2019 Review 2020 Look Ahead

/2019 Review 2020 Look Ahead
2019 Review 2020 Look Ahead2020-03-09T21:43:16+00:00
2019 Year in Review/2020 Look Ahead
The new year is a traditional time for reflection on progress made during the past twelve months, and in that spirit, you may find this retrospective to be of interest. Over the next several weeks, I will address topics of leadership, parks, libraries, public works, planning, police, budget, and SPLOST. I’m always interested in your perspective, and if you are so moved, please share your response with me via return message to [email protected].
PART 1
Commission Leadership
I completed the second of two terms as Presiding Officer of the DeKalb County Commission and was succeeded on January 14th by Commissioner Steve Bradshaw. Commissioner Lorraine Cochran Johnson was elected Deputy Presiding Officer at the same meeting. My objective over my term of service was to establish durable conventions that would survive my tenure and provide continuity as we establish a two-year rotation among Commission Leadership. The primary duties of the Presiding Officer are to appoint Committees and chair meetings of the Commission, but the office also serves as a central point of contact for the BOC, and as the catalyst for Commission response to emerging and extraordinary issues.
During my tour of duty, we worked to increase the Commission’s capacity to access independent analytical resources on areas of specialized policy like economic development, records management and public finance, with our committees of relevant jurisdiction engaging academic or professional expertise to analyze and develop options for policy development. A major effort under this aegis was a holistic analysis of municipalization and its impact on service delivery capacity of the county and its municipalities.
Another area where the Presiding Officer organized a BOC response was in the management of the Confederate Monument on the historic Courthouse Square in Decatur. The Monument, erected in 1906 by the racially prejudiced society then dominant in DeKalb, seeks to glorify the Confederacy by falsely asserting decades after the fact that the Civil War was precipitated by the South’s defense of constitutional and moral prerogatives rather than perpetuation of chattel slavery, as was clearly articulated in the Confederacy’s founding documents. The myth of the Lost Cause was and is still a powerful impediment to our society’s recognition of the roots and implications of persistent civil inequality. While the BOC resolved to remove the monument from prominent public display, newly adopted State Law blocked our path. Subsequently, the BOC commissioned a panel of historians to provide the text of a plaque now erected near the monument that educates the reader about the context from which the monument arose. In addition, the BOC has responded to a petition from a Remembrance Committee organized locally by the DeKalb Chapter of the NAACP to publicly recognize the racial terrorism embodied in Jim Crow era lynchings in DeKalb, which will be accomplished through an historical marker and monument to be erected in front of the New Courthouse across the Square.
Also in my capacity as Presiding Officer, I convened a working group on Ballot Access after reports of impediments to obtaining absentee ballots, long lines at the polls, and inconsistent treatment of voters with respect to provisional balloting and other rights. Constituents lined up at BOC Public Comment time to share their experiences, and a consensus developed among the BOC that we must act. Oversight of elections is actually the purview of the Board of Registration and Elections, a board appointed by the Chief Judge of the Superior Court, considering four nominations offered by the major political parties and a fifth appointment at the judge’s discretion. The BOC is responsible for funding the VRE Board’s activities, but not for the policies they adopt. With that in mind, I convened a bipartisan committee including three Commissioners, two VRE Board Members and four citizens interested in ballot access. The group met and agreed on the scope of an electoral process review consultant study that the BOC subsequently funded. The VRE Board then endorsed the process and pledged cooperation, and an expert team from other states will be working over the first five months of 2020 to review and make recommendations on improvements. Nothing is more important than the right to vote, and we are optimistic that this initiative will help.
Parks
District 2 was largely developed in an era when public policy prioritized private open space above public parks. But our verdant neighborhoods remain incomplete without public gathering places and destinations that refresh the body and spirit, and a major objective of my service has been to mitigate this deficiency through the acquisition of new public lands and the improvement of our assets. Here’s an update on our annual progress, which could not have been accomplished without the volunteer efforts and advocacy of local citizens through our Friends of Parks program.
*Briarlake Forest Park: I supported a National Fish and Wildlife 5 Star Grant and Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs (RPCA) continues to move forward with the conversion of the historic home into a recreation pavilion, which is funded through District 2 and 7 Parks Bond allocations. Briarlake Forest Park was selected as 2019 Best of Atlanta Award in category of Park.
*Brookhaven Heights Greenspace: I have pledged a financial contribution for a three-acre neighborhood park in Brookhaven Heights based on Brookhaven taxpayers’ participation in the 2001 Park BOND. The site is on a corner in a neighborhood without public green space, and a Friends Group is already active in planning for its improvement.
*Deepdene Park: In June 2019, Deepdene was certified as Wildlife Sanctuary by the Atlanta Audubon Society. An upcoming GDOT drainage investment will improve stormwater management and help to preserve the public and private investment that has restored the park to its scenic condition.
*Frazier Rowe Park: We finally have movement on the long-awaited pavilion which should be completed before spring of 2020. We appreciate the public’s patience as we have worked through delays due to a rise in construction costs and purchasing issues by supplementing funds available, and now are moving towards completion.
*Kittredge Park: Restrooms will be installed at the park in 2020.
*Margaret Harris Greenspace: RPCA is still working to organize a Friends of Margaret Harris Park. This new acquisition adjacent to the school on Beacon Hill Drive is adjacent to land we retained at the old Briarcliff Library site. Together these parcels represent an opportunity for an enhanced destination, and for a critical linkage to the new trail system across I-85 at Cliff Valley Way.  Please contact our office if you are interested in joining this planning effort.
*Mary Scott Park: RPCA was able to fix the drainage and improve parking at this neighborhood nature park using SPLOST funding.
*Mason Mill Park: We pioneered the introduction of Park Naturalist Jonah McDonald in 2019. Jonah provided lots of new programming for the park and we received wonderful feedback from constituents who have enjoyed this addition to the park. To come in 2020, Jonah will introduce a new Jr. Ranger program with financial support from my office, RPCA will update the 2010 park master plan, and we will see improvements to the tennis center and parking for seniors.
*Medlock Park: RPCA continues to acquire available parcels in floodplain off Scott Circle, and will make drainage improvements to reduce flooding.
*Pendergrast Park: Friends of Pendergrast Park were recently awarded a $50,000 grant by PARK PRIDE to finish grading, parking and playground installation. Our office has overmatched the grant using remaining Parks Bond proceeds and will be advancing implementation in 2020. Park Pride’s engagement in DeKalb County has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant awards throughout the County, in addition to strong neighborhood Friends of Parks groups who are stewards and advocate for parks.
*South Fork Conservancy: I pledged financial support for South Fork’s grant application with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for trail improvements west of Briarcliff Road, and have financed acquisition of a key parcel there.
*With the assistance of a strong Friends organization, WD Thompson Park continues to get better. Tennis Courts are slated for resurfacing and drainage improvements in the parking lot are slated for construction using SPLOST dollars.
*Zonolite: Boardwalk connectivity will continue in 2020.
*District 2 was again well represented at the 2019 Park Pride Annual Greenspace Conference.  Congratulations to our 2019 Inspiration Award Winners Jessie Hayden (Briarlake Forest Park) and Bill Lide (Kittredge Park).
*Pianos in the Park: a constituent brought this idea to my attention and I forwarded to RPCA. At this time, we have found spots for two pianos in our parks. This union of arts and recreation is a growing field and I am pleased our county is supporting such innovative ideas. Thanks to Debbie Miller for introducing me to Pianos in Parks!
*DeKalb participated in the first Park Rx (Prescription) Day in April in collaboration with the DeKalb Board of Health. As a member of the Board of Health, I’ve been impressed by the research documenting correlation between improved mental and physical health and time spent outdoors. By prescribing this experience as a therapy, we see parks as essential to public wellbeing. We look forward to continuing this again in 2020.
Leadership of the Friends of Parks groups associated with each District 2 park meets monthly at Mason Mill Park to share ideas and resources. If your Friends group is not yet engaged and would like to be, please contact my office.

PART 2

Central DeKalb Senior Center

District 2 includes many neighborhoods where residents of long tenure (and newcomers) have entered their golden years. In response, the County opened the Central DeKalb Senior Center (CDSC) in Mason Mill Park in 2015, to build on non-profit and public Seniors programming that originated and continues at the Mack Love Center next door.   The CDSC is an attractive functional facility supporting a wide range of activities, including crafts, fitness and diverse social and intellectual pursuits programmed each weekday. A van provides mobility for group outings, and a high caliber faculty of instructors and lecturers create content for every taste. Director Victoria Kingsland and her staff maintain an inviting and inclusive environment for seniors, connecting them to services and community. Membership (affordable at only $60 per year) and programming continue to grow at this vibrant senior center. In 2019, my office supported new computers for the center staff, and worked to respond to constituent concerns about unsafe sidewalks and parking issues which we will continue to follow up on in 2020.

Libraries

2019 began with the announcement that DeKalb was named Library of the Year by the Georgia Public Library Service. DeKalb was recognized for offering public programming that embraces the county’s diverse community and that promotes lifelong learning. We have expanded the Library System’s budget for operations and materials to ensure that we serve the interests of all. New offerings like mobile wi-fi hotspots and Georgia State Parks and Attractions passes help extend the value of a library card.

January 2020, DeKalb’s Decatur branch hosted Mike “Stinger” Glenn’s “Once He Learns How to Read: A Legacy of Literacy” exhibit. Mike Glenn, a former NBA player and current broadcaster for “Hawks Live,” the pre-game show for the Atlanta Hawks, has collected thousands of rare books, newspapers and magazines that document African American history and culture.

We hope to finalize the location of the Brookhaven Library this year and we continue to marshal resources to ensure that the library meets stakeholder needs.

Planning

Housing affordability has emerged as a pressing concern in DeKalb and the rest of the region. Our Community Development Consolidated Plan was amended in 2019 to expand resources supporting affordability, and efforts are ongoing to ensure that improving quality of life and an expanding economy do not displace lower income residents in District 2 and throughout DeKalb. Rezoning action has been relatively subdued in District 2, but we continue to evaluate redevelopment proposals in commercial districts like the Briarcliff/Clairmont and North DeKalb mall areas so that new development meets the goals and expectations of community stakeholders while remaining economically viable. One continuing challenge has been the opportunistic annexation and rezoning of intensive new development by cities where adjacent unincorporated neighborhoods have no voice in an annexing city’s decisions. These practices undermine neighborhood stability and quality of life.   For these reasons, DeKalb County has objected to Atlanta’s annexation of the Clifton Corridor and areas off Moreland Avenue and Memorial Drive and is currently in arbitration over Brookhaven’s annexation of land including the Target at North Druid Hills at Briarcliff Road.

Public Works

Watershed Management 2019 Highlights:

The Department of Watershed Management began replacing 102,000 water meters in April of 2019, funded (in part) by the proceeds of a legal settlement over defective meters that contributed to inaccurate utility billing over the past few years. The water meter replacement initiative will be implemented in phases over three years.  When complete, water consumption will be monitored continuously, enabling real time leak detection and differentiating irrigation use from sanitary use of water. This in turn would make it possible to amend our rate structure to credit your sewer bill for water that is not treated in our wastewater plants. Such charges are typically the largest component of bills that spike in the summer due to casual irrigation. I am advocating for such changes when the County reviews rates to fund deferred maintenance that contributes to sewer spills and water main failures.

*The Scott Boulevard Water Main replacement project will continue to be a necessary inconvenience through the year. This upsizing of nearly 2,400 feet of water pipe in the DeKalb Industrial Boulevard Area is a generational upgrade of infrastructure that has outlived its design life, and when completed will likely last for another 30 years.

*The Hood Circle Spill Site project in the East Lake neighborhood will repair or replace of approximately 2,400 linear feet of sewage collection pipes, some of which were installed nearly 80 years ago as part of the old City of Decatur system. These sewers have repeatedly leaked, spoiling the environment and undermining quality of life. Again, this project will be disruptive but is unavoidable. In this case, approximately 1,600 linear feet of pipe will be replaced, and another 800 linear feet will be rehabilitated.

*Briarcliff Corridor Water Infrastructure Replacement Project in Druid Hills includes the installation of more than one mile of high-capacity, 12-inch diameter water mains along Briarcliff Road. The project is slightly ahead of schedule, and residents have been generally positive in their feedback on disruption.

*DeKalb Watershed Management was awarded the 2019 Collection Systems Gold Award at the Georgia Association of Water Professionals Fall Conference. The Department was cited for operating the wastewater system in an outstanding manner and making improvements in the system through management, maintenance and operation. DeKalb annually processes, treats and releases 12 billion gallons of clean water into the South River through 2 wastewater treatment plants.

Sanitation 2019 Highlights:

DeKalb County Sanitation Division deployed 46 new automated side loader (ASL) sanitation collection trucks. Operated by a single driver, the technologically advanced garbage trucks increase efficiency, reduce costs, and allow the county to service a growing number of customers.  Increased productivity also allows us to pay workers at a higher rate. Standardized containers are a critical part of the strategy, and Sanitation has introduced new recycling and sanitation roll carts. Sanitation will no longer offers 18-gallon bins and 40-gallon bags as part of the residential single-stream recycling program. Existing recycling subscribers with 18-gallon bins MUST trade them in for a complimentary 35-gallon roll cart, or upgrade to a 65-gallon roll cart for a one-time $15 prepaid fee. For garbage, the 65-gallon cart is standard, but you can request a 45-gallon or 95-gallon cart if they better meet your needs. Additional charges may apply.

Transportation/Roads & Drainage:           

A January 2020 public meeting presented the design for a dedicated left turn lane on Briarlake Rd at Briarcliff near Lakeside High School. The turn lane was recommended in a traffic study commissioned for proposed improvements to the High School, and at the suggestion of DeKalb transportation planners. Responding to feedback at the meeting, staff continues transportation analysis on the project, with a final decision in 2020. Also at that intersection, I have secured funding for a regional stormwater solution for flooding on Briarcliff at Echo Lake. The project was presented at the January open house, and the County is continuing to refine the design and inform stakeholders on its features.

The BOC approved two new MARTA Board representatives for DeKalb in 2019, Ms. Rita Scott and Mr. Roderick Frierson. I focused a lot of attention on improvements to our agreements with MARTA.   MARTA’s light rail service to the Clifton Corridor has been integrated into MARTA’s capital program. DeKalb will also have more say in tax incentives used in the private redevelopment of MARTA station property.

DeKalb’s Transit Master Plan was completed in 2019, giving us a road map for expanding mobility options to DeKalb residents. Among the strategies adopted was the establishment of bus-anchored mobility centers which serve as hubs for connecting bus routes and other forms of transportation, as well as providing amenities to the traveling public. I was able to negotiate a commitment to two such centers at South DeKalb Mall and Stonecrest Mall in our negotiations to approve an extension of the existing one cent MARTA Sales Tax, along with Arterial Rapid Transit (ART) on Buford Highway and Candler Road. ART is a high frequency bus service with more rapid travel times, enhanced stations, and congestion avoidance technology appropriate for major corridors. We also negotiated an expedited commitment to Rail Transit Station renovation at the same time. Additional major expansions will depend on an incremental sales tax as was approved in Atlanta. At this time, the referendum that would be required for this step is not under active consideration.

Sidewalks along LaVista connecting Oak Grove and Pangborn Rd. This project is a rare GDOT sidewalk project facilitated by necessary drainage improvements in the corridor. Thanks to 4th District GDOT Board Member Robert L. Brown, the project will begin in 2020.

I would like to thank John Miller for his volunteer efforts with the Capital Improvement Program Advisory Group. John will be rotating off and I would like to formally announce Richard Hanson to fill this position for 2020.

SPLOST Update:

*SPLOST Citizen Oversight Committee continues to meet. Nancy Love is the District 2 representative for this committee. There has been lots of paving highlights, new police car units, Fire Department upgrades, drainage work etc.. See latest report HERE.

Peachtree DeKalb Airport

I would like to thank Rob Smith for his work with the Airport Advisory Board. Rob is stepping down and after soliciting volunteers, I have appointed Doug Miller of Drew Valley as the new representative for District 2 to the AAB in 2020. Jordan Fox and Jaime Dutro continue to serve on the Master Planning committee and I am happy to announce that a new aviation museum will be coming in the future. This will be an exciting tourist draw and historical look at aviation in DeKalb County.