Posts filed under ‘Government’

Suburbs Secede from Atlanta

‘Detroit of the South’ bludgeoned by troubles

Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/suburbs-secede-from-atlanta/#a2GLrG5Hub4sDTJG.99
By John T. Bennett

As Detroit – beset by violence, debt and social woes – prepares to  undergo a historic takeover by the Michigan state government, the city of  Atlanta could be sliding toward a similar fate.

Some are quietly wondering whether Atlanta is in danger of becoming “the  Detroit of the South.”

The city has experienced an ongoing succession of government scandals,  ranging from a massive cheating racket to corruption, bribery, school-board  incompetence and now the potential loss of accreditation for the local DeKalb  County school system.

For several years, problems of this sort have fueled political reforms,  including the creation of new cities in northern Atlanta suburbs. Due to the  intensification of corruption scandals in DeKalb, some state-level reform  proposals could become national news very soon.

‘Super-white majority’ cities

As a result of the unsavory politics in urban Atlanta, northern suburban  communities acted to distance themselves. Beginning in 2005, many communities  began the process of incorporating into cities.

Thus far, Milton, Sandy Springs, Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Chattahoochee Hills  and Johns Creek have done so.

These cities, after breaking away politically from urban Atlanta, have become  so successful that a libertarian think tank, the Reason Foundation, has featured  Sandy Springs as a model of effective government. The  Economist has also applauded the northern Atlanta cities for solving the  problem of unfunded government pension liability and avoiding the bankruptcy  that looms over some urban areas. The new cities may soon be able to create  their own school districts, which would free them even further from the  issues besetting Atlanta.

While incorporation has been popular with residents of the new cities, not  all of Atlanta is as satisfied. The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus filed a  lawsuit in 2011 to dissolve the new cities, claiming  they were a “super-white majority” and diluting the voting power of  minorities.

A key leader in the black community and a driving force in support of the  lawsuit, who wishes to remain anonymous, bemoaned the “disturbing tendency of  black electorates to not elect the smartest and brightest, or even the  cleverest.”

Nonetheless, he believes that there is a social contract between the northern  and southern parts of the county.

“So when you allow powerful groups of citizens to opt out of a social  contract, and form their own, it may benefit the group opting out, but it hurts  the larger collective,” he said.

The lawsuit would have canceled incorporation and tied the cities back into  the very county that they purposefully left.

State Rep. Lynne Riley, a Republican who represents one of the new cities,   called the lawsuit “frivilous” and “disrespectful to the citizens of these  cities who are most satisfied with their government.”

The federal trial court rejected the lawsuit, and the court of appeals  affirmed the dismissal. However, an attorney for the Black Caucus plans to file  an   amended lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the same concerns that spurred incorporation continue to  mount.

Failing schools

DeKalb  County contributed to what the  New York Times called “the biggest standardized test cheating scandal in the  country’s history” in 2011.

Now, the county is faced with losing its regional accreditation. Losing  regional accreditation is, by any objective measure, a devastating indictment of  a school board, with severe consequences for students and families within the  district.

When nearby Clayton County, Ga., lost its regional accreditation in 2008, it  was the  first school system in the country to do so in 40 years.

The result in Clayton, according  to the Pew Foundation, was that thousands of students left county schools,  the district lost millions of dollars and hundreds of teachers were fired.

In response to the Clayton County crisis, after witnessing the fallout and  the harm to the state’s reputation, the legislature acted to prevent a repeat.  In 2011, the Georgia legislature essentially gave the governor authority to  remove board of education members when a district was placed on probation by the  accreditation agency.

Last December, DeKalb was placed on probation. Then, in January, the governor  of Georgia used his new authority and removed six members of the nine-member  DeKalb Board of Education.

This year, well after the accreditation issue broke open, DeKalb school board  elections were held. Four of nine board members were up for reelection.    Voters in one of the four districts returned their incumbent board member  for another term, despite knowing that accreditation was at risk.

This week, a federal judge sided with the governor and agreed that the six  suspended board members can be replaced. The decision places the dispute into  the Georgia Supreme Court’s purview.

As the issue looms, the mere mention of losing accreditation has impacted the  housing market in DeKalb, with at  least one potential buyer directing his realtor not to search for homes in the  county.

School leadership

Recently, at the helm of the DeKalb school system stood Crawford Lewis. The  former superintendent has been   indicted on racketeering charges.

Along with several of his associates, Lewis is accused by the DeKalb DA of  fraud, theft by a government employee, bribery and a web of racketeering. The  charges arose out of Lewis’ practice of steering lucrative government contracts  toward favored companies.

According  to the indictment, Lewis also used government funds to pay for a hotel room,  which he used as the venue for an affair. Lewis had this affair with a person  who held the position of “Executive Director of the Office of School  Improvement.”

One of the numerous complaints about the DeKalb school board was that it  voted to pay for Lewis’ legal defense. There had been a $100,000 cap on the  costs allowed for legal defense, but the school board waived it for Lewis’ benefit.

The CEO in charge

At the very top, the head of DeKalb’s government is the position of CEO. The  current CEO, Burrell Ellis, is being investigated for a list of concerns,  including alleged bid rigging. Police searched Ellis’s home and office recently,  and local  news outlets report that while no charges have been filed, search  warrants are reportedly aimed  toward potential extortion, bribery, theft, conspiracy, and wire fraud in  connection with private vendors who contract with the county.

Most recently, Ellis sought approval from the county ethics board to  establish a legal defense fund to benefit himself. The board  rebuffed the request.

A corrupt school board becomes a civil rights issue

Instead of being treated as a story about rampant, inexcusable corruption,  the school board fiasco has morphed into a civil rights issue. Atlanta’s NBC  affiliate reports that the Georgia NAACP “accused Republican Governor Nathan  Deal of being part of an alleged conspiracy to get rid of black office holders  and deprive black voters of their rights.”

State Rep. Tyrone Books pointed out that criticism of the governor needed to  include a word about black politicians who supported the governor’s removal  authority.

“How can we complain about him when we have black folks standing there  embracing the removal of black officials?” asked Brooks, D-Atlanta.

The state legislature is trying  to prevent public funds from being used in the legal defense of the ousted board  members. Because the ousted board members see their positions as a civil  rights entitlement, the attorney’s fees required for their defense will quickly  rise, unless legislation puts an end to the entitlement.

One of the suspended board members, Eugene Walker, responded  to the judge’s ruling with a familiar appeal: “Minorities should not feel  secure if contrived allegations from anonymous sources with hidden agendas can  go to private agencies and to have their civil rights stolen away.”

DeKalb has changed from majority white to majority black over the last  several decades. As  the Atlanta Journal Constitution gingerly put it: “The county’s transition  from majority white to majority minority was politically rocky .”

Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/suburbs-secede-from-atlanta/#a2GLrG5Hub4sDTJG.99

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March 11, 2013 at 10:58 am Leave a comment

Resident: Don’t Allow Tucker Land Grab for Lakeside City

Plans for Lakeside cityhood are crossing the line, says a local resident.

By Michelle Penkava for North Druid Hills/Briarcliff Patch

You may have heard that some  neighborhoods to our west are trying to form a city. This city, now  designated as Lakeside City, began in Oak Grove. One of the three services  they plan to provide is parks and recreation. Being in need of  green space, they have included a very large portion of Tucker in their proposed  city map in order to acquire Henderson Park. This would also give them  access to some long-established Tucker neighborhoods and additional commercial  properties.

The Lakeside City Alliance would have you  believe that they are moving slowly. In fact, they were expected to “drop a bill” at the Capitol on Thursday, March 7, sponsored by Dunwoody state Sen. Fran  Millar.

This bill is a “placeholder” designed to allow a public  vote on the issue by the fall of 2014 even though they are just now in the  beginning legal stages of forming their city. The map is not set in  stone. But once it is, we outside their boundaries will have no vote  on whether or not they become a city and incorporate parts of Tucker. Our  local politicians and civic leaders have spoken out, asking them to use I-285 as  their boundary. Instead, they are land grabbing large areas of Tucker in  their initial attempt, stating that there are no obvious boundaries of  Tucker.

The state of Georgia district maps, including Millar’s  district map, clearly designate Tucker as a “census place,” and show our  boundaries beginning at 285 with just a slight dip inside the perimeter to  Henderson Mill Road.

As you know, the climate in DeKalb  is tenuous at best. We are all frustrated with the state of the county  school system and exhausted by the antics of the now-suspended DeKalb County Board of  Education members. Many citizens are further frustrated by the DeKalb  government as a whole. It is in this climate that the Lakeside city  proponents are able to accelerate what should be a well thought out plan that  considers long-term implications to all communities. Instead, they are  considering only their needs and are dissecting Tucker with no regard and little  communication with our communities.

While the Georgia constitution  prevents the formation of new school districts, the City of Dunwoody is seeking  an amendment to the constitution that would allow them to pull out of the DeKalb  County School System. Most consider it a long shot at best as it requires  support from the entire state. The Lakeside city planners state that  their plan has nothing to do with schools. However, if by chance  Dunwoody is successful, Lakeside city could follow. Their proposed  Lakeside City map selects Midvale and Livsey (not the neighborhoods on our side  of Chamblee-Tucker Road) but specifically excludes Pleasantdale Elementary, which is  currently a feeder school to Lakeside High School and is north of the Tucker  boundary.

Millar’s email  address is listed below along with contact information for our local  legislators. Please share your thoughts with all of them. It is  important for Tucker residents to be “on the record.” Also below are  the links to the proposed Lakeside city map and Millar’s district  map.

Penkava wrote this letter to her neighbors, and it was distributed to Patch.

March 8, 2013 at 9:35 am Leave a comment

Local Cityhood Movements to Hold Joint Meeting

The Lakeside City Alliance and the North Druid Hills Study Group on March 19.

By Jonathan Cribbs for North Druid Hills/Briarcliff Patch

Two groups investigating the creation of a new city in the North Druid Hills-Briarcliff area will hold a joint meeting later this month.

The Lakeside City Alliance and the North Druid Hills Study Group will answer questions from residents of the Sagamore Hills and Briarcliff Woods civic associations regarding their proposed city plans.

From the Briarcliff Woods Civic Association:

  • The  Briarcliff Woods Civic Association is joining with Sagamore Hills Civic  Association to hold a joint information session where residents may  address their questions to the two separate groups who are working toward a city in North DeKalb County.
  • Both  the Lakeside Alliance Group and the North Druid Hills Study Group will  be present to answer questions on their proposals for cityhood.
  • The  meeting will be held at Sagamore Hills Elementary School at 1865  Alderbrook Road, Atlanta, GA 30345 starting at 7 PM on Tuesday, March  19.
  • Prior to the meeting, please send your questions to briarcliffwoods@gmail.com and  we will compile them for the meeting. The Board of Directors has  formed a sub-committee to collect questions and focus on this important  topic.

March 8, 2013 at 9:21 am Leave a comment

Ellis: Continued Incorporation May Harm Critical County Services

DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis said this week the county has reached a point where incorporations could harm essential county services.

by Jonathan Cribbs for North Druid Hills / Briarcliff Patch

DeKalb County has reached a “tipping point” where continued incorporations of unincorporated county land could harm the county’s ability to fund essential services such as courts, elections and libraries, county CEO Burrell Ellis said this week. – services all county residents use regardless of whether they live in a city.

Ellis’ remarks were released in a statement to Patch, but, speaking at a community meeting in Tucker on Tuesday, he also said he  understands the desire for cityhood but that historically, new cities  often encounter difficulties meeting their fiscal goals, and end up  having to raise taxes just to meet basic needs.

“You’ll still be DeKalb  citizens,” he said, emphasizing that new cities cannot isolate  themselves from their counties.

Proponents of cityhood in the Lakeside area have said they believe  they can improve police services and local representation by erecting a  city government closer to its residents. District 2 Commissioner Jeff  Rader, who represents part of the area that would be incorporated under  several proposed maps from various cityhood groups, said he believes  he’s been responsive to constituents.

“You can’t speak in general, but I am not running across constients  who feel that our office hasn’t been responsive to them,” he said. “I  don’t know that you’re always gong to get what you want from another  government.”

Super District 7 Commissioner Stan Watson said he would like to see a  meeting   between residents and elected representatives of northern and  southern   DeKalb County to hash out issues that have lead to serious cityhood discussions in the Lakeside High School area.

“The  citizens don’t talk to each other,” Watson said. “We have to  get rid of  the barriers that separate and find the commonalities that  bring us  closer together.”

He said he supports the idea of cityhood but hasn’t appreciated the legislature’s efforts to squash a city of DeKalb that would incorporate all remaining unincorporated county land from north to south.

“I’m for cityhood but allow all the citizens to vote on cityhood,” he said. “But just don’t give it to a respectful few.”

But the county government doesn’t have much control over what happens in the Lakeside area. If the legislature approves a cityhood bill for that area next year, it will go to a vote before residents of that proposed cit as early as fall 2014.

“If we don’t control the legislature, there’s nothing we can do,” he said.

March 7, 2013 at 9:01 am Leave a comment

My Response to Town Hall Meeting with Marshall Orson, DeKalb County School Board Member

Matt Huey

Matt Huey

By Matt Huey – What I know about DeKalb Schools and our Board of Education stem from my involvement in Briar Vista Elementary, the school that will touch every student and tax payer who live along LaVista, Houston Mill, Mason Mill roads and much of Briarcliff Road. Since 2009 I have fought budget changes that threatened the school’s Montessori teaching program, ultimately losing the fight this school year. I spent 2 years as Parent Teacher Organization’s president advocating for better education for the children at our school.  Along the way I met many good people in the DeKalb School System and many that I wouldn’t offer a ride if they were standing in the pouring rain. What I learned about county educational politics can be summed up in 3 points:

  1. The DeKalb school system is more about money and property values than education.
  2. Your school either has influence or it does not.
  3. Your school is either on the inside or the outside of the DCSS and the DeKalb Board Of Education.

DCSSDeKalb schools have been so poorly run, so mismanaged that last week the state board recommended that every board member not serving their first term be removed citing a sustained “culture of poor governance”. This culture stems from misappropriation of tax funds, nepotism, favoritism, cronyism and politicking of an institution that has one function…providing a quality education for our children. While I cannot cite many of the past indiscretions I can raise awareness of one in the works: The planned replacement of Fernbank Elementary School.

Along with Avondale, Briar Vista, Laurel Ridge and McLendon Elementary schools, Fernbank is in the Druid Hills High School “cluster”. These elementary schools feel Druid Hills Middle which feeds Druid Hills High.  Since the entire cluster feeds the same middle and high school only elementary school districts exist within the cluster.  The entire county school system is composed of such clusters.

Currently the populations of the elementary schools in our cluster are as follows:

  • Avondale:  Capacity 686 seats, enrolment 525, 77% utilization (159 open seats)
  • Briar Vista:  Capacity 542, enrolment 439, 81% utilization  (103 open seats)
  • Fernbank:  Capacity 578, enrolment 675, 117% utilization (97 over capacity)
  • Laurel Ridge:  Capacity 443, enrolment 446, 101% utilization (3 over capacity)
  • McLendon:  Capacity 559, enrolment 490, 88% utilization (69 open seats)

We have a total of 331 open seats in our cluster, more than enough to accommodate all of our students now and in the future.  When the 900 seat Fernbank is built another 322 seats will be added bring the total open seats to over 653, the equivalent of a new, empty school. To justify this new school the county plans to redistrict 65 students from Laurel Ridge and 17 students from Briar Vista.  Below are the county’s own 2016-2017 utilization forecasts:

  • Avondale:  Capacity 686 seats, enrolment 527, 77% utilization (157 open seats)
  • Briar Vista:  Capacity 542, enrolment 423 , 78% utilization  (119 open seats)
  • Fernbank:  Capacity 900, enrolment 758 , 84% % utilization (142 open seats)
  • Laurel Ridge:  Capacity 443, enrolment 343 , 77% utilization (100 open seats)
  • McLendon:  Capacity 559, enrolment 491, 88% utilization (68 open seats)

Don’t believe me? Check the below link from the DCSS website.

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/splost-iv/proposed-organization-facilities-presentation-and-binder-(2012-12-10).pdf

Briar Vista Elementary School

Briar Vista Elementary School

In short we are spending tens of millions of tax payer dollars on new school that will decrease average facility utilization from the current 93% to 80%, all to accommodate 97 students in a school cluster with over 300 open seats.  Am I the only genius who sees the problem here? Wait…refer to the 3 points above. Who has influence? Who is on the inside? Who stands to gain financially?

Are there plans to close a school in the cluster to fill the new Fernbank? Not now and not likely.  Fernbank’ s stellar test scores are, in large part, due to the near absence of students with the Limited English skills and economic disadvantages, the two demographics that most negatively impact test scores. If a neighboring school were to close it would take some serious gerrymandering (like the Cross Keys cluster) to keep these demographics intact. Consider that the 82 students targeted for redistricting from Laurel Ridge and Briar Vista are all from single family residences, least likely to contain these demographics.

Conversely, will the county redistrict Fernbank students to relieve overcrowding and balance the cluster? History has shown that they will be in for the fight of their life if they try.

So why is county spending a large portion of the 2.2 billion tax payer dollars on a new school where it is clearly not justified? Who has influence? Who is on the inside? Who stands to gain financially?

And at whose expense? Around 60% of your county property taxes go to schools and the entire county will pay for SLPOST IV, the 1 cent tax that will be in place for the next 4 years. How much of this money will be spent in your neighborhood? Helping educate your children? Helping your property values?  For Briar Vista, our neighborhood school: no influence, no one on the inside, no one fighting for our interests.

If you are concerned you should be. Strike while the iron is hot!!  Write Governor Deal (http://gov.georgia.gov/contact-governor-domestic-form), representative Scott Holcomb (scott@repscottholcomb.com), interim school Superintendent Michael Thurmond (michael_l_thurmond@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us),Marshal Orson, our new Board of Education representative (marshall_orson@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us) and voice your concerns. Tell them to not only remove the board, but to begin repairing the damage they have done. Share this with anyone who will listen. Ask questions and carefully listen to the answers. There may still be time to do something that will benefit all our children, not just a chosen few.

Matt Huey
Past President
Briar Vista Parent Teacher Organization

Editor’s Note: The above piece is the expressed opinion of the author and not policy of LLCC.

February 26, 2013 at 9:34 am Leave a comment

State Board of Education Recommends Removal of Six DeKalb Members

ByTimothy Darnell – North Druid Hills / Briarcliff Patch (patch.com)

The State Board of Education voted late Thursday night to recommend the removal of six members of the DeKalb School Board to Gov. Nathan Deal.

The board voted unanimously to recommend that Sarah Copelin-Wood, Donna Edler, Eugene Walker, Jay Cunningham, Nancy Jester and Pamela Speaks be removed from the DeKalb school board.

If Gov. Deal follows the board’s recommendation, Jim McMahan, Marshall Orson and Melvin Johnson would remain on the board as newly elected members.

The recommendation came after a meeting that began at 8 am and ended at 10:15 pm.

The meeting was the latest in the DeKalb school system’s ongoing battle to avoid losing its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools, which has already placed the system on probation.

DeKalb’s school board had to convince the State Board of Education that it was making progress toward retaining its accreditation. The State Board has the authority to recommend that Gov. Deal remove the board.

The DeKalb school board had sought a temporary injunction of this morning’s meeting as it challenges the law that gives the governor the authority to remove an entire school board. A judge ruled denied the request early Wednesday afternoon.

February 21, 2013 at 11:45 pm Leave a comment

DeKalb DA’s office looking into school board spending

Atlanta Business Chronicle by Carla Caldwell, Morning Call Editor

The DeKalb County Schools system was put on probation this week by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and now the DeKalb County district attorney’s office has asked for copies of the agency’s report that expresses concerns about school board spending.

The report includes allegations of mismanaged money and unethical behavior. SACS blames the school board for what it calls a financial crisis, reports Atlanta Business Chronicle broadcast partner WXIA-TV.

The SACS report says there are glaring examples where the board has failed to account for spending, including a loan for $25 million dollars to buy textbooks. SACS said half the money was used to fund books purchased in previous years, but it could find no evidence that books were purchased with the remaining $12 million, WXIA reports.

The DA’s office is looking at who spent the money and if there was any illegal activity, WXIA says.

Dr. Eugene Walker, DeKalb County School Board Chairman, insists there is nothing that would warrant a criminal investigation.

“We don’t manage the money. That’s done by the system,” Walker told WXIA. “We do have state audits and we just finished the KPMG audit. To my knowledge they did not find any wrongdoing or mismanagement.”

December 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm Leave a comment

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