Saturday, March 12, 2011

HB 428 Paves a Path to Possible Cityhood

From Mike Jacobs...

As your State Representative, I am committed to increasing your voice in local government and to helping provide the highest quality governance at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer. That is why I have introduced a piece of legislation, House Bill 428, that will create a path for the unincorporated neighborhoods around Murphey Candler Park, West Nancy Creek Drive, and Silver Lake to join one of our adjacent municipalities, either Chamblee or Dunwoody.

Presently, these neighborhoods exist as an “unincorporated peninsula” of land sandwiched between the City of Dunwoody to the north, the City of Chamblee to the east, and the City of Sandy Springs to the west. There is only one major arterial road into this area from the rest of unincorporated DeKalb: Ashford Dunwoody Road.

The purpose of HB 428 is to kick off a community conversation about possible avenues to the incorporation of our neighborhoods. Click here to read the version of HB 428 that will be presented on Tuesday to a subcommittee of the House Governmental Affairs Committee.

The version of the bill that was originally introduced only applied to Dunwoody, but that was based upon my own incorrect perception that Chamblee – having recently completed an annexation of Huntley Hills and other neighborhoods east of Chamblee Dunwoody Road – would not be interested in undertaking any further annexations any time soon. I had a productive conversation with Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson in which he made clear that it’s possible Chamblee could consider further annexation. So, the bill has been changed accordingly.

HB 428 will allow for adjacent municipalities to annex neighborhoods in an “unincorporated peninsula” (an unincorporated area that is 75% or more surrounded by cities) after the adoption of a city council resolution and the passage of a referendum by the citizens in the unincorporated area. In other words, there is absolutely no scenario in which your neighborhood would be annexed into a neighboring city before you receive all of the facts about the annexation and are given the opportunity to cast your vote at the ballot box.

The key annexation procedure that HB 428 does change is DeKalb County’s unilateral veto power over the ability of our neighborhoods to be annexed into Chamblee or Dunwoody via this simple “resolution and referendum” method.
As the Dunwoody Crier has noted, my interest in annexation is driven by “increasing discontent with DeKalb County Government: rising tax bills, fewer services, inefficient government, and a lack of confidence that things are going to get better at the county.”

Police response times in Chamblee and Dunwoody are far below those in unincorporated DeKalb. Dunwoody is planning major improvements to their local parks. Chamblee and Dunwoody are both conservatively managed and are experiencing budget surpluses. And in stark contrast to CEO Burrell Ellis’ constant drumbeat for higher property taxes, Chamblee is considering cutting its millage rate this year.

It simply is not true that incorporation into a city necessarily means that your property taxes will go up. Many cities are actually able to deliver better services and a lower tax burden than can be found in nearby unincorporated areas.

Another option that might be worth exploring is the incorporation of a new municipality altogether, perhaps a City of Brookhaven that could reach as far south as Buford Highway or even I-85. Of course, such an option would require interest from neighborhoods south of Windsor Parkway such as Historic Brookhaven, Ashford Park, Brookhaven Heights, Brookhaven Fields, and Drew Valley.

If citizens are interested, I’m willing to explore a broader City of Brookhaven. It would require a separate piece of legislation that cannot be passed until 2014 at the earliest, which would give us plenty of time to thoroughly explore this option.

HB 428 is not an actual annexation plan of any sort. No annexation of any neighborhoods by either Chamblee or Dunwoody is imminent.

The latest version of HB 428 will make it clear that any annexation cannot involve the “cherry picking” of large-scale commercial property such as the Perimeter Summit development on the south side of I-285, adjacent to Dunwoody. This is because another provision of law that is applicable to HB 428 requires any such annexation to include territory that “is subdivided into lots and tracts such that at least 60 percent of the total acreage consists of lots and tracts five acres or less in size and such that at least 60 percent of the total number of lots and tracts are one acre or less in size.”


Carving out small cities is fast becoming a popular idea as metro Atlanta matures and county governments become too large, bureaucratic and unwieldy. I wonder how long it will be before these new cities in DeKalb lay claim to their schools? It's not impossible to amend the state constitution.


Brookhaven Brenda said...

That is one great idea! Let the cities take control of the schools in their areas. Remove DCSS from the equation entirely. Local control, local participation; Teachers/Students/parents would all come out ahead. No doubt the DCSS would go to court to try and protect their cash cows, in the name of the children of course. I give it 30 seconds before the race card gets dropped.

Anonymous said...

I think our schools would be better if we had smaller school districts. I would like to see a bill that allows DCSS to be divided into several smaller systems.

Allowing each city to run its own schools could be a good thing. Decatur does very nicely. Smaller districts are more responsive to the needs and wants of the communities they serve. It won't fix every problem, but I think it will make things better.

IMHO nobody loses financial resources from the state or federal government because money is allocated based on the number of students enrolled. The only difference is that the local community can decide how much t to tax their members to pay the local cost of their schools. Of course, you can always have a bake sale.

Ella Smith said...

However, I heard strong opposition from Brookhaven leaders this morning at a political forum. They are very upset at how Mike Jacobs is going about handling this.

I listened. I think there is strong oppostion on the other side. I did not hear the race card one. However, there was much discussion about how DeKalb County legislative body was being bypassed. I have no opinion directly on the topic at this point as I do not have enough information to comment. However, I can tell you leaders of homeowner associations were mad from this area at how the situation was handled through back doors. Knowing Mike Jacobs I was shocked at what I heard. I am assuming he cannot get anything through the DeKalb legislature and this is why he is taking this route. I also would have assumed that is what the major of the citizens whated. However, this was not what I was hearing this morning.

Ella Smith said...

I am having one of those days as normal.

It should be once
and wanted

However, there may be other things I did not see.

I am way too impulsive. I need to check before I push send but I just cannot so I do what I do. I am just how I am. Forgive me.

Anonymous said...

This could be an option for some of the Medlock group if Decatur was interested, annexation into Decatur and the Decatur city schools. It wouldn't get their school back, but might land them in a place they were happier with. Atlanta might be an option for unhappy Sky Haven area residents.

Its really very unique to Georgia that you have dense urban areas so close to downtown that are in unincorporated areas. Counties just don't do good jobs providing city services. And you get ridiculous money wasting court battles like they have in Gwinnet County between the cities and county government (and Dunwoody and Dekalb County-but that was a little different situation).

Ella Smith said...

By listening to some of the Medlock parents this morning I think they would be supportive of that. They were very disappointed in the support that was given to some schools and not to others. They indicated they were upset with the political behind the scene process with the school board.

However, a bill is going to the house of representative which needs 10 signatures in order for the school board to change from 9 board members to 7 board members. All board members would have to be re-elected next year. This would give all board members an opportunity to run and open up other opportunities.

I am supportive of this bill. Our good board members will have no problem being re-elected. I encouraged you to call your house of representative members and ask them to sign onto the bill. We need 10 signatures on the representative side.

Another way to look at this when thinking about 9 school board members verses 7. There are 3 School Boards in the state which have 9 members. These school boards are Atlanta City, DeKalb County, and Clayton County. There is a correlations. The School Boards in the state with 9 school board members have a problem. This is too many school board members. Less school board members is better as this allows them to focus on the decisions of the students verses so many political issues and exchanging votes to get things they want for their small districts. Five may even be better for the students. However, right now I would be satisfied with any reduction for the students of this counties interests.

Please call your representatives and get them to sign the bill. We talk about getting change on the school board. Let's really do something about it and demand change. This is our chance. The legislative body is trying to do something.

Anonymous said...

Watch closely folks, when people are mad at Mike Jacobs, it usually means Mike is right! Especially when it comes to local control and spending OUR tax money. I'm glad Mike is there to watch out for us. If we didn't have him, DeKalb County would run roughshod over our area. I live in that strange peninsula of unincorporated DeKalb and it would be nice to be a part of Chamblee. They have a budget surplus! Hard to say that at DeKalb County Government.

Ella Smith said...

I was shocked myself at the attitude toward Mike Jacob's at the community meeting. I have never heard a bad word. That is why I just listened. I do that many times and make no judgement at all.

However, these individuals standing against him where Presidents of Associations which was shocking which was an indication that all the folks in the Brookhaven area may not feel the same about this issue. I always learn a great deal by going and listening. I have always liked and respected Mike Jacobs. I do think he is a good guy. My reaction was shock.

Anonymous said...

I live pretty near the Decatur line, and there are many in my neighborhood (we go to Fernbank, too!) who would jump to be incorporated. We are fed up with DeKalb. I guess we better get talking to our reps.

Anonymous said...

I still think it would be good for LHS and DHHS & their feeders to move to latch into city of Decatur, schools & all -- much simpler -- much of the area is already part of Decatur and in "unicorporated Dekalb" -- just alllign it all, including schools and be done with it for Medlock, Fernbank, oak Grove, Briarlake, Sagamore, Lakeside, Druid Hills, Henderson & Shamrrock etc.

Anonymous said...

City of Decatur: 5 Board of Education members. They don't fight. They don't practice nepotism. And they have a housing authority and many more low income families than you would imagine.
They share facilities with the city gov't. Their central office administration is a bit bloated, but the principals are given much freedom to to what they need to do. And they treat teachers very well there.

It darn sure if worth the higher proeprty taxes.

David Montané said...

Both ideas - smaller boards and smaller school districts - make good sense to me. However, smaller school districts seems more urgent and more important. We need to get closer to the ideal, which is free market schooling. Splitting up the monstrosity of DCSS into various city school districts creates at least a little competition, although nothing like privatizing would. I think the 3 largest boards being in problem districts has more to do with the size and urban nature of the districts than the size of the board. Bravo Mike Jacobs, let's do whatever it takes to whittle DCSS down into manageable chunks.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I can get Mike to change his bill so that Chamblee could annex Dunwoody. Dunwoody government is very arrogant and elitist. They proposed a green way and threatened to take property by eminent domain. That is supposed to be (not official yet) withdrawn after the affected property owners complained. Sort of like a miniature nanny run place now. We know what is best for you even if you have lived here for 20 years. Having buyer's remorse on having voted to incorporate

Anonymous said...

Please refer to the Georgia Constitution: SECTION V.
Paragraph I. School systems continued; consolidation of school systems authorized; new independent school systems prohibited.

No cities can "take control of their own schools" anymore. No "start up charter" groups can take control of their own schools (Dunwoody). All of you who dream of breaking off from DCSS and starting your own school system will have to change the State's Constitution to do so. November's right around the corner. Better get busy.

Anonymous said...

No constitutional change needed to become part of City of Decatur schools... system already is in existence... :)

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that Avondale Estates would be better off education wise if they'd dissolve their charter and annex themselves into the city of Decatur.
Upside: Decatur city schools, not having to deal with Dekalb County.
Downsides: Decatur's god awful taxes, the possibility that the Decatur Housing authority would want to given Avondale the gift of (ugh)
"affordable housing."
Anybody else that has had these thoughts? I rather expect to get flamed over the idea.

Ella Smith said...

Decatur City taxes are high. However, I do believe they provide excellent services. There school services are excellent.

The city of Decatur Board members work for free. They are not paid a penny. The parents are very dedicated to what is best for the students of Decatur. They make the hard decisions as they are not so worried about not being elected again because they do not get a pay check. DeKalb County School Board's paycheck is really not that much. However, I do respect the board members in the city of Decatur for volunteering their public service.

Anonymous said...

I live in the Murphey Candler Park area, and would LOVE to be part of Chamblee. Was so envious when Huntley Hills was annexed. If we could break away from DCSS, too, that would be fantastic, a dream come true. Not so excited about the idea of joining Dunwoody...

Dekalbparent said...

Yes, Decatur has high taxes, but they deliver a lot (recreation, lively downtown, walk-to-everywhere convenience, proximity to MARTA, availability of Cliff bus to get to other places). It's personal opinion whether what you get justifies the taxes.

I recall, though, that when Decatur was discussing annexing parts of unincorporated DeKalb that are near Avondale (Forrest Hills, I think, as well as the residential and commercial areas around Suburban Plaza, and near the hospital), an issue was the addition of students to the school system - particularly middle and high school, because Decatur has only one of each. The possibility of getting Forrest Hills Elementary in the bargain was not possible, because it belonged to DCSS, and they would not give it up. I don't know whether DCSS had the option, or if there was some other issue encumbering it.

Decatur decided it was not financially feasible to annex the areas.

Anonymous said...


Gwinnett and Cobb have more students than DCSS, Gwinnett by 50 percent! Clayton and Atlanta are dwarfed by Gwinnett and smaller than Fulton and Cobb.

School board size definitely plays a role in this.

Leo said...

I would support the annexation of Brookhaven into Chamblee (or the creation of its own city), but I think efforts would be better spent seeking to change school districts (unless you tell me that it is easier for a city to gain the support for a Constitutional ammendment to take charge of its own schools). Other than garbage pickup, I for one don't feel that the county is using my money well.

Ella Smith said...

David, splitting the county school sytem will be a hard thing due to the state laws.

I believe Gwinnett only has 5 school board members but I could be wrong on this. Look at how much bigger Gwinnett is and they do not need 9 school board members and their school board works together just fine. The most members that should be on any school board in the state is 7. The school districts in DeKalb need to be redrawed by numbers of people in the districts fairly and then we do not need more than 7 districts. I would like to see 5 school board members as I have said before but I would be satified with 2 less and also be assured that all districts are redrawn with the new census reports out to be fair to all stakeholders.

The new bill from the senate is recommended 7 and that all of them have to run again for election next year to make the situation fair to all school board members who might lose a spot on the school board. If this happened this might make 1 interesting race possible on the south side if the bill does pass and Dr. Walker decides to run for the position where he lives.

This is just a bill from the senate to the house and if the house does not get 10 signatures it is not going anywhere. If you believe in this you need to email your house representation. However, if it passes you know I do have empathy for those school board members who where just elected. I am sure this is a bill the school board members are against and I am sure we can understand why.

Ella Smith said...

Redrawed should have been redrawn.

Anonymous said...

The new re-districting maps for elementary schools in Dunwoody are very, very interesting, especially Venderlyn's;

Anonymous said...

I live in Gwinnett - grew up here and went to the schools - but work in DeKalb. Gwinnett's five board members are all white republicans - and yes they work very well together and never stand up to Alvin Wilbanks. Nothing against white republicans, but Gwinnett is a majority minority system, and there has been very little change in the school board since I was in high school (Alvin Wilbanks' signature is actually on my high school diploma from his first year as superintendent). I would argue a large part of the success in Gwinnett is in part from how they handle discipline at the middle and high school level. There is very little room for error. Does anyone ever stop to look that the only schools that didn't make AYP were the alternative schools? I wonder why.

That being said, there is a lot we can learn from Gwinnett. I heard a parent at a board meeting worried about the size of Gwinnett schools - but look where the 2020 vision plan has us headed. Elementary schools with 900 students. With those numbers, every school has dedicated PE, Music, and Art teachers (all of which add to the overall success of individual students). High schools in excess of 4,000 students are able to offer a much wider variety of programs to keep the individual students interested in their education. The technical program offered at Grayson High School has more offerings than we could ever hope to have with any of our programs in DeKalb and is open to any student in GCPS. So I would argue, what is Gwinnett doing right and how can we make it work for us in DeKalb? I think the first step is a much more aggressive consolidation program (and I know that's not going to be received well) so that we can really focus our expenses on the students..... and while we're at it, take our name off RttT and the federal intervention.

concerned said...

Until we have a board not pushing their own agenda, this will never happen Jester, McChesney, Womack, and Walker are poison. They may be winning their battle to segregater their pet schools, but we all of their constituents are losing the war and our rights to quality education for all children

Anonymous said...

I live near Decatur too and my school is Fernbank. I would rather not be part of Decatur. My taxes are half what my accross the street Decatur neighbors pay.

Anonymous said...

Per Dekalb County site:
Millage rate for 2010
Unincorporated Dekalb 40.09
Decatur 43.845
Atlanta (Dekalb) 44.414

For Dekalb 22.98 of the 40.09 is for schools. For Decatur 19.9 and for Atlanta 21.64.

For Decatur 10.91 is for county and state taxes with the remainder the city. For Atlanta it is 9.78 county and state.

Decatur tax rates are less than 10%higher. Homestead exemptions don't appear to be significantly different.

Cerebration said...

And Burrell Ellis is proposing an "interim" tax hike of 1.5 mills. This is his reaction to the commissioner's no vote on his budget increases and accompanying tax hike.

Ellis proposes interim millage rate hike

Add to this the school tax hike that Eugene Walker keeps pushing for (he's advocating 2 mills) and unincorp DeKalb will surpass Decatur soon...

Anonymous said...

I'd gladly pay more money if schools would be made better. I do not have faith in the current board or administration to make the schools better and I do not feel that giving the district more money is the answer. Will it be spent on more law proceedings?

Trim down what is being spent now at both the county and school district level and more money would not be needed. Cut administrators and unnecessary positions in the school district and show us that you know how to spend money wisely. I can't afford to give the district more money, so that it can spend it on over paid positions and law suits. Can anyone else?

County needs to cut things as well. I don't know where it can cut as much, but I have lived in larger cities with one garbage collection and every other week recycling trash pick up, so there is a start.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather pay more for City of Decatur and have more control over a smaller area, including schools, and know where it is all going -- I love that their BOE doesn't get paid to serve! There was a great 20/20 segment last night on about a charter in NYC (TAP I think) where all the funds went to teachers and 1 principal -- no administration, no tenure, very basic other stuff (trailers even) -- all the funds went to salaries to hire the best and it sounds like it would have potential -- money into the classroom....

Private School Guy said...

Avondale and Decatur can not merge as the two municipalities are not adjoining. They are not far apart but effects to close the few block gap has been met by opposition from property owners in the area. If they did expand and sought to merge there would have to be a vote to merge the school districts. I do not know if there would need to be a vote for Avondale to withdraw from DCSS by all of DeKalb voters.
The constitutional rule that no new systems can be established was in part a law to prevent the gerrymandering of districts with the intent of resegregation. With the current conservative majority in the statehouse it might be possible for this to change. The Milton county proposal will be a test of this.

Anonymous said...

And the test scores at the charter school were no better than the traditional schools in NYC.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:18
"And the test scores at the charter school were no better than the traditional schools in NYC. "

That's easy to say. Can you provide a weblink to a credible source that will back up your opinion.

Anonymous said...

I think the explanation for the test scores being poor is that the students began there way below grade level -- they were kids (black and hispanic) who began 5th grade "lost" -- way below grade level. Teachers can be excellent but they are not miracle workers. (I'm not a teacher-- a parent and realist). My former Briarlake principal said she could do anything with a kid there from k-5 but not much if they come and go... let's see what the test scores are after they've been there a few years.

Anonymous said...

But is the model working? When the fifth graders took the New York State math and reading exams, the results were disappointing. On average, other schools in the district scored better than TEP.;contentBody

Ella Smith said...

March 13, 7:09

I in no way mean Gwinnett School System is perfect or their ratios on the board are good. However, their citizens make those decisions. I do not really pay attention to the color of their skin. I just have been told that their are five board members and they appear to work well together.

I think on the other hand the three system which are having problems in Ga with ethics also have 9 school board members. I think there may be a correlation here.

Anonymous said...

Jacobs deferred the bill to next year, saying he would put more work into it.

Oliver opposed it saying it upset the balance between cities and counties. She doesn't seem to understand that is exactly the problem. They aren't supposed to be fighting and competing with each other. This is a unique, unnecessary Georgia problem. Counties aren't supposed to be acting like cities.