Thursday, January 21, 2021

Clarkston voters to fill City Council position in March election

Clarkston voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, March 16, to elect a City Council member. The special election is to fill a term on the City Council that expires at the end of this year. 

Candidates who qualified to run for the post are Mark W. Perkins, Dean Moore and Shana "Tiny" McAllister. Moore served as a Clarkston council member from 2010 through 2017.

The deadline to register to vote in the election is Feb. 16. Voting will take place at the Clarkston First Baptist Church Family Life Center and the Clarkston Community Center.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Former Stone Mountain lawyer pardoned for massive mortgage fraud

A former Stone Mountain lawyer given a stiff sentence for mortgage fraud was among 73 people pardoned on Tuesday by President Donald Trump just hours before he left office.

Chalana McFarland, who owned the McFarland Law Firm in Stone Mountain, was sentenced in 2005 to 30 years in prison and jailed immediately after pleading guilty to 169 criminal counts of mortgage fraud. She was among 17 people indicted in the case.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said McFarland used the stolen identities of numerous victims to submit false fraudulent loan applications which used straw buyers and inflated appraisals as part of a property flip scheme between summer 1999 and March 2004. 

Prosecutors said the scheme involved more than $20 million in fraudulently obtained mortgages mostly in the Waters Edge, Mountain Oaks, North Shore and Southland subdivisions in Stone Mountain and Lithonia in DeKalb County, but also involved properties in cities as far away as Griffin and Elberton.

McFarland had been serving her sentence in Florida, but was allowed last year to serve the rest of her sentence at her Marietta, Ga., home because of concerns about COVID-19 at the federal prison where she was being held. 

Homeowners in Waters Edge noticed unusually high sales prices in their subdivision and notified local officials, according to a 2004 Atlanta Journal-Constitution report. "This case was made because vigilant citizens became aware of suspicious sales in their communities and told us about them," U.S. Attorney Bill Duffey said at the time.

The McFarland law firm had offices on Redan Rd. and N. Hairston Rd.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Virus exposure prompts two-week closure of Stone Mountain Municipal Court

The City of Stone Mountain has suspended in-person access to its Municipal Court for two weeks after learning that someone who attended court on Thursday, Jan. 14, tested positive for COVID-19.

The city says it will conduct a deep cleaning of City Hall and notify defendants of their rescheduled court dates by mail. 

The room used for court proceedings, which is also normally used for City Council meetings and other purposes, will remain closed to the public through Jan. 29. No court sessions or case hearings will be held.

Anyone who attended Stone Mountain Municipal Court sessions on Jan. 14 was potentially exposed to the virus, City Manager ChaQuias Thornton said in a statement.

Stone Mountain legislator backs legalization of sports betting

State Representative Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain) is co-sponsoring legislation (House Bill 86) that would legalize mobile sports betting in Georgia.

The proposed "Georgia Lottery Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Act" would have the state's Lottery Corporation oversee the gambling and issue at least six betting licenses. Each licensee would each have to pay a $50,000 application fee and an annual licensing fee of $900,000. 

"Net proceeds of lottery games conducted pursuant to this article shall be used to support improvements and enhancements for educational purposes and programs and that such net proceeds shall be used to supplement, not supplant, existing resources for such educational purposes and programs," the bill states.

West African businessman given key to City of Stonecrest

Dr. Kwaku Oteng, a millionaire from the west African country of Ghana, has been given an International Key to the City of Stonecrest on behalf of Mayor Jason Lary. 

A plaque presented in a ceremony on Sunday evening at the Evergreen Marriot Conference Resort in Stone Mountain describes Oteng as "an international entrepreneur who employs more than 5,000 people and is an avid philanthropist," GhanaWeb reports.

The recognition noted his "initiatives as Executive Chairman of Angel Group of Companies, which is a powerhouse conglomerate of companies ranging from television broadcasting, multimedia, real estate to gold mines and more."

A Ghanaian web site, GHGossip, reported last year that Oteng is married to five women and it published pictures of them. Polygamy is prohibited in Ghana but the law against it is not strongly enforced.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Confederate flags to remain on Stone Mountain walk-up trail

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association says it will not remove Confederate flags at the base of the mountain's walk-up trail because they are permitted under Georgia law.

The association cites a Georgia statute that prohibits the removal or relocation of Confederate monuments, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

A group called the Stone Mountain Action Coalition had urged that the flags, near Confederate Hall, be removed on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 18. 

"On November 16, 2020, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association publicly announced that it was considering making changes within months for a '21st century perspective on Stone Mountain Park.' Two months later and there have not been any updates. Enough is enough," the group says.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Residential property owners to see increased DeKalb County property tax burden

Single-family homeowners are likely to pay a higher portion of DeKalb County's property taxes this year as owners of apartments and commercial buildings seek reduced values for their properties because of COVID-19.

Residential property appraisals are expected to increase 5 to 6 percent this year as appreciation accelerates in a market where there are a limited number of properties for sale, DeKalb County Chief Appraiser Calvin Hicks told a committee of county commissioners on Tuesday.

Hicks warned that 80 to 90 percent of owners of multi-family properties, as well as hotels, motels and restaurants may appeal their appraisals this year because they have been negatively affected by the pandemic. Some apartment buildings were unable to evict tenants who had not paid rent because of the federal government's eviction ban, which President-elect Joe Biden has said he will extend.

"They have some legitimate concerns," Hicks told commissioners. "You can't really deny that there's been some loss of value as the metrics of the economy as it relates to their revenue have diminished." 

"I've seen some reports that indicate as much as 80 percent of the commercial owners may consider filing some type of an appeal simply to get some sort of tax relief," he said. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

High blood lead levels seen in Clarkston-area children

The ZIP Code surrounding Clarkston, 30021, is among the top 20 postal codes in Georgia with the highest blood lead levels in young children during the past decade.

Georgia Health News quotes DeKalb County Environmental Health Manager Ryan Cira as saying the problem in the Clarkston area is not due to lead-based paint.

"There are refugees coming in already poisoned," Cira said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends parents adopting children from overseas should have them screened for lead contamination. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Respected DeKalb Police officer struck, killed in downtown Atlanta accident

Sergeant Daniel Mobley, a 22-year veteran of the DeKalb County Police Department, died Saturday after being struck by a vehicle while on the scene of an Interstate 75-85 accident involving an off-duty DeKalb County police officer.

"We cannot express how much we appreciate the Grady Hospital staff who treated our sergeant," a DeKalb County Police Department statement said. "We ask all to pray for Sergeant Mobley and his family." 

Mobley, 44, had stepped out of his patrol car after responding to the accident on the southbound side of Atlanta's downtown connector when he was struck by a passing vehicle.

"Sometimes we get distracted, and distracted driving can cost a life," said DeKalb Police Chief Mirtha Ramos. "And that's what happened today."

Mobley was a "highly-respected supervisor," Ramos said. "He earned that respect."

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Millions in DeKalb County Covid-19 relief loan money unspent

DeKalb County's $15 million loan program to help small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic has only closed and funded 136 loans totalling $3.384 million, county commissioners were told Tuesday.

Another $1.757 million in loans have been approved, but have not yet closed. Including pending and incomplete applications that may not be approved, the program has offered $10.287 million in loans, according to a report presented to the Board of Commissioners.

The county launched the loan program this summer, using some of the $125 million the county received in Covid-19 funding from the federal government six months ago. The Better Business Loan Program was developed by DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond’s administration, in cooperation with the Small Business Subcommittee of the DeKalb COVID-19 Strategic Task Force, which is chaired by Commissioner Steve Bradshaw.

Forgiveness of the loans requires participants to receive business education offered by Georgia Piedmont Technical College. "116 small business owners have been approved to participate," the report said. 

"Many of our minority business may not have created the basic fundamental organizational structure needed to qualify even for a progam such as this. That's the real challenge for community-based businesses. Sometimes they've never gotten a business license," Thurmond said. "The thinking is those businesses are businesses we can scale up."

Monday, October 19, 2020

DeKalb County to pay $1-million-plus penalty in lengthy consent agreement extension

DeKalb County would pay a more than $1 million penalty and risk paying increased fines under a proposed federal court settlement that would give the county another 7 1/2 years to satisfy a 2011 consent decree to reduce sewer spills, county officials said Monday.

Calling the proposed modification to the consent decree "a compromise we can all be proud of," DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said "we are poised now to continue a decade of renewal in our county."

Deputy County Attorney Matthew Welch, the county's lead negotiator handling the decree, said the county will get a "7 1/2-year extension with completion of rehabilitation in the priority sewer areas." The county had already been given 8 1/2 to 9 years to do this work, he said.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

DeKalb County elections board to meet Friday morning

The DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections will hold a special called meeting on Friday, September 25 at 9 a.m. 

The meeting will be conducted via a Zoom teleconference and will be streamed on DCTV’s UStream channel.

No agenda for the Sept. 25 meeting had been posted on the board's web site when the meeting was announced. The agenda for the board's last meeting, on Sept. 14, was posted about 75 minutes before the meeting took place. At that meeting, the board considered planning for the November 3 election, Covid-19 precautions, and the placement of absentee voting drop boxes.

Public comments for the Sept. 25 meeting may be made by sending an "email of one page or less to electionspubliccmnt (at) between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. the day of the meeting.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

DeKalb County Commissioner Steve Bradshaw issues "Memorial Drive Study" statement

On the eve of a scheduled Board of Commissioners vote to amend DeKalb County's Comprehensive Plan, Commissioner Steve Bradshaw has issued a statement entitled "Memorial Drive Study." Here is the full text of Bradshaw's statement:

Dear Fellow Citizens:

Tomorrow evening, an item will appear on the zoning agenda regarding the Memorial Drive Revitalization Study. I will be making the motion to approve this item. As a result of this action, this study will be adopted as a part of our Planning and Sustainability Comprehensive Plan.

As this item has made its way through our zoning cycle, I have observed and listened as others have commented. Now, it is time for you as my constituents to hear directly from me on this matter.

I would like to begin by thanking the folks at Pond and Co. for managing an outstanding process and producing an excellent report. At the beginning of this process, my charge to them was to produce a document that would provide us with what I call “actionable intelligence” as opposed to just another report that would be collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. That mission objective has been achieved. I was impressed with Pond’s methodology from the beginning. And I am pleased with the study results.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

DeKalb County scores poorly in U.S. News' Healthiest Communities

DeKalb County has the second-worst score of any county in the immediate Atlanta area in U.S. News & World Report's Healthiest Communities report issued Tuesday.

Only Clayton County scored lower than DeKalb in the rankings, which are based on community vitality, equity, economy, education, environment, food and nutrition, population health, housing, public safety and infrastructure. Forsyth County scored much higher than other counties surrounding Atlanta.

Atlanta-area counties and their scores:

Cobb 56.1

Douglas 47.8

Forsyth 75.4

Gwinnett 49.8

Fulton 44.9

DeKalb 40.1

Rockdale 44.6

Clayton 29

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Major zoning changes included in Memorial Drive economic study

A taxpayer-funded economic study of Memorial Drive outside of Interstate 285 imposes major zoning changes that will affect the rights of property owners along and adjacent to the corridor.

Buried in the $174,500 study are what the POND consulting team calls "dramatic" changes to the land-use "character" areas that control DeKalb County zoning decisions. 

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners is being asked by the Department of Planning & Sustainability to immediately amend the county's Comprehensive Plan to adopt the changes detailed in the report. A vote is scheduled on Thursday, September 24.

On the next to last page of the report's "Executive Summary," and on page 31 of the 39-page "Action Plan" are maps detailing "specific changes to Character Areas in the Comprehensive Plan and zoning to align land use regulations" as described in the report.

Under DeKalb County's zoning code, these character areas determine what zoning districts and uses are permitted. Property owners and neighboring residential homeowners have not been individually notified of the plans to change the land use of parcels along Memorial Drive.

The District 4 Community Council, a citizen review panel whose members are appointed by county commissioners, expressed concern about these changes when it voted 7-3 at its August 18 meeting to recommend approval of the study "with the condition that nothing changes in land use or the zoning districts, everything stays the same." 

While the Comprehensive Plan and its land-use maps govern all zoning decisions in DeKalb County, county officials have sought to downplay the land-use changes mandated in the report, leading one critic to call the Memorial Drive study a "Trojan horse."

Among the zoning land-use changes included in the report: