Brookhaven Safety Meetings, Past & Present

Thank you to the approximately 150 Brookhaven residents who attended last week’s public safety forum at Oglethorpe University.

It’s a shame that on the afternoon of this meeting, as political retribution for the passage of House Bill 181, CEO Vernon Jones abruptly ordered the police department not to participate.  The police department’s participation had been confirmed since July 18, and was confirmed again via e-mail the morning of the meeting.

Regardless of the CEO’s decidedly un-senatorial antics, I stand by HB 181 and the protection it affords DeKalb County taxpayers.

This is the second time recently that police department brass did not attend a Brookhaven community meeting in which they had agreed to participate, having previously missed a separate meeting organized for Brookhaven Heights by their neighborhood association.

The police department has scheduled yet another meeting this Tuesday, August 21, at 7:00 p.m. in Lupton Auditorium at Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road.  DeKalb Police Chief Terrell Bolton will be there.  Please attend, make your voice heard, and get your questions answered.

As promised at last Tuesday’s meeting, the following are minutes of citizen comments and questions.  Also, as discussed, the anonymity of the residents who made the comments is being preserved.  I hope you find these minutes helpful as a glimpse into what is happening in our neighborhoods:

A resident of Drew Valley stated that her neighbors’ house was spray painted with graffiti.

A resident of Brookhaven Fields spoke in opposition to out of control county government spending, and the county’s failure to spend adequately on the right priorities, namely public safety.

Four separate residents of Lynwood Park addressed the ongoing problem with drug houses in their neighborhood.  Drug deals occur in the open throughout the day, and prostitution also is a problem.  There was a high level of frustration among residents of Lynwood Park who attended the meeting.

A resident of Brookhaven Chase stated that her automobile, parked in her garage, was broken into while she was hosting a dinner party in her house.  The resident stated that she placed four calls to 911, but the police never arrived.  The resident further stated that the police came at another time, but declined to dust the automobile for fingerprints.

A resident of Ashford Dunwoody Road inquired about the prevalence of gang activity in DeKalb County.

A resident of North Druid Hills Road argued that the county should crack down on criminal activity along Buford Highway, particularly gang activity.

A resident of Ashford Park asked whether crime rates are increasing or decreasing in Brookhaven.

A resident of Oglethorpe Estates inquired whether there is a website or any literature that explains the gang signs used by street gangs in DeKalb County.

A resident of the Fernwood Park Townhomes talked about two men who were seen casing Brookhaven Fields, and Cartecay Drive in particular.  This casing activity was followed by a series of break-ins in the neighborhood.

A resident of Brookhaven Heights mentioned that an SUV was stolen from Pine Grove Avenue the preceding night.

A resident of HillsDale encouraged residents to visit the North Precinct’s Yahoo Group (click for link) to get information about recent criminal activity in the area, and to share this information within their neighborhoods.

A resident who lives near Lynwood Park talked about a series of at least four car break-ins that occurred within a 30-minute period, which is how long the resident stated that it took the police to show up.  The resident argued that criminals are aware of police response times and purposefully flout the system.  The resident noted, however, that the perpetrator ultimately was apprehended.  The stolen goods never were recovered.

A resident of Ashford Park stated that he heard a car idling outside his house.  He later discovered that a man was sitting inside the car using the resident’s wireless Internet connection.  The perpetrator drives up and down residential streets looking for an unsecured wireless Internet connection.  The resident argued that laws against this type of activity should be strengthened.

A resident of Devereaux Commons asked in what places it is legal to carry a concealed firearm.

A resident of Harts Mill Road wanted the county to place more emphasis on resource allocation such that public safety would be a greater priority.

DeKalb Legislative Scorecard: Taxpayers 1, Spendthrifts 0

I am pleased to report a significant victory for DeKalb County taxpayers that occurred late in the 2007 legislative session.

Thanks to House Bill 181, which I authored, and due to the efforts of a small handful of DeKalb legislators who helped pass this legislation, you now will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum anytime the DeKalb County Government proposes to use your tax dollars to repay the principal and interest on new bonds for county projects.

You may be asking:  Don’t we already have the right to vote on bonds?  After all, there was a referendum to approve the $230 million bond issue that was proposed by the county back in 2005 for parks, libraries, and transportation projects.

Without House Bill 181, the answer to that question is no.  Only general obligation bonds, the kind of bonds that show up on your property tax bill, require a referendum.  As an end-run around your right to vote in a general obligation bond referendum, the county has made a practice of asking the legislature to create new county government entities known as authorities, and to give these authorities unlimited power to float additional revenue bonds, a different type of debt.

By now, you probably have more questions:

What is an authority?  An authority is a specialized quasi-governmental entity created by state law for a specific purpose.  Frequently, an authority builds and oversees one or more specific capital projects, like a water and sewer authority, a housing authority, or a hospital authority.  In DeKalb County, an authority usually has a governing board appointed by the CEO.

What are revenue bonds?  When used for their intended purpose, revenue bonds are debt on which the principal and interest are repaid using revenue generated by the project that was built using the bonds.  For example, water and sewer fees are used to repay the revenue bonds for water and sewer projects, and rents are used to repay the revenue bonds for housing projects.

However, the authorities that DeKalb County asks the legislature to create are different.  These authorities issue revenue bonds, build projects for the county, and lease the projects back to the county for the county’s use. The county then pays the principal and interest on the bonds directly out of the county treasury in the form of rent payments.

In other words, non-elected appointees of the CEO are authorized to float bonds for which your tax dollars are used to repay the principal and interest.  The CEO’s paid lobbyist stood up in a recent DeKalb County House Delegation meeting and declared that the county may seek to fund hundreds of millions of dollars in public safety projects using this mechanism.  Scary.

The few voices of fiscal responsibility among DeKalb legislators don’t control enough votes within the DeKalb delegation to stop local legislation that would create these county government authorities, but we were able to pass statewide legislation to require a referendum so the county must seek your approval whenever it proposes to use these authorities to float bonds, incur debt, and spend your tax dollars.  That’s exactly what House Bill 181 does.

Many thanks to Senator Dan Weber, who carried HB 181 in the State Senate, for his outstanding work in securing Senate passage of the bill.  Representatives Jill Chambers and Fran Millar, two co-sponsors of HB 181, deserve thanks for their assistance during a contentious floor debate in the House of Representatives on final passage of the bill.  Representatives Kevin Levitas and Mary Margaret Oliver also co-sponsored and voted in favor of giving you the right to vote on bonded debt.  The other 14 members of the DeKalb County House Delegation voted against the measure.  Governor Perdue signed HB 181 into law on May 24.

Brookhaven Community Meeting with DeKalb Police

Vandalism in Ashford Park.

Break-ins on Harts Mill Lane.

A kidnapping in Lenox Park.

Whenever crime happens in Brookhaven, I hear from constituents about it.  While my role generally is restricted to policy-making at the state level, I wanted to do something at the local level to be of assistance on this major community issue.

That’s why Judge Johnny Panos and I have arranged a Brookhaven community meeting with the DeKalb County Police Department next Tuesday, August 14, at 7:00 p.m. in Lupton Auditorium in the main building of Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road.

Please come out and get your questions answered, learn about crime rates in the Brookhaven area, and find out what you can do to help law enforcement help you.  I encourage you to forward this message to your neighbors to make sure they are aware of the meeting.

Many thanks to Al Fowler and Major Gilstrap of the police department’s North Precinct for their assistance in setting up this meeting.

This Weekend, It’s Tax-Free!

Georgia’s Tax-Free Holiday for back-to-school shopping is this weekend, August 2-5, 2007. This tax break, which was passed by the General Assembly with my support, exempts purchases of the following items from the usual 7% DeKalb County sales tax:

Clothing and footwear with a sales price of $100 or less per item, but not accessories such as jewelry, handbags, eyewear, and watches.

Personal computers and computer accessories totaling $1,500 or less. This includes desktop and laptop computers, personal digital assistants, monitors, printers, other peripheral devices, and non-recreational software.

School supplies with a sales price of $20 or less per item, including pens, pencils, notebooks, paper, bookbags, calculators, dictionaries, children’s books, and books listed on approved school reading lists for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

For more information, please visit the Georgia Department of Revenue’s website.

Upcoming Community Meetings

This Week’s Briarcliff & North Druid Hills Meeting – DeKalb County Commissioners Jeff Rader and Kathie Gannon will host the next in a series of public meetings regarding potential redevelopment and infrastructure improvements at and around the intersection of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills Roads. This meeting will be held today, Wednesday, July 25, at 7:00 p.m. at the Kittredge Magnet School, 2383 North Druid Hills Road. For more information, please visit

Next Week’s Briarcliff & North Druid Hills Meeting – The Civic Association Network, an umbrella organization of neighborhood associations in North and Central DeKalb, will host a community meeting regarding potential redevelopment at Briarcliff and North Druid Hills Roads on Tuesday, July 31, at 7:00 p.m. at Lakeside High School, 3801 Briarcliff Road.

Brookhaven Public Safety Meeting – Judge Johnny Panos and Representative Mike Jacobs will host a Brookhaven community forum on public safety issues with the DeKalb County Police Department on Tuesday, August 14, at 7:00 p.m. in Lupton Auditorium at Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road.

Your Thoughts on Briarcliff and North Druid Hills

A major developer has announced plans to purchase the Park Apartments and is negotiating to purchase the school property at the corner of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills Roads. The developer’s proposed high-density, mixed-use commercial and residential development would include approximately 107 acres of land, 3,700 residential units, and 1.5 million square feet of retail space.

Your county commissioners have hired a consultant and are holding a series of public meetings, the next of which will be Wednesday, July 25, at 7:00 p.m. in the cafeteria of the Kittredge Magnet School, to discuss potential improvements to the transportation infrastructure and greenspace around Briarcliff and North Druid Hills Roads.

I have attended some of these meetings, listening to the presentations and citizen comments. One of the things that struck me about the meetings is that nobody is asking you, the neighbors who live in the vicinity of the proposed project, a very fundamental question: do you or don’t you support the project, and if you do support the project, is that support conditioned on ensuring that transportation, traffic flow, sidewalk, streetscape, and greenspace improvements actually get done?

As your state legislator, I have no control over whether or not the zoning changes for the project ultimately are approved. That is the exclusive role of your county commissioners. However, if your support is conditioned on improving the surrounding infrastructure, I may be able to help with legislation to ensure that DeKalb County’s tax revenue windfall from the new development actually is spent in our community in the vicinity of the development.

As we have seen in the past, the DeKalb County Government often does not invest its tax revenues in our community, even when it has promised to do so. For example, the list of projects from the county’s 2005 general obligation bond issue has resulted in a list of unfulfilled promises in Toco Hills and throughout House District 80.

Now is the time to make your voice heard. I have distributed a survey using a direct marketing company to residents in the North Druid Hills Residents Association (the area bounded by I-85 on the north, Clairmont Road on the east, LaVista Road on the south, and North Druid Hills Road on the west) and the Merry Hills Homeowners Association.

I will compile the results of this survey, make them public, and use them to determine whether there is a way I can help achieve our community’s objectives. I look forward to hearing from you.

The Start of Something New

Openness and straight talk are the hallmarks of good public service.

When I first ran to be your State Representative, I walked every neighborhood in our State House district to ask for your vote and provide you with direct answers to your questions.  Since then, those who have seen me in action in our community know that I have continued to deliver openness and straight talk as hallmarks of my legislative service.

When you ask me a question, even in the most public setting, you get an unvarnished answer. When you send me an e-mail, you receive a direct response from me personally.

That’s the way public service should be.

I have set up this blog to share my thoughts with you on issues affecting Georgia, DeKalb County, and our neighborhoods.  I hope you will stop by periodically and return the favor by sharing your thoughts with me.

A good way to kick off this blog is to address some persistent rumors regarding my party affiliation.

As you know, I have always strived to represent all of my constituents, Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike, to the best of my ability.  You have a right to know that the people elected to represent you, regardless of whether you voted for them, are listening and care what you have to say.

That hasn’t changed, nor will it.  What has changed is that my strong belief in fiscal responsibility and restraint – a belief that the vast majority of my constituents share – is not a good fit within the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives.

I campaigned on these principles and you responded positively.  They are principles I have put into action in my service as your State Representative.

Our district voted overwhelmingly in favor of the property tax assessment freeze, which was on the ballot in 2006 as a result of legislation I helped pass.

This year, I sponsored and passed House Bill 181.  That measure ensures you will have the right to vote in a referendum whenever the county government uses entities known as “authorities” to spend your tax dollars to finance the principal and interest on debt for new county projects.  HB 181 was a significant victory for our district, which voted against the CEO’s 2005 general obligation bond issue.

HB 181 passed a Senate committee with three Republicans voting yes, three Democrats voting no, and the Republican committee chairman casting a tie-breaking vote to save the bill from defeat.

Final passage of HB 181 in the House of Representatives likewise occurred on the strength of Republican support.  It takes 91 votes to pass a bill in the House.  HB 181 passed on a close vote of 93-64. 89 Republican legislators and 4 Democrats voted in favor of this legislation.  64 Democratic legislators voted against it.

Regarding HB 181, Senator David Shafer, who represents Duluth and part of north Fulton County, recently observed:  “I watched one Senate Democrat attempt to thwart its passage at virtually every turn, all the way making a public show of supporting the bill.  I certainly can appreciate Mike’s frustration with his former colleagues.”

An even closer vote that also broke down largely along party lines was Senate Bill 10, the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act.

This legislation enables the parents of a special needs child to send their child to a private school if the parents determine the new school is better equipped to address their child’s needs.  The program is modeled on a similar program in Florida that has been tremendously successful.

SB 10 passed on a vote of 90-84, with the Speaker of the House casting the 91st vote required to pass the billThe e-mails and phone calls I received from constituents, some of whom were parents of special needs children, uniformly supported this legislation.  Without my vote, it wouldn’t have passed.

These last two votes of the full House of Representatives, which occurred on the final day of the 2007 legislative session, have solidified my belief that I fit best with moderate Republican legislators like Jill Chambers (Chamblee, Doraville, and part of Brookhaven), Ed Lindsey (Buckhead and parts of Brookhaven and Sandy Springs), and Fran Millar (Dunwoody, Huntley Hills, and part of the Murphey Candler area).

Their districts share beliefs, boundaries, and several neighborhoods with our district.

When I first presented Representatives Chambers and Millar with the idea for HB 181, their reaction was unequivocally supportive.  They immediately asked me what they could do to help.  I’m proud to join them as a Republican member of the House.

While that’s a new development, everything you have come to expect from me will stay the same:

– A commitment to fiscal responsibility and restraint.  Tax revenues are — and always should remain — finite.  Moreover, simplification of the state tax code with an eye toward eliminating property taxes is a worthwhile idea.

– A commitment to individual liberty.  Our government has no legitimate role in citizens’ personal lives.

– A commitment to open government.  Transparency enables us to hold our government accountable.

It’s an honor to serve you in the State House.  I look forward to continuing to work with you to make our North DeKalb neighborhoods a great place to live.