Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Sworn statements detail Georgia voting issues last November

More than 200 declarations spanning more than 700 pages detail problems with voter registration or voting mchines in last November's election, including in DeKalb County. The Associated Press reports the documents also detail long waits at polling places and problems with absentee ballots.

County's first blight demolition of year is south of Redan Rd.

DeKalb County has demolished an abandoned home south of Redan Rd., at 1264 Muirforest Dr., Stone Mountain. The county gained control of the property in October. It's located in the Muirfield subdivision, in county commission districts 5 and 7. This is the first demolition of the year as part of the county's blight remediation program, which demolished or abated 296 properties in 2017 and 2018. The county's 2017 budget included $3.8 million for dealing with blight and derelict properties.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

DeKalb County approves 2019 budget

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners this morning approved a $1.328 billion Fiscal Year 2019 budget for the county. The vote was 6-1-0, with Commissioner Nancy Jester voting against it.

"We're moving in the right direction," CEO Michael Thurmond told commissioners. "We've gotten our fiscal house in order."

County commissioners mull Memorial Drive economic study, Stone Mountain library renovation

Two spending items of importance to central DeKalb are to be considered at the county commission's Planning, Economic Development & Community Services (PECS) Committee meeting on Thursday morning. At this morning's Board of Commissioners meeting, commissioners voted to send the items to committee and then consider them at their next meeting on March 12.

Committee members will consider a proposed contract for the Department of Planning & Sustainability to spend $175,000 to study Revitalization of the Memorial Drive Commercial Corridor. Pond & Company, an engineering firm based in Peachtree Corners, is being recommended over Sycamore Consulting, according to a document signed by Planning Director Andrew Baker that can be seen at . Last year, Pond & Company was named Engineering Employer of the Year by the American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia. The Memorial Drive study area study area bears a striking resemblance to the area that was unsuccessfully proposed for an Overlay Zoning District in 2017. A map of the study area and proposed meeting plans can be seen at .
Meanwhile, a proposed contractor has been identified for the renovation of the Stone Mountain-Sue Kellogg Library in downtown Stone Mountain. You can see the bid recommendation to use Alpharetta-based CT Darnell Construction at . The Request for Proposals that was issued last fall can be viewed at . CT Darnell Construction was chosen last year to design and build a judicial annex for the Butts County Administration Building in Jackson. Work to renovate the library branch is expected to take 4 to 6 months.

AJC: More subpoenas issued in federal Barnes-Sutton probe

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that DeKalb County has received more subpoenas related to former an investigation of County Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton. A federal grand jury has asked for budget requests or amendments from the year 2016 that affected Barnes-Sutton's district, which is now represented by Commissioner Steve Bradshaw. The subpoenas, which give the county a March 13 deadline, also specifically ask for correspondence and payment information involving the Bell & Washington law firm, which has in the past represented Barnes-Sutton and also represented ex-boyfriend and former campaign manager Warren Mosby after Barnes-Sutton accused him of domestic assault in 2014. The subpoenas also ask for information on county payments to Tetra Tech, Metals and Materials Engineers, and Environmental Consortium, in some cases dating as far back as 2008, according to this morning's AJC report.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

DeKalb Zoning Board of Appeals considers variance requests on March 13

The DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals will hear variance applications involving the following properties on Wednesday, March 13, at 1 p.m. in the Maloof Auditorium in Decatur:

2812 Lincoln Dr, Decatur: Reduce lot-width and lot-area requirements, waive lot merger requirement, restore three lots per a historic plat.

1393 Markan Dr NE, Atlanta: Reduce transitional buffer for a four-unit apartment building.

1383 Biltmore Dr NE, Atlanta: Increase lot coverage and reduce rear-yard setback for a proposed rear addition.

3103 N Decatur Rd, Scottdale: Allow two wall signs to be greater than 150 square feet.

775 Queen Ann Ct, Stone Mountain: Reduce interior, side yard and rear yard setbacks for a proposed two-car detached garage.

1788 Stephenson Rd, Lithonia: Reduce distance of a riding horse stable from adjoining property line.

1469 Fame Dr: Reduce side yard setback for new attached garage in the Fama Pines Community Overlay District.

733 Hillmont Ave, Decatur: Reduce front, side and rear yard setbacks and increase lot coverage to construct a home addition.

1610 Henrico Rd, Conley: Waive building materials requirement, Multimodal Access requirement, sidewalk requirements, requirement that build be located within 85 feet of property frontage, requirement for benches, trash bins and bike racks at street frontage, landscape strip requirement and requirement for loading and service area.

Copies of the applications have not yet been posted on the web site of the county's Department of Planning & Sustainability.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Memorial Dr. extended-stay hotels among worst code violators

Four extended-stay hotels on Memorial Dr. are on a list of 12 extended-stay hotels in the county that were written a total of 2,397 code enforcement citations last year and paid $168,395 in fines, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The hotel with the most violations on the list was the United Inn and Suites at 4649 Memorial Dr., between I-285 and Indian Creek Dr. The extended-stay had 447 citations last year and paid $60,345 in fines, according to a report provided to county commissioners. Another extended-stay, the Haven Hotel at 4893 Memorial Dr., just east of Rockbridge Rd. next to Cash America Pawn, had 793 citations in 2017-18, according to DeKalb County's Code Enforcement division. Both hotels are now in compliance with the code, the report said. Four of the 12 hotels on the list are closing or have already stopped operating.

DeKalb Police Chief Conroy is retiring

DeKalb County has begun a nationwide search for a new police chief after the announcement that James Conroy is retiring at the end of April. Conroy, who has spent 30 years with the DeKalb County Police Department, became chief after the departure of Cedric Alexander. County CEO Michael Thurmond called Conroy "an example of the best DeKalb County has to offer."

Stone Mountain delays vote on Georgia Military College expansion

Stone Mountain officials have delayed action for one month on a proposal to allow Georgia Military College to more than double the size of its building in downtown Stone Mountain and eliminate parking spaces. The City Council voted for the delay at its meeting on Tuesday evening.

The Stone Mountain Downtown Development Authority, which owns the building, is seeking a zoning variance as part of an expansion that would allow seven classrooms instead of the existing two, increasing the size of the building from the current 2,600 square feet to more than 5,800 square feet. The variance request seeks permission to allow the building to be within six feet of Manor Dr., when zoning regulations normally require a 20-foot setback.

Motorist waits for an empty parking place in area where parking is to be removed
The expansion would eliminate existing parking spaces on that (north) side of the building. Not only would parking be reduced, but the city has already agreed to allow GMC students to park anywhere in the city for free, should Stone Mountain begin charging for its already limited public parking.

Parking is saturated, before proposed 250 percent increase in classrooms
GMC officials have been absent at public hearings on zoning matters related to the expansion. Neighboring property and business owners and residents have expressed frustration that GMC has never discussed the expansion with them or held a public meeting for community feedback.

Formerly a junior college, GMC, which has 15 campuses in Georgia, now offers four-year bachelor of applied science degrees. GMC's flagship campus is located in Milledgeville, Ga.

Monday, February 18, 2019

DeKalb CEO resists new rules governing county purchases

DeKalb County's CEO is resisting an auditor's recommendation that any contract over $1 million should be reviewed by internal auditors, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. CEO Michael Thurmond says new rules for purchasing by the county are a "high priority," but he has other issues that are more demanding of his attention. Jeff Rader, presiding officer of the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, says the county needs a  new procurement ordinance because "the fundamental lack of a law that puts every member of the staff in a very difficult situation."

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Five vie for vacant Stone Mountain City Council seat

Five people, including a former council member and an unsuccessful candidate, have submitted letters of interest in the Stone Mountain City Council vacancy created by the resignation of Councilman Steve Wells. The City Council is expected to vote on the position early next month.

Andrea Redmond, who served on the City Council from 2014 to 2018, says "revitalization and conservation are both needed" in the city. Redmond said she did not run for re-election last year for personal reasons but is "ready to devote my time and energy on the Council again."

Michael Rollins, a technical writer who was defeated in November by Diana Roe Hollis for Council Post #4, says "divisions and anger simmer beneath the surface of our community," but that he "can help smooth things out," citing his capabilities for "listening, thoughtful decision making and communication."

Three others, all political newcomers, have also expressed interest in the position in letters to the city.

Rebecca Butler, who says she has corporate leadership experience in financial, real-estate, insurance and non-profit areas, says she desires "to see the healthy growth of my community."

Clint Monroe, a senior financial analyst and accountant, cites a background of civic engagement in Stone Mountain. He says he would seek to manage costs and bring added revenues to the city, support transparent and open communication, and support public safety and single-stream recycling.

Bernie Waller, a retired distribution center manager for an international vehicle company, says he has the ability to "effectively communicate with people across all levels of experience to achieve common goals."

There are six seats on the Stone Mountain City Council. Members serve four-year terms. In a case where less than one year of a term remains for a vacated position, the city code says "the city council or those members remaining shall appoint a successor for the remainder of the term." The City Council is expected to vote on Wells' successor on Tuesday evening, March 5.

Judy Asher, who was was defeated by Jasmine Little for Post #6 in last fall's election, submitted her name, then withdrew it saying "there is so many that have already put their names in it would not be worth it to pursue."

According to U.S. Census Bureau 5-Year estimates, 76 percent of City of Stone Mountain residents are black or African-American, while 20 percent are white.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

DeKalb school system withholds purchasing report, approves pay hikes that double earlier estimates

WSB-TV reports that the DeKalb County school district is refusing to release a report on its purchasing system, claiming the report is protected by attorney-client confidentiality. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says employee salary adjustments approved by the Board of Education will cost more than twice as much as estimates made in a study last summer.

Congressman asked to apologize for displayed book

State Senator Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) has called on Georgia Congressman Drew Ferguson (R) to apologize to "all of his constituents and the state of Georgia" after an 1897 biography of Gen. Robert E. Lee was found in the lobby of his office, the Associated Press reports. The book was opened to a page that said "the painful discipline [blacks] are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race." Ferguson says he didn't know the book was there and was "offended by the remarks ... as anybody would be," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The 586-page book, "Gen. Robert Edward Lee: soldier, citizen, and Christian patriot," is available to read online thanks to the Internet Archive.

Changes to DeKalb County ethics board in doubt

A proposal to revamp the DeKalb County Board of Ethics that was unanimously approved by the Georgia Senate has run into problems. Senate Bill 7 was approved by the Senate in a 55-0 vote. The legislation, as approved, does not include a provision for a county residents to vote on it. In addition, State Rep. Vernon Jones (D-Lithonia) wants to limit the board's power. He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the new measure is "an old band-aid."

The ethics board has not met since the Georgia Supreme Court ruled last August that the board was illegal because it included members that were not chosen by elected officials.  The Georgia Supreme Court noted last year that four of the ethics board's seven members had been appointed by private entities who "do not answer to the people as required by our Constitution."

Under the bill approved by the Senate, two members would be chosen by the county's state House delegation, two members by the county's state Senate delegation, one member by the Board of Commissioner, one member by the county's Probate Court Judge and one member by the Chief Judge of DeKalb County Superior Court. Committee members would be limited to two consecutive two-year terms.

New book tells story of the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal from a teacher's perspective

One of the teachers appealing her 2015 conviction in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal has co-authored a book on the criminal trial that led to the convictions of 11 administrators and teachers on racketeering charges. Former Dunbar Elementary teacher Shani Robinson and journalist Anna Simonton collaborated on "None of the Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal." They write that the scandal stemmed from an emphasis on student test scores, privatization of education and gentrification caused by new charter schools. The authors were interviewed for the television and radio program "Democracy Now."

Friday, February 8, 2019

Report: More subpoenas issued for Barnes-Sutton campaign and banking records

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed campaign and banking records of former DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton, WSB-TV reported Thursday evening. The television station says multiple sources, including an attorney for Barnes-Sutton, have confirmed that subpoenas were issued covering records as far back as 2012. The action comes two years after a federal subpoena was issued investigating how Barnes-Sutton spent office funds just before leaving office, including payments of $22,289 to CAL Enterprises for communications services and a $9,100 payment for a self-promoting 21-page "transition report."

An attorney for Barnes-Sutton told WSB-TV reporter Richard Belcher that the subpoenas are an effort to discredit Barnes-Sutton, who was defeated by Commissioner Steve Bradshaw by a more than 3-to-1 margin in a 2016 primary. The attorney, Otis Williams, contends the investigation is in retaliation for Barnes-Sutton's successful lawsuit challenging the composition of the county's Ethics Board. The ethics board had been considering complaints that Barnes-Sutton abused her county purchasing card and misspent public money while in office.

DeKalb CEO seeks $9 million boost to pension fund

DeKalb County commissioners will consider later this month whether to spent $9 million annually over the next five years to bolster the county's pension fund.

“The proposal is a long-term strategy to strengthen and stabilize the employee pension fund and ensure financial integrity in the fund going forward," DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said in a statement.

"Our pension fund is not in crisis," Thurmond told DeKalb County commissioners during a meeting on Tuesday morning. But he said the county was "taking a different approach ... in terms of creating more transparency."

Larry Jacobs, the county's Deputy Director of Finance and Risk Management, said the additional funding was part of a long-term plan to pay off pension liabilities over time. In a presentation to county commissioners, he said pension plan contributions by county employees went from 12.5 percent of pay to 1 percent of pay in the late 1990s. "The reduced contributions were not sufficient to pay for new benefits earned each year, resulting in depletion of the overfunded position. Additionally, significant changes were occurring in the investment markets," the presentation said.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Central DeKalb residents inside I-285 strongly prefer unincorporated DeKalb over a new city, survey finds

More than two-thirds of residents in central DeKalb County near Emory University would prefer to remain in unincorporated DeKalb County instead of being part of a new or existing city, according to a survey of the Mason Mill and Victoria Estates neighborhoods that could be drawn into a proposed city of Vista Grove.

As well as Victoria Estates and Mason Mill, residents of the Clairmont Heights, Medlock Park and the Laurel Ridge-Shamrock neighborhoods overwhelmingly preferred to remain in unincorporated DeKalb instead of a new city. Feeling were mixed in the Leafmore, Lindmoor Woods, Briarcliff Woods East neighborhoods, while the North Briarcliff area overwhelmingly supported a new city.

The survey results were based on a total of 687 responses from central DeKalb County residents inside I-285, including 159 responses from the approximately 400 homes in the Mason Mill and Victoria Estates neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods that were surveyed were more supportive of being annexed into an existing DeKalb County city than a new one, if they could no longer remain in unincorporated DeKalb. Eighty percent of residents in Mason Mill and Victoria Estates would prefer to be annexed into an existing city instead of a new city, with Decatur and Brookhaven as their top choices. Residents of the Clairmont Heights, Laurel Ridge Shamrock, and Medlock Park neighorhoods expressed similar views.

A lengthy analysis of the survey results can be found at . Links to respondents comments about various scenarios can be found at .

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

County Planning Commission and Department listings updated

The DeKalb County Department of Planning & Sustainability has posted an updated list of members of the county's Planning Commission.  It can be found at: . The 2019 list indicates that Ed Patton will continue to serve as the appointee for County Commission District 7 under new Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson. All of the appointees' terms run through the end of 2020. The Planning Commissions list offers no way to contact planning commissioners, such as telephone numbers or emails.

Earlier this week, The DeKalb County Department of Planning & Sustainability posted an updated contact list for the department on its web site. It can be found at: .

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Clarkston safer than Dunwoody, new analysis says

Decatur is the 20th-safest city in the state of Georgia, according to a new study by the National Council for Home Safety and Security, a national trade association of home security professionals. Clarkston ranked at No. 60 and Dunwoody was No. 64 in the tally, which was based on FBI Uniform Crime Reports for cities with a population of more than 10,000. Holly Springs, in Cherokee County, was recognized as the "Safest City in Georgia" for the third year in a row. The trade council, founded in 2006, combined crime rates and the size of each city's police force to get a safety score for each city.

A similar survey released late last year had different results. Dunwoody and Decatur were the only DeKalb County cities on a 2018 list of the 50 Safest Cities in Georgia released by SafeWise, a home-security system review web site. Dunwoody ranked No. 28 and Decatur was in 33rd place. SafeWise said its survey was based on 2016 FBI crime reports and population figures.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Factcheck: Bill Clinton in Stone Mountain

Saturday's closing of Stone Mountain Park and the subsequent small demonstration in Stone Mountain prompted internet circulation over the weekend of a photo of then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in front of a group of black prisoners. PRISM can't vouch for this particular picture, we didn't take it, we don't know its provenance.

However, President Bill Clinton was photographed in front of a group of mostly black probationers at the Stone Mountain Boot Camp on March 2, 1992, the day before an 11-state Super Tuesday primary with four Demoratic presidential candidates still in the race. California Gov. Jerry Brown campaigned at the Georgia Capitol the same day.

Later in the day, after seeing the photo, Brown said Clinton and U.S. Senator Sam Nunn looked like "a couple of white guys standing in front of them like colonial masters," and sending the signal, "Don't worry, we'll keep them in their place." In the heat of the campaign, Brown said the probationers looked like "a bunch of Willie Hortons."

Clinton responded that the probationers were getting education and drug rehabilitation and that he supported this type of program. At the time, there were almost a dozen prison boot camps around the state of Georgia. The Georgia Department of Corrections still operates a Probation Boot Camp in Forsyth that can put up to 100 male felons aged 17-30 in a military regimen.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Wade Walker Park gets new pavilion, toilets near tennis courts

A new pavilion and new restrooms have been installed near the tennis courts at Wade Walker Park on Rockbridge Rd. The installation is about 95 percent complete, according to DeKalb County's Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs. The restroom building has four stalls and a "separate family stall access."

Harvard researcher says Atlanta ranks near bottom for upward mobility

A Bloomberg BusinessWeek article profiling Atlanta for the Super Bowl says the city is full of enterprising transplants and black entrepreneurs who have moved to the area. But it also says that a study co-authored by a Harvard University economist found Atlanta was the second-worst city for giving disadvantaged children the chance to move upwards out of poverty. The article, headlined "Atlanta Attracts Wealthy Black Transplants, But Locals Languish," quotes a Morehouse College professor as saying: “If Atlanta has progressed, it’s for a very small minority."