Open Letter To: The Taxpayers of DeKalb
DeKalb County Board of Commissioner
Brookhaven, Chamblee, Doraville, Tucker and Dunwoody City Council members, Mayors and City Managers
Re: Sewer Capacity, Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSOs), and Consent Decree
I am writing to share with you my thoughts and observations about the status of DeKalb’s sewer system pursuant to the recent reports of significant sanitary overflow (SSOs) in Brookhaven and Lithonia.
As you know, DeKalb is under a Federal Consent Decree (CD) to make improvements to the sewer system to prevent SSOs. The DeKalb Department of Watershed Management (DWM) website is where you can see all the various reports DeKalb submits to the EPA, report a spill, and review various other important components of the CD program.
My opinions about the status of the CD and the efficacy of the DWM is based on my review of the history of actions, inaction, and staffing changes within the DWM and other county departments.
May 5, 2017 – I sent the following email to the Dunwoody Mayor, City Council, and Staff. I am posting it here so that you also can hear my thoughts and concerns on this important issue.
Re: MOU regarding the permitting of temporary buildings on DCSD property
Mayor, Council Members, and Staff,
I am writing regarding Item #12, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DeKalb County School District, that is on your agenda for Monday, May 8, 2017.
I assume based on the MOU, the City’s discussions with the school district, and recent inspection activity around school trailers, that the City has now accepted that it must enforce all applicable municipal ordinances and regulations; the only exception being those that relate specifically to zoning powers in Chapter 27 of Dunwoody’s Code of Ordinances. I appreciate that the city has adjusted course on this matter and is attempting to comply with the enumerated and codified powers of the City Charter and Code.
I do have concerns about the substance of the MOU.
1. The precedent of treating a property owner (DCSD) differently than other property owners with respect to ordinances and regulations with which they must comply appears to give favor to one property owner over all others.
2. Section 8 of the MOU states: The inspections certifying compliance with the approved plans shall be accumulated/assembled and at the end of the project or as requested by City, shall be submitted to the City for City’s review. The City will issue Certificate of Occupancy upon compliance.
Reliance on a vendor selected by DCSD to inspect and document compliance with the City’s code seems like an abrogation of the City’s obligation to enforce them. The issuance of a City Certificate of Occupancy based on a vendor that has a financial relationship with the property owner (DCSD) likely leaves the city with increased risk and liability. This risk involves the most precious residents in the city – our children.
a. Would the City of Dunwoody give any other property owner the ability to contract compliance with a vendor of their choice, that they paid, and give that owner a CO?
b. If the answer is “no”, then why does the city think that this MOU structure is a good idea?
April 19, 2017 – Today, Senator Fran Millar weighed in on the City of Dunwoody’s building code enforcement issue. He sent an email to me and Councilman Nall. Senator Millar asked the Legislative Counsel at the Gold Dome to opine about this matter. (Click here to read their opinion.) The opinion expressed by Legislative Counsel and Senator Millar are the same as mine. The email exchange (copied below) is interesting and speaks for itself. Thank you, Senator Millar, for standing up for the children and home owners of Dunwoody.
April 12, 2017 – The following is the text of an email I sent to the City of Dunwoody and the city staff today.
“Mayor, Council Members, and City of Dunwoody staff:
I am writing to address a concern I have regarding recent correspondence about the city’s process for permitting and inspections for compliance with city ordinances; specifically as they relate to other governmental entities operating within the city’s boundaries.
This letter will conclude that based on a 2002 Georgia Court of Appeals case, (click here to read), the City of Dunwoody should seek to enforce its ordinances/code, regarding building, plumbing, electrical, land disturbance, storm water, etc. for any building activity on property owned by the school district, or county, within the city of Dunwoody.
I will further conclude that the Court explicitly stated that within a city, only the city, is imbued with the powers to enforce such things as building, plumbing, electrical, storm water, etc. codes. Other governmental entities are barred from enforcing any of these “supplementary powers” within the corporate boundaries of the city.
Please indicate for me when the city will enforce these “supplementary powers” on the recent activity that has taken place at Dunwoody High School, and provide me with the documentation that the necessary plan review, permitting, and inspection processes have taken, or will take, place.
November 13, 2016 – I am writing pursuant to meetings and conversations that I have had with numerous parents, civic groups, and taxpayers in District 1. The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) is in the process of determining how to allocate the funding for e-SPLOST V and, furthermore, how to potentially redistrict for the best use of the capital resources within the district.
October 15, 2016 – I have a keen interest in public education, and so, I have been closely following the debate about the Constitutional Amendment (Amendment #1 on the November ballot) to create the “Opportunity School District” (OSD).
July 16, 2016 – The county is on the precipice of setting in motion a serious of events that could substantially raise your property taxes. It has come to light that if the county puts a SPLOST referendum on the ballot this November, and it passes, the property assessment freeze will cease to be in effect.
That means that 10 years of increases in your property value, which have been shielded from county and city taxes, will instantly become taxable. You will be providing the county and cities with a sales tax and property tax windfall.
July 6, 2016 –
I have been asked to share my thoughts on the proposed SPLOST list. In its current form, the proposed SPLOST list is unacceptable to me. To sum up why:
- The county’s current proposed SPLOST project list is filled with “wants” while shortchanging “needs”.
- Less than 50% of the SPLOST list is focused on the original intent of the legislation – funding road paving and infrastructure repairs.
- The current SPLOST list proposes to use almost 10% of all SPLOST collections to fund a new, large government center complex.
May 15, 2016 –
On May 24th voters across DeKalb will see an e-SPLOST referendum on their ballot. If approved, it will be the fifth, 5-year e-SPLOST program for DeKalb County School District. What have we gotten for the almost $2 billion, over 20 years, of the e-SPLOST program? What can we expect from an e-SPLOST V?
May 6, 2016 –
On Tuesday (5/3/16) the Chair of the DeKalb Board of Education, Melvin Johnson, was interviewed for “Closer Look” on WABE, 90.1.
The interview was striking because of the blatantly false statements made by the Chair of the Board or Education and his refusal to understand the basics of school finance, how a TAD works, and the financial realities of the project.
February 21, 2016 –
Double Taxation – the fallacy of pension legacy costs.
I am writing to alert you to a potential property tax increase coming from the Georgia General Assembly. House Bill 711, sponsored by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Druid Hills), seeks to add a special tax district to cities formed after 2005. Rep. Oliver believes that newly formed cities owe, what she refers to as, “pension legacy costs”. The notion that these legacy costs exist is false and here’s why. ..Click here to read the entire post.
December 18, 2015 –
At this Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners’ meeting, the Board approved an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Doraville regarding the Tax Allocation District (TAD) for the former GM Plant site. The Commission approved the TAD earlier this year. The IGA sets forth how the TAD will function and sets out the infrastructure improvements that can be financed by TAD revenues.
So, what is a TAD? How does it work?
A TAD is a defined area where real estate property tax monies gathered above a certain threshold for a certain, finite period of time, can be used for specified improvements in the defined area…… Click here to read the entire post.
October 23, 2015 –
Last night I heard this story on the news: Body Found Near Old School in DeKalb County.
A neighbor walking his dog heard gunshots and then came across the body of a man who was shot and died at the closed Atherton Elementary School property off of Glenwood Road. The video of the school property showed a neglected, overgrown, boarded-up building that is a blight to that community. The neighbors that were interviewed in the story said that the school building and property have become magnets for drugs, prostitution, and homeless people. Sadly, we can now add murder to that list….
Former DeKalb administrator demands special service and approximately 6000 children in 10 schools pay the price
October 10, 2015 –
When I first met with you, I shared that DeKalb County needed change at the central office. The same people that brought us to the poor state of affairs in our schools, cannot get us out. In order for DeKalb to improve, for fractured relationships to heal, and for trust to return, I said that you should listen to the individual communities. I was hoping that you would end the tyranny of tone-deaf and short sighted decisions. I hoped that you would focus your attention on improving the educational lives of DeKalb’s children.
Your decision to rip trusted and loved clinicians and nurses from their school communities is sad and disappointing. Staff members are not widgets. They cannot be exchanged and moved as inputs on a production line. To try and do so, puts children at risk….
Why are DeKalb school nurses being ripped from their communities?
October 8, 2015 – Dr. Green,
I have been contacted by a number of concerned parents and citizens about recent changes that are being made to nurses at several area schools. As you can imagine, these changes are causing a great deal of disruption and discomfort for the community and the students.
I know you are quite busy but I do think this matter might need your personal assistance. I want to make sure that your staff is informing you about their decisions in this matter and providing you the fullest picture on the ramifications…..
This document is only an overview of some of the findings up to the date this assignment was terminated by Interim Chief Executive Officer Lee N. May, Jr., on August 6, 2015. It is not the “final report” and does not include every document, detail or fact with regard to this inquiry. All interview summaries and other related material will be made available to the Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Open Letter from Georgia Charter Schools Association
September 27, 2015 – Last week the Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA) sent an open letter to DeKalb Superintendent Green and the DeKalb Board of Education. In the letter, GCSA expressed their concern about the signals the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) was sending regarding charter schools, DCSD’s new charter school policy, and DCSD’s posture towards the State Department of Education’s (GADOE) requested policy revisions. GCSA requested that the DeKalb Board of Education revisit their Charter School Policy and align the DCSD policy with state statute, State BOE rules, and GADOE guidelines….
DeKalb Schools – Upcoming meeting and public hearings about Charter District Petition
September 27, 2015 – School Flexibility Option Community Engagement Sessions. The focus of these sessions is to get stakeholder input on the Local School Governance Teams (LSGTs) that will be required at each school and how those teams will have the opportunity to assist in the governance of the school and request flexibility from state law and Department of Education rules and regulations….
Why was information withheld from the DeKalb Board of Education?
September 20, 2015 – Last week, in advance of the school board voting on a new charter school policy, the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) sent DeKalb a letter outlining necessary revisions. This 8-page letter was withheld from board members (they did ask to see this), who were then asked to vote on the policy. To my knowledge, board members have still not received this letter. I wrote to the Georgia DOE and requested a copy of the letter and they quickly responded. Here is that letter:…
2015 DeKalb Schools Testing – Open Letter to Dr. Green
August 24, 2015 – I am writing today to express my concern about the dates for the upcoming administration of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) in the DeKalb County School District. As you know, the testing window includes two of the most sacred holy days for the Jewish faith. We are also the only metro district that has chosen to administer these tests in such a way as to conflict with these important holidays (1).
Practice Fields for Atlanta United FC – Here are the details – What are your thoughts?
July 30, 2015 – As reported in the media, DeKalb County has been in talks with Atlanta United FC regarding a location for their practice fields and headquarters building. Atlanta United FC is a professional soccer team owned by the Home Depot co-founder, Arthur Blank. This week, the administration presented the Board of Commissioners with details of a proposed agreement between Atlanta United and DeKalb County. The Board of Commissioners is being asked to vote on this agreement on Tuesday, August 4th.
I have many concerns about this matter. In no particular order, they include:
1) What return on investment can the taxpayers of DeKalb county reasonably expect from this agreement?
2) Has the county performed any economic analysis regarding expected economic activity generated by this land use?
3) How reasonable is the county’s expected land preparation cost of $3-$5 million? Based on the the requirements presented to the board, the preparations include, demolition, entrance construction, detention ponds, irrigation systems, and sod.
4) Why is the county proposing to use money from the General Fund to pay for this? Is not the correct fund for this, the Parks and Recreation fund?
Here are the details of the potential deal:
Mid-Year Budget Update – Millage Increases and Waste
July 30, 2015 – I voted against the mid-year budget because it did not: (1) incentivize efficiency, (2) reform wasteful departments, or (3) improve DeKalb competence levels. Furthermore, it increased the the millage rate for the General Fund by 2.17 mills, thereby increasing the DeKalb County millage rates paid by all the cities. Taxpayers are getting hit again with significantly increased property assessments.
DeKalb Doubles Down on More Taxes – County and Schools
June 7, 2015 – This week the interim CEO for DeKalb County, Lee May, presented the Board of Commissioners with a mid-year budget. As luck would have it, most of us received our Annual Notice of Assessments in the mail. The overall tax digest has increased almost 10%.
The most important facts to note about the mid-year budget are:
- If you live in a city, DEKALB COUNTY raised your DEKALB COUNTY millage rate for 2015.
- Property values are higher than initially expected, netting $36.6 million more in taxes from you.
- DeKalb County intends to spend and keep most of the unanticipated tax revenue rather than trim the size of the county government and rolling back your taxes.
Commissioners Respond to Interim CEO’s Criticism.
May 22, 2015 – In finally resigning his Commission Seat after 23 months as Interim Chief Executive, Lee May has made much of the resistance of “three Commissioners” of the BOC to his efforts to install a hand-picked successor to represent District Five. As the “three Commissioners” he referred to, we think the public might benefit from a broader perspective on the issue.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
August 29, 2014 – The now former, DeKalb County Commissioner, Elaine Boyer is facing Federal charges and likely, a jail sentence, for stealing the public’s money. Recently we also learned that Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton has a proclivity for paying her boyfriend to “consult” for her. Last summer’s indictment of the CEO was, apparently, just the tip of the iceberg. In fairness, other counties and government officials outside of DeKalb haven’t been immune to corruption and bad decisions. But, here, in DeKalb, the sheer volume is proving that incompetence and corruption are the norm rather than the exception.
Incompetence, Fraud, Constitutions and Kids
August 12, 2014 – You only get a county like DeKalb, in a state that lets it happen. We only have two problems in DeKalb: Incompetence and Fraud. But, DeKalb isn’t unique.
Subsidizing failure in government
July 8, 2014 – So, what’s the solution to bad government? More government! DeKalb’s Interim CEO, Lee May, recently created a new full-time position: Chief Integrity Officer. The word ironic comes to mind but doesn’t really do justice to the situation.
The Latest and Greatest – a review on recent education articles and blogs
July 5, 2014 – Like many of you, I’ve been enjoying my summer with little attention paid to the latest in the political or research world. I hope you are having a terrific summer and enjoying your family time.
Alas, I’ve spent a few days catching up with some of the most important developments as I see them. As most of you know, Mr. Jester ran, unopposed, for the DeKalb Board of Education seat from District. I am thrilled that Stan will be our representative on the BOE. He takes office in January. Rest assured that he has been following matters in DeKalb like a hawk.
What is the Georgia GOP’s Platform on Education?
June 23, 2014 – Where is the Republican Party on the fiasco that is public education in our state? What is our platform? K-12 education is the single largest expenditure in the state budget. Why don’t we have some way to measure, rate, disclose and hold high level officials accountable for the quality of their financial and academic management? Shouldn’t the Georgia GOP have something to say about this? Some goals? A study committee?
Georgia Education Per Pupil Spending, Graduation Rates, Tax Climate, Poverty Rating & Free/Reduced Lunch Percentage
June 17, 2014 – Georgia is still spending more per pupil and has a lower gradation rate than all of our border states. Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi all spend less per pupil, have higher graduation rates, better tax climate rankings and more poverty than Georgia.
State Superintendent – Republican Primary Runoff
June 9, 2014 – The AJC had an interesting article about the Republican primary runoff for State School Superintendent. The article should be particularly interesting for school choice advocates, parents and anyone interested in government spending on education..
Georgia Loses Money Earmarked For Teacher Merit Pay
January 31, 2014 – Georgia, has now become the first and only state to forfeit Race to the Top (RT3) grant money. Officials in Georgia were warned last July to address failures in implementing a new teacher evaluation system or lose almost $10 million in funding for a teacher merit pay system.
I am pleased to hear the DeKalb school system’s accreditation status has been upgraded from “probation” to “warned”. I worked diligently to shine light on the poor fiscal management of DeKalb. Some of my work was even cited in the SACS report from 2012. Clearly DeKalb still has a long way to go.
Education Spending and Results in Georgia
I put together a spreadsheet for you so you can see Georgia’s spending on education from Fiscal Years 2005 through the current Fiscal Year 2014. I have graphed Georgia’s education spending, the federal money Georgia spends on education and the total budget for our state.