Dear Decaturish – LaVista Hills has enormous, untapped potential

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt October 28, 2015
File Photo provided by Dena Mellick

File Photo provided by Dena Mellick

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Dear Decaturish,

My support for the city of LaVista Hills is personal. I grew up in a fairly small suburban town (population 17,000) in New Jersey, a state which was almost as infamous for its corruption as DeKalb County has become. In fact, we saw mayor after mayor of our state’s largest city (15 miles away from where I grew up) go to prison, and had a U.S. Senator who was forced to resign with bribery accusations, as part of the Abscam scandal.

Despite the corruption not far from us, our town never seemed to have any whisper of corruption.  I think that much of the reason lay in the fact that we knew our mayor and councilmen, and they felt that they were an integral part of the town. I knew the mayor’s son, who was one year behind me in school, and our local councilman was someone who lived on the next street, and was my twin brother’s Little League baseball coach. I waved to him when he passed by on our street, and he waved back.  While no one can ever guarantee ethics, people are much less likely to be corrupt when identified with the community and accountable to people who know them well.


I have now lived in DeKalb County for over 40 years.  When I first moved here to become an Emory graduate student in 1971, I was very glad to hear that the schools in our area (Briarcliff and Druid Hills High Schools) were the envy of the state and well-known for their excellence.  I heard that we had the best-educated county in the state.

I must confess, however, that I was befuddled about where I lived:  was it northeast Atlanta (Emory’s address), or Decatur (home address), or, later, something else (Emory-Northlake?  Leafmore-Toco Hill?)? I never quite developed the same kind of civic identity I had experienced earlier.  By the same token, however, I never imagined that the county eventually would have a school system put on probation and a Democratic CEO and Republican councilwoman behind bars, not to mention the sheriff’s being convicted for having the sheriff-elect murdered, and myriad questions about other officials.

My council committee representative in DeKalb never lived very close to me. I did attend some council meetings, but I never really felt much a part of government. Unlike when I lived in New Jersey, I rarely heard much from others about governmental decisions. In recent years before I retired, I was disappointed to hear considerable discussion with new doctors or professors at Emory, who were looking for a place to live, and were advised not to move to unincorporated DeKalb County, because of its terrible reputation for corruption and a perception that it was declining and threatened. Move to Decatur or to Dunwoody or Brookhaven, they were told.

I have observed recently the advancement of Brookhaven since it became a city a few years ago. I happen to know a considerable number of people who live there and also drive through it on frequent occasions.  I was not surprised to hear that its zip code had one of the greatest increases in real estate values since cityhood.

Though I know such people must exist, I have been unable to find one person who lives there who regrets it becoming a city, even though cityhood passed narrowly. I notice police presence there much more than before it became a city, and now find that many apartment complexes in town have “…at Brookhaven” after their name to celebrate their affiliation with the new city.  I have noticed some improvements in local parks, which I frequent.  My wife and I attended Brookhaven’s Cherry Blossom Festival this year, and were very impressed with the city’s spirit and offerings.

We have enormous untapped potential in LaVista Hills, with many talented and professional people ready to help our city, if it passes. I met one of them yesterday at a living room meeting, a gentleman with a PhD degree in engineering, who served several terms as councilman for the city of Dallas in Texas, and wants to volunteer to help with civic organization. And, yes, I see energy and talent among supporters of DeKalb Strong, who might channel it into a positive outcome for our new city, if it passes.

I am distressed with the polarization of politics, which I have seen both at the local and national levels.  I see facebook pages full of insults toward neighbors who disagree, such as suggestions on DeKalb Strong’s page that LaVista Hills organizers are universally underhanded or unethical. Even our own LaVista Hills supporters occasionally need reminders that all of us are neighbors and wish the best for our community.

And, yes, I do not wish to leave the southern part of our county in bad shape; however, I believe strongly that our south-county neighbors will benefit more from a vibrant county than from a continuation of the present trend. After all, the lion’s share of our city’s tax revenue would go to the whole county, so any successful city will contribute to the county as a whole.

I have heartened to see so much interest in cityhood, evidenced by the large number of yard signs (pro and con) in most areas of the city’s footprint. I am excited that we could have a new beginning, and hope that Nov. 3 will usher in a new era.  I am excited to vote “LaVista Hills, Yes.”

– Stan Chapman, PhD


About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Smarter Than You

    Like you Dr. Chapman, I am also retired Emory faculty and see the question of cityhood the polar opposite of you. It is concerning to learn that people are considering making a fundamental change to the structure of our governance because they are befuddled on what to call their neighborhood. I’m sure that makes a difference to many people, and hopefully they are happy in John’s Creek and the Country Club of the South. I purposefully chose to live in unincorporated DeKalb and while I’m sure it cannot compare to the idyllic New Jersey paradise you recall from 50 years ago, it has worked out very well for my family and I over the last four decades.

    Perhaps you are not aware, but the Dunwoody and Brookhaven areas existed before becoming cities. In fact, it was as unincorporated DeKalb that their infrastructure was built and their development was planned and executed. I owned a rent house in Brookhaven and sold it for 15x what I paid – ten years ago! I
    suggest these new cities are succeeding despite their incredibly poor management. The cities have not created the property value increases – the property value increases have enabled the cities to be created. No doubt you need to get out a bit more if you cannot find citizens who regret their cityhood votes. And while you and your wife may have been impressed with the festival in Brookhaven, there are dozens of similar events sponsored and supported in neighborhoods all across our region – even one just a mile down LaVista from your home in Oak Grove. Do we really need a new layer of government for a festival?

    I guess the most disturbing part of your appeal is that you resent the implication that “LaVista Hills organizers are universally underhanded and unethical.” What portion of the organizers being underhanded and unethical would be OK with you? You see Dr. Chapman, you cannot pick and choose which facts to consider or ignore. They are all present in this decision. I believe in the “one bad apple…” theorem, and there are more than a few bad apples in the pro-Lavista Hills leadership – the same people who would be governing us.

    Any ethical failure at this initial stage of formation predicts grave corruption problems on the horizon. I strongly feel we do not address the corruption issues in the county by adding another layer of politicians at a city level.

    I find no part of your letter a compelling reason to vote for a new city, and you have reminded of several reason why it must be defeated on Nov. 3rd.

    • Ernest

      Hey! Your Smartness! If you are so much smarter than Dr. Chapman, why didn’t you proudly sign your letter – like he did? And if you go on the “one bad apple” theory, you really need to stay upwind from the DeKalb Strong bushel of rotten apples.

      • laurelridger

        Well now, isn’t that an appropriately adult comment.

  • Marjorie Snook

    There are plenty of strong, identifiable communities that don’t have city governments, such as Druid Hills, and Dunwoody (BEFORE they became a city).

    New governments do not magically confer community, or identity. And in the case of LaVista Hills, the identity conferred would be a bit negative. I currently say I live just outside of Decatur city limits. This is far more descriptive than LaVista Hills, which doesn’t even tell someone whether I am in or out of the Perimeter! LVH is a sprawling, highly heterogeneous area that takes about a half hour to drive end to end.

    • notapunk

      “I live just outide of Decatur city limits” also sounds better than “I live closer to Tucker than Decatur.”

      • Marjorie Snook

        Does it? Why?

        Not that having an “impressive sounding” address has ever been something I was remotely interested in.

        • notapunk

          Then why not address it accurately?

          • Marjorie Snook

            Actually, I have told people that I am right in between–Decatur address but a Tucker phone exchange (if I had a landline it would be 770).

            Again, not really looking to impress anyone with my address. That seems the height of silliness to me. I also don’t care about precisely explaining where I live with a place name. If they want to know where my house is, I give them my address and they can map it on their phone. As long as GPS can find it, we’re all good.

  • Cities Are Bad

    Margorie is right. people do know where the just outside of decatur is. you dont need a city to make people know which is the good part of town and which is the bad part. They are all over the place. good parts and bad parts. city lines do not make for a known place. Brookhaven goes from 285 to 85 right through the middle of everything. It is not the golf course it is Buford highway and up near all of the hospitals. it even goes to where briarcliff and north druid hills meets. Who would have thought that brookhaven would be any part of Buford highway. Lavista hills is just trying to make the real estate sellers rich by increasing the amount of their sales. This is a scam. They do not need to see more expensive houses and should be just fine with what they have to sell right now. Keep dekalb strong and intact without a new city. your job may depend on it.

  • Typo

    It was signed, “PhD”. Wow!

  • MediateIt

    On September 15th, Dunwood Police Chief Billy Grogan wrote a memo to the City Council stating that crimes against people were up two-thirds, and said his 51-officer department is “woefully understaffed.” He is seeking a 10 percent increase in the department’s budget, to $8.2 million from $7.4 million to add three new patrol officers and a detective. The chief said he wants to add the patrol officers to increase visibility in the community and add a detective to help with the heavy investigative workload.

    “Compared to some of our neighboring cities, our [major] crime rate is unacceptably high,” police Chief Billy Grogan wrote. A statistical comparison of the cities is in the article.

    Notapunk, a comparison of the crime statistics of a single city to the entire state of Georgia is ludicrous. Also, taking the statistics from the entire 12 month period in 2014 and comparing them to a nine month period in 2015 is misleading, at best. It seems to me that the report of the chief of police of one of the two cities that the Carl Vinson Institute used to compare to a possible city of La Vista Hills would be the most accurate source of information when determining how many police officers per person might be needed in the new city, and how much money it might cost to achieve that goal.

    Using the numbers provided in the flawed CVI study as if it were correct, it doesn’t appear that there will be enough funds for the appropriate number of patrol officers plus detectives per person in LaVista Hills without a significant increase in the budget. What is the City Council going to do? Are they going to fund sufficient police at the cost of parks or roads, or are they going to start with a smaller force and see what happens? You can’t have it all, so what will it be – police or potholes?

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