Monday, February 20, 2012

Dunwoody: What is the state of the city?

If my better half gets home from work early enough I plan to be at the annual State of the City on Tuesday.

This address is going to be critical for a number of reasons:  Mike is setting the tone for his administration and it's his first chance to officially show that he's putting his campaign promises into action.  Stop buying, start fixing....

There's a major shift in the thinking about our government between the election process and official events like this one.  During the election there were many exhorting us to pay attention to ALL of the city council elections because our system of local government is a "weak mayor" where the mayor has the same voting power as the rest of the council.    Yet when issues arise - or problems, like executive session becoming a sieve - the wagons circle and the mayor alone is expected to be the voice of the government.

Mike has a couple of situations in front of him right out of the gate that will test his campaign promises and how he will be able to follow through.  The current discussion Kerry wrote of on his blog about Dunwoody's stormwater infrastructure (which he also alluded to in his response to my own survey of candidates) is a prime example.  It has never been a secret that the stormwater system was one in a long line of systems neglected by DeKalb county.  It's also not a secret that the City took over that responsibility.  Too big for our city government, but guaranteed to be neglected further by the county.  There's no cheap or easy way out of this.  So why was Council buying up land for "parks", that were never going to be parks, when the stormwater system needed serious attention and investment?  Mike can't speak to that personally - but four other council members can.  I wish the state of the city address left time open to the council members involved in the land buying decision to explain how they chose their priorities.

I would also like to hear how the open drainage ditches connected to the water works on Peeler factor in to the stormwater repairs and upgrades.  Some of these ditches (not natural creeks, but ditches designed for runoff) are essentially manmade ravines 40 feet deep and run in and out of private property.  Is there a plan to upgrade these too?  Close them in?  Leave them be?  What's the answer?

The other issue at the front of the city's mind are leaks from confidential executive session.  Everyone has a story about how they heard something from somewhere that originated with city hall that was supposed to be confidential.  That's the problem:  if it's confidential, we're not supposed to know about it.  Not even once, not even one person.  Yet so many of us can point to at least one episode in three years of existence.

IMHO, this one is an issue of "growing pains".  If a private HOA or civic group spills some gossip, it's not quite as big a deal because it's private groups with limited legal liability.  But now that we're a city - one that many would like to see fail and cease to exist - every little detail matters.  There is no law or standard or edict so small that it can be ignored when we're sitting on the DOJ's radar.  If you're working at city hall in any capacity you have to be aware of and respect every last detail of the law and ethical standards especially confidentiality.  If you can't get out of the community organization mindset, if you can't resist the urge to gossip or vent - whether you're elected, appointed, or hired - then you want to have a serious think about whether working for the City of Dunwoody is where you want to be.

Mike's decision to bring in Bob Wilson as an "investigator" is a good sign that he's not going to allow Dunwoody to get sunk by idle gossip.  Ideally, Wilson's role would be as an educator in what government confidentiality is down to the smallest detail, rather than sniffing out the rat-fink.  Ideally, the person(s) who slipped up and ran their mouths out of line would man up and admit it.

But no, that doesn't seem like it's going to happen.  The wagons are circled and everything is about "confidentiality" now that there's a problem.  These person(s) are putting Mike in the position of having to be Mayor Hard-Ass when his and the council's attention could be directed to other pressing issues and our finances could be spent elsewhere.

Now that the real estate genie is out of the bottle, it's time to stop hiding behind the "confidentiality" curtain and address the questions that have been raised.  If the land the city purchased wasn't going to be a park or other recreational facility, why was it a priority?  Per Lundsten, if the land is now public property, does council have a right to keep discussions of its use and/or disposal in executive session?  Are we going to have to keep dealing with special-interest priorities taking center stage when documented infrastructure needs can't be ignored?  If so, please explain why.  If not, how is council going to reassess their priorities in Mike's administration?  Dodging the questions will only make the speculation worse.  Just deal with it openly and the speculation vanishes.

Finally, I'd like to hear Mike's POV on Chris Pike's economic development report.  The conclusions at the end talk about how the city should diversify its income to ensure stability.  That means the private sector has to be diversified too.   Hopefully his comments will include something to the effective of  "get out of the way and let our citizens have as much flexibility as possible in making a living and as many options as possible in case the large corporation(s) we entice to relocate here changes their mind and moves away or folds or has massive layoffs after arriving."  The old adage "don't put all of your eggs in one basket" applies here.

A girl can dream.  ;-)  We'll find out Tuesday night if it comes true.

No comments: