources of funding. People in glass houses…

    • Ward H. Silver

      …and (would be) emperors with (no) new clothes…

    • MediateIt

      True to form, an LVH supporter who prefers specious personal attacks to factual rebuttals.

      • Jamgriot

        That’s what critics do when they have nothing of substance to offer, or are incapable of factual rebuttal.

    • Ron McCauley

      Ernest: DS filed a complete and accurate disclosure on the deadline. Neither LvH group did so. Your assertions are groundless.

      • Ernest

        Which deadline? Per the ethics website, DS filed two different forms for one report period. Both LVH groups filed on time. DS also has not provided the legally required occupation and employer on each contributor — hence still not properly filed.
        Groundless? People, go look at all 3 on the ethics website and judge for yourself.

    • Ernest

      Ron, you need to check the facts. BOTH the LVH groups filed their financial reports ON TIME. Not when the DS yahoos mistakenly were ranting about it — but sanely done as the State law requires. Why have you, Marjorie and DS not issued a public apology for all the ill-informed groundless accusations made against those folks?

      About DS misreporting, according to the ethics commission and DeKalb website, there are two different reports for DS, incomplete, no accounting for the big fundraiser at Killingsworth’s mansion or the other one in September, and no in-kind reporting for costs of all the ugly yellow yard signs, along with the current batch of new signs, and other big expenditures in support of DS and its efforts. Somebody got some ‘splainin’ to do…

      • Ron McCauley

        “Ernest”: I’ll take the liberty of calling you Steve. Despite your attempt to hide behind a pseudonym, those of us who have the misfortune of becoming familiar with your style are able to recognize your identity Mr. Shultz.
        Your tone, claims, and choice of words in your communications provide us the ability to apply our Rosetta Stone that allows us to decode and spot you. I call you out. Your Alliance with the Lavista Hills folks is documented and clear. I suppose you’re a former bored member of LvH, you seem to occupy yourself plenty as a lurker, troll, spurious accuser, and ethically challenged practitioner of a nasty form of politics.

        • Ernest

          Wrong again, Ron. But I think you’ll find the “lurker, troll, spurious accuser, and ethically challenged practitioner of a nasty form of politics” folks you describe over on that bastion of truth and civility, DS.

      • MediateIt

        “Ernest”, I am flattered that you, who have never set foot in my home to my knowledge, would consider my humble abode a mansion. Or that you would be concerned about the cost of the “big fundraiser” at my home last month, a thoroughly enjoyable potluck that you apparently were unable to attend. If there had been an in-kind donation in excess of $100.00 by myself or any other supporter, it would have been reported as such. There wasn’t. As for the “ugly yellow yard signs”, it may shock you to learn that DeKalb Strong is only one of many opponents of this cityhood initiative. Everything that DeKalb Strong has funded has a DeKalb Strong logo on it. Every dollar that DeKalb Strong received or spent before October 19th was reported.

        Speaking of reporting, the deadline for filing campaign disclosure reports was October 19th. No penalties were assessed through the 26th (the “grace period”), but the deadline was the 19th. Both LVH Yes and LVH Alliance (why two organizations?) missed the deadline. Why? None of the donations listed came in the wee hours immediately preceding the deadline. There is no reasonable excuse for the delay.

        Of more importance to me, however, is the fact that you feel that it is permissible, even advisable, to make personal attacks on me and others in pursuit of your goal of cityhood. Any means in support of an end, it seems. I can only hope that any persons reviewing this editorial and the attached comments will see through the LaVista Hills fantasy to the truth. This proposed city is a bad plan in every sense of the word. Personal attacks in lieu of facts by supporters, such as yourself, could not make it more clear.

        Patricia Killingsworth

    • AZ7678

      According to the Board of Elections employee Mr. Piazza the due date of
      disclosures was October 19, which neither Lavista Hills group complied

      • ernest

        The cut-off date was midnight on Oct. 19 – impossible to file all contributions up to that time on that same day. That’s why the law gave everyone time to finish it all up and turn in by midnight Oct. 26. DS still has not filed a complete report as of today, Oct. 31st. (see explanation below) I’m just sayin’

  • Bernie

    Don Weston, congratulations on your cleverly written essay, but you’re on shaky ground when you criticize LVH for accepting money from developers. Almost a third of your organization’s disclosed funds came from attorneys, including two big-time developers’ attorneys. And the son of one of those attorneys was the developer who tried to turn the Briarlake Road green space into housing. Note that I am NOT saying that there’s anything wrong with attorneys and developers contributing to a political cause, but it seems contradictory and, frankly, disingenuous for DeKalb Strong to try to pillory LVH for what DS itself is doing.
    You’re also on shaky ground when you question purported omissions in LVH disclosure forms. If we’re going to get into that, maybe we should ask DeKalb Strong to revise its disclosure form to include as in-kind contributions the time of its supporters who pushed the Blueprint DeKalb agenda. After all, there is considerable overlap between the leaders of Blueprint DeKalb and DeKalb Strong, and the putative meliorative effect of Blueprint DeKalb’s proposed ethics legislation are an important part of DeKalb Strong’s arguments in favor of maintaining the political status quo in Districts 2 and 6.

    • Anita Goklaney

      Bernie you are an attorney that represents developers and you support Lavista Hills. Your argument cuts both ways.

      • Bernie

        AZ7678 (whoever you are), you comment is both incomplete and nonsensical. Yes, I represent developers, but I have also represented civic associations and individuals who have opposed developers. For example, I was attorney for the folks who stopped the T-Mobile cellphone monopole which was proposed at the former Medlock Elementary School, and I later represented the No Briarlake Tower group in its successful, four-year effort to stop a T-Mobile monopole at Briarlake Elementary (and, as it turned out, other proposed elementary school sites). Your statement that my “argument cuts both ways” is puzzling. Exactly what is your point? My point is NOT that it’s bad for developers and their attorneys to contribute to either DeKalb Strong or LVH (I think it is OK); my point IS that DeKalb Strong is hypocritical to criticize LVH for taking money from attorneys and developers. I hope I’ve made that clear enough for you now.

        • AZ7678

          Bernie, you and your business representing developers will financially benefit by the formation of a city. Please explain how the attorneys that donated to Dekalb Strong would financially benefit from preventing a city? Common sense dictates that the opposite would be true. Maybe they just think that Lavista Hills is a bad idea.

  • dmforman

    Lavista Hills supporter like to talk about transparency, yet we still don’t know who paid for John Garst (also co-owner of Rosetta Stone Communication), the Lavista Hills Lobbyist, that railroaded the city through legislation. It’s on either disclosure and for that matter he never reported being such a lobbyist with the state. So glad I saved that voice mail he left me referring to himself as such. Let’s talk about transparency and ethics.

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