Monday, August 27, 2012

Welcome, Dunwoody Reporter readers. :-)

I noticed some new "faces" visiting the DWG after Melissa's article went up.  Welcome, thanks for visiting and I hope you find something interesting.

Bloggers stir things up, get people talking

In our conversation I learned from Melissa that Dunwoody is unique in the number of bloggers based inside city limits?  Who knew?  I never thought anything of it but I agree w/ Bob L that it's a good sign of civic involvement.

As I've said before, not everyone likes to post as publicly as this - that's OK.   There are other ways to state your opinions and suggestions on whatever the issue du jour is.  Email, phone, chatting over a beer next to the pool or the tennis court.  Make your own contribution to Dunwoody in your own way.

For example...  in current events....

Discussion over the "Village Master Plan" and Dunwoody Village Parkway is going to come to a head tonight at City Hall.  Bike lanes, sidewalks, trees, how many lanes, median, no median, and probably more issues will be aired tonight.  I have too many questions about this plan (or plans) to have an opinion yet.

Has anyone heard any official comment from Regency, the company that owns Dunwoody Village?  How about the Simpson Organization, that owns Dunwoody Plaza?  (Plaza = that shopping center across from "the Village" that is home to the 1420 Room, Dunwoody Pediatrics, and others.)  The only comment I heard in passing was that Regency barely stopped short of telling Dunwoody to take their Master Plan and shove it.  Like it or not, corporations are legally allowed to own and control their properties.  Unless we woke up in communist China this morning, they have rights too.  I would love to hear from one of their representatives at the meeting tonight during public comment, or otherwise see their POV represented in the discussion.

How about the tenants?  Ditto the questions above.  I've heard claims that part of the DVP redesign is to stimulate business.  Do the business owners with rent invested agree?  Are the opinions consistent between the branches of national chains vs. large local enterprises vs mom-and-pop outfits?  I'd like to hear those voices represented tonight too.

On a related tangent, the plans for area redevelopment (as well as the zoning code rewrite) make reference to "shared parking" and "right-sized" parking areas.  Meaning that someone, somewhere thinks there's "too many parking spaces" and all of the tenants should "share" them.  That isn't going to happen in Dunwoody Plaza.  Each entity (especially El Azteca, Enterprise, 1420 Room, and Dunwoody Pediatrics) has their own customer parking spaces marked with a sign or paint on the blacktop.  Some of them have a tow company on speed dial for violators.  I don't see "shared parking" happening in this sector any time soon.  Expect some resistance to that concept.  Plus, negotiations on purchasing land for a right-of-way will be tense.  

The original cost floated around for a DVP redesign was $500,000.  Now that number is 5 times that at $2.5 million.  Why?  If there's a good reason for the larger number somebody, please, say what it is.  (By "good reason" I do NOT mean "Well, the feds are offering a grant.")  Watching a cost inflate that much is enough to make any citizen worried no matter how good the intentions are or how brilliant the idea.

How much time will the redevelopment take?  It doesn't just matter for drivers, it's critical for the business owners.  All around Atlanta when there have been major street repairs, realignments, or construction, the local small businesses watched their customer base shrink to near-zero because of the inconvenience.  It's worse with weather delays or other extensions.  Some family-owned and other small businesses had to close altogether. You don't stimulate business in an area by making it impossible to function for an undefined period of time.   How will the businesses along DVP be protected during a project that will certainly affect their bottom lines?  

I'll have a better idea of what to think about this project when the above questions get answered.

In the mean time, here are a few other opinions.

Bicycle Lanes in Dunwoody (trust me, it's related)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

See, Click, Fix... Enforce?

One of the first interactive communications that Dunwoody City Hall launched after incorporation was See, Click, Fix, an online application for reporting non-emergency problems to City Hall.  This service has been featured on Channel 46's "Harry Pothole" segments since then.

The premise is easy:  you go to the website on your computer (or via the corresponding smartphone app) and report an issue that you see.  City Hall acknowledges each report as it comes in and assigns it to the right department for resolution.   You can see on a map where other problems have been pointed out,  post comments, get others to comment and receive updates from City Hall.

Most complaints get shunted into two departments:  Public Works or Code Enforcement.  If it's an honest-to-God emergency, don't bother with the app, call 911.

When you're reporting an issue, especially if it goes to Code Enforcement, you, the citizen have some due diligence and some responsibility in order to make your strongest possible case.

1)  TALK to the owner first.  Whether it's a business or a residence, be a human and let the person in charge have a chance to be human right back.  Maybe something is going on you don't know about and the situation is temporary.  If the person is NOT human (read:  rude, dismissive, etc) then step right up to Code Enforcement.

2)  DOCUMENT everything.  If a conversation doesn't lead to a conclusion and it looks like this is going to drag out, start keeping track of conversations and complaints filed.  That can help you if you want to emphasize that a situation has been going on for a long time.  If there's no documentation, and you claim a situation has existed for weeks or months, then it's your word against theirs.

3)  PICTURES are worth a thousand words, literally.   No one else can see that camera in your head, so use the one on your phone.  A single picture of an unacceptable circumstance can sometimes make the difference  between a personality conflict and proof of wrongdoing.  Look at the dots in the above widget - some of those complaints are just a few words, with NO pictures at all to flesh it out.  The posts that do have attached images make a very clear, indisputable case for their position.  If you happen on a problem and want to report it, whip out the camera and take a picture!  Or a video, something visual.

A word about proofs:  when you want to file a complaint about something or someone, the proof is your job.  In our society the burden of proof in any legal proceeding is always on the complainant.  That may be troublesome but worth the effort to get your problem resolved.  You can also get neighbors or other witnesses to contribute their POVs as well.

So, you've decided to go to Code Enforcement.  What makes for a persuasive complaint?

1)  The Facts, All the Facts, Nothing But the Facts.  This is where the documentation comes in.  What exactly is the property owner in question doing wrong?  Spell it out.  Bullet points are helpful.  Include your photos.  Reference the municipal code.  Above all, do NOT "embellish" or exaggerate your claims.  It does nothing for your case but dent your credibility.

2)  Check Your Emotions At the Door.  A formal complaint is not the time for hyperbole, unrelated arguments added as red herrings, fabrications based on personal assumptions, derogatory comments about people themselves, or quasi-philosophical rantings.  These actions do not make your case, they break it.  If your facts are in order, you can be upset and still be in control of yourself.  Your worst-case-scenario is that you get branded as that nutter who can't get his story straight and the authorities make a mental note to ignore you.  Stay calm and keep it about the facts.

3)  Can I Get a Witness?  If other people see the problem you see, get them to add their voices to your concern.  Not everyone wants their name on the internet and that's understandable.  On SCF, votes to emphasize a case or complaints themselves can be made anonymously.  Be aware that all information collected by Code Enforcement or Public Works is public record and may be collected with an Open Records request.

4)  Follow Up Regularly.  If you read through the comments and notes on some of the cases documented in the widget, you'll see the last followup is often months old. Are they resolved?  In progress?  Any changes?  Who knows?   There may be a legal snag on the City's side.  The entity you're complaining about may have a legal case of their own.   Maybe your interpretation of the law is faulty.  Maybe resolution requires resources that the City has to wait for.   You won't know if you let it slide so set a reminder on your calendar to peek in via web or phone on a regular basis.

This is all the reasonable due diligence a citizen needs to make a case.  But it's only one side.  The other side of this equation resides at City Hall.  The appointed or hired officials have their own diligence to perform.  Here's the rub:  does City Hall always see these issues through?  Look at the map widget - there are a lot of "Open" posts that have not been acknowledged and "Acknowledged" posts that have gone unanswered, some for months.  Are the questions not resolved?  Or did someone get tied up and forget to close them?

With a daytime population of 150K, there are going to be conflicts that cannot resolve themselves and need to be assisted by City Hall.  Are they all getting addressed? According to the See Click Fix page for Dunwoody in the past 30 days, 11 new cases were opened, 12 were acknowledged, but only 1 has been closed.  And that's just online using the app, it doesn't count what's filed in person or on the phone.   Stay tuned, there's more....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

HGTV's "Elbow Room" is casting in Atlanta

I received this announcement via email from Johlt Productions.

Hi there,

HGTV's Elbow Room is casting in Atlanta!

Does your family sing karaoke? Do you play guitar? Have you always wanted a music room in your house?

Do you work from home? Could you use a home office?

Are you into woodworking? Would you like a home workshop?

Could you use a fitness room in your home?

If so, please fill out these questions and email them to:

1. We love pictures! Please make sure to send us pictures of: YOU and YOUR FAMILY, EXTERIOR OF HOME (front and back), and NUMEROUS PHOTOS OF THE PROBLEM AREA/ROOMS. **Please just attach the pictures, do not create a collage or presentation**
2. Name, phone numbers and occupations of home owners
3. Name/ages of all children
4. Address of property
5. Year house was built
6. How long have you lived there?
7. How have you outgrown your home? Please tell us in detail, tell us stories, give examples.
8. What do you love about your neighborhood?
9. What is your ideal renovation?
10. Do you have an area to expand in to? Or would this be an addition?
11. Why do you need our help?
12. How is your life hindered without this renovation?
13. How do you want the space to look/feel after the makeover?

Thank you for taking the time to fully explain your situation. We're excited to learn all that we can!

Elbow Room Casting
JOHLT Productions

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

INTRODUCING: Lady Jane Custom Footwear, LLC

Today I am thrilled to announce the launch of an e-commerce site for Lady Jane Custom Footwear, LLC.  Lady Jane is a Dunwoody home-based business founded by Mary Jane Caldwell.  Mary Jane got sick of having to torture her feet to wear beautiful high heels.  So she started designing her own.

Lady Jane shoes are custom-made, one pair at a time at a facility in Austin, TX.  They are more comfortable and healthier for your feet than even the most celebrated luxury brands.  Mary Jane's shoes can be manufactured in a wide variety of fabrics and leathers, heel styles, and accessories.  This site is a comprehensive upgrade from her previous one.   You just select your size, material, width, and style and they are custom made for you.  Mary Jane and her staff manage the store from an administrative interface.  Select styles are available online and even more styles and options can be purchased through a private consultation, trunk show, or at Primera Podiatry.  Special requests can be handled via phone and/or direct consultation.

Lady Jane Custom Footwear is one of the latest in a growing number of brands that are born and bred in Dunwoody and market toward an upscale audience.  With the features, creativity, and competitive cost Lady Jane has all the potential in the world to be a distinct Dunwoody luxury brand promoted to the entire USA.

This project was very detail-oriented and a lot of work because of the e-commerce aspect but it's not often you can consult with your client about her website and try on dozens of shoes at the same time!  In fact when we were getting the project started and the paperwork signed, Mary Jane set me up with these little numbers in time for Taste of Dunwoody 2012.  I didn't have to sit down all night (until the alcohol went to my head.)

If you're keeping track, this model is a closed-toe variation of "Jacqueline" and the nubbly inset is a stretch leather that was available some years ago.  They are truly one of a kind and plenty comfy.

This site was customized using a content management system called ZenCart that was created specifically for e-commerce solutions.

A few words about e-commerce websites:

E-commerce (and in a similar matter, e-learning) are some of the most complex websites that an average small business can use.  To make the most of it, a business owner has to have a firm grip on their product, their sales approach, their customer base (current and projected) and how they intend to incorporate online selling into their overall business model and day-today operations.  Most business owners I know get intense "sticker shock" when they see the cost of an e-commerce solution.  However the price tag indicates the higher-than-average amount of work involved.  Any company that tries to sell you on the idea that you can throw together a unique, scalable storefront "in just a few clicks" is either lying through their teeth or delusional.

If you are planning to sell online, plan on discussing these questions with your web developer:

  • What do you sell?  To whom?  Do you have an established customer base?  Have you surveyed any of them to determine what your customers are looking for in an online experience?  Or even if they want one?  Or are you expanding your outreach to a new audience that is looking for online purchasing?
  • Which of your products are going to be sold online?  All of your inventory?  Just a selection?  Are your products priced by features?  Do your products have a variety of features that your customers choose from?
  • Do you already have a website host or do you need both a host and shopping cart?  (Some companies are selling e-commerce "software as a service" where you can buy your services all in one.  Magento, 3dCart and Intuit website are examples with different pros and cons to each.)
  • How will your customers pay online?  Do you need a 3rd-party payment provider (like PayPal, WorldPay, etc)?  Do you plan to process credit cards or similar payments through your website using your bank's service?  Have you compared the costs of each option?
  • If you are processing your own credit cards (and not using a service akin to PayPal) have you budgeted for SSL encryption?  SSL is the encryption standard that secures sensitive customer data against unauthorized access.  A green bar and padlock in the URL box of your browser indicates your site is secured for e-commerce.  These certificates can run anywhere from $80-ish (from GoDaddy) to the hundreds or thousands from VeriSign.
  • Does your shopping cart have to integrate with your business and financial management software?  For example, if you are using QuickBooks, your choice of shopping cart software and providers is going to be limited.  Those providers that do integrate with QuickBooks usually charge more for this feature.
  • Where do you ship your products to?  Contiguous 48 states?  All USA and territories?  Worldwide?  Do you know the tax rates that are applicable for each area of the country/world you are selling to?
  • What shipping service do you intend to use?  UPS, the US Postal Service and FedEx have the most popular software integration for shopping carts.
  • Does your online shopping cart need additional web pages for general information, or will it stand on its own?  
  • How are you managing your inventory?  Do you need to integrate online sales with in-person sales at a storefront?  Do your inperson sales take you to other locations like festivals?
  • Have you considered mobile/smartphone capabilities for both your customers as well as your store managment?
  • How do you see your business and sales growing in the next 5 years?  10?  Do you plan to add more products or varieties of current products?  More physical locations?  Employees?  Will your online store management require employee training?  Your developer has to find a solution that can be scaled to match your business growth and allows for ease of use by employees - or owners!
  • Who is going to manage the online store?  Fulfill the orders?  Have you budgeted for a contracted developer to manage the content and inventory system?  Do you already know how or can you learn the software involved?  Do your employees need to be trained?
There's more, but that will just get you started.  See what I mean about details and work involved?

Finally, I touched on this topic in the above bullet points but there is a wide variety of payment systems out there.  PayPal is the most popular in many ways because of its ease of use for even an individual and it's all-in-one standard pricing and security.  On the other side, banks that provide merchant accounts often sell a service called that links your (SSL-secured) store to your bank processing directly.  Depending upon your sales figures this can represent a major cost savings.

Whatever you decide for online payment processing, the one and only payment system I NEVER recommend is Google Checkout.  In terms of pricing, ease-of-use and software integration, Google is virtually identical to PayPal.  The major difference is your customer MUST have a Google account to check out of your store!  I don't know too many people that want to create a Google account to shop.  Google announced recently that they streamlined their data cross-referencing between Checkout, YouTube, Gmail, and search engine services.  For me (and for many customers) that's just a little too Big-Brother-ish.  If you need a simple out-of-the box payment solution, use PayPal for the same price and allow your customers to just buy-and-go.

Big powerful tools can provide big sales and big profits.  But they only work well if you put equally big business and logistics planning behind them.

Keep an eye on Lady Jane.  With her online store she's taking her merchandise nationwide and will be another luxury company putting Dunwoody, GA on the map.

Monday, August 6, 2012

"They Don't Think LIke Dunwoody"

What would it be like to live or work in a city and be told that you don't deserve your job or location because you "don't think like" everyone else?  Even if every issue has a spectrum of opinions and public comments?

I heard that chilling comment at the latest DHA meeting.

It bothered me because so many in Dunwoody come from somewhere else.  The northern part of Atlanta's metro  has grown because  of the influx of new citizens from elsewhere.

They didn't leave their ideas and opinions at city limits.  The last time I checked, I didn't see any thought requirements in any HOA bylaws, including the DHA.

Dunwoody is still young and the "growing pains" as we develop our identity as a city are bound to continue.  There's been an interesting mix of voices demanding that more citizens become involved in voting or whatever process is in the spotlight, and demands that only certain points of view be given serious consideration.

(Reference:  The Other Dunwoody - More Dunwoody Than You)

Cases in point:

"The City should hire Dunwoody companies first for all of our projects."  I'm all about supporting local businesses and keeping Dunwoody's money here.  I've been on this particular bandwagon myself in other posts.  The latest complaint about auslanders' input on Dunwoody was the recent signage proposal from KMA - based in Pennsylvania.  I wondered just which Dunwoody companies bid for projects and were rejected.  There's a list on the City's Purchasing Division page.

As far as I could tell, there were no bids from ANY Dunwoody or Dunwoody-owned companies!!  Not even one!!  I was shocked because with the number of sign companies in and around our town, surely someone must have submitted a bid!  (Ditto for IT companies, marketing companies, etc.  I checked ALL of the bid lists and RFPs that are available online. )  But there wasn't. There were bids from large companies based in Atlanta (including Sky, who created the city logo and did the first research on the "mood" of the city and how it saw itself).  There are others from around Georgia.  But not a single one from Dunwoody itself.

You can't hire a company if they don't submit a bid.   If Dunwoody companies don't want to bid for city services...   does that mean we can't hire anyone else?   Someone please correct me if I'm wrong but I Googled all the company names and not one had contact information in a Dunwoody zip code.

"The people hired to work at City Hall are not 'from Dunwoody' and that is a 'problem'."  

Does this complaint include our elected officials?  Because all of them (past and present) have resided in Dunwoody for far less time than those complaining about city hall employees.  No one at City Hall was born anywhere near Dunwoody.  (Again, corrections welcome, but I checked this before posting it.)  There were even suggestions that the Community Development director should not be in his position either.  Is there a litmus test to be applied for city hires?  Who will create and administer it?

Here's a real-life situation where "old" and "new" ideas can be symbiotic:
In a couple of my larger projects where I am one developer within a group (sorry, gang, can't go into details, these all have signed NDAs tied to them) I stand out from the other team members because a) I am the eldest and b) much of my skills are self-taught.  My team members are usually in their teens and twenties and  are the result of a computer-science curriculum.

Computer Science courses teach basic programming skills, but are often light on "real life" applications where those skills are used to solve problems for a customer, who is not a computer science major.  Students of these courses often get stuck in a "groupthink" mentality where lack of life experience is a hinderance.  They can't put themselves in their customers' shoes so to speak, and their skills can't solve the problem.  My role has often been to show these programmers the POV they're missing and use solutions that I created outside of the box.  (Because I've never been IN the box in the first place!)  Then the problem gets solved and the customer is happy.  In return, I learn the latest in computer programming from the latest classes without having to plunk down tuition or take time away from home, family, and work.

Is it just a little bit possible that self-proclaimed "real" Dunwoodians are too close to their problems to see the solution?  Is it also a little bit possible that "real" Dunwoodians are so wrapped up in their conflicts - signage, zoning, parks, whatever it is - that they can't step outside their self-created box and invent a new solution that includes diverse points of view?  Maybe some objectivity from a fresh face that exists outside the Dunwoody box is just what the doctor ordered.

"Not enough people are involved in the city.  I so wish younger people would start getting involved.  Where are they?"

To those who express the above thought:  supposing someone new did pop their head up and express their ideas as part of "getting involved."  Whatever would you do with them?  Listen to their POV, even if it differs from yours?  Would you find common ground?  Or would you pursue the tried-and-true path of dismissing them if they think "differently"?  Would you try to get their POV dismissed or censored?  Would you try to get the PERSON dismissed?  Would you force them on to the defensive by challenging them to a fight?

 I am positive that there are people that honestly don't care about City Hall and its politics.  I am equally positive that personal commitments keep others from involvement.  But if you are one of the people that asks the question, "Why aren't more involved?" ask yourself "Would I want to get dragged into a public fight over an idea when all I want to do is make a living and raise my family in peace?"  Because that's what many "other" Dunwoodians don't want to deal with and that prevents them from being "part of the process."

How does "Dunwoody" really think?  It's not a simple answer and there's more than one.  Again, I reference the research report created by Sky as their foundation for the city branding project.  Read the comments - this is what people honestly say when they feel safe to speak freely.  There are some common threads but a full spectrum of thoughts that diverge from each other.  Which of them is the real Dunwoody?

Here's a hint:  it's a lot more than the ones that agree with you.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

FOR HIRE: World's Greatest Nanny

UPDATED 8/28/2012:  Starshia confirmed for me this morning that she has accepted a new position starting  next week.  Thanks to everyone who stopped to read this post and who contacted me.

When I was in my last trimester with PJ in 2010, I finally had to break down and admit that our family needed help.  Our relatives are scattered across the US and none were going to visit any time soon.  Maggie was starting her final year of Pre-K and Michelle was turning 1 year old - that turning point where children need a lot of attention and activity.  I didn't have much of either.

We got some advice from friends who had nannies and babysitters and set out to find someone who would be there to help play with and educate the girls while Pat and I were getting ready for our son to be born.  We were scared to death as we sorted resumes and conducted interviews.

Starshia posing with Michelle and Maggie
during  our family visit to  Georgia Aquarium.
Our final interview was with Starshia Conley, then living in Doraville.  Starshia had a resume longer than my arm with numerous certifications and work experience.   After meeting her (and doing the requisite background check we did on everyone) we hired her almost on the spot.

In two years, Starshia has become a member of the family, more trusted than some of our blood relatives.  It was a mutual blessing for all six of us in the house.  The thing is with PJ now two and headed to preschool with Michelle, we're not going to have enough hours for her to make a living.  So it's time for Starshia to find a new family.

Starshia is an Early Childhood Education major at Georgia Perimeter College in Dunwoody.  Since 2007 she has worked for both families and daycare/preschools, including the Goddard School in Norcross.  She's getting her college education the old fashioned way:  she's working for it.

When Starshia cares for my children, she doesn't just babysit:  she created a structured program that included lots of active play both outdoors and indoors, age-appropriate art activities, and basics like the alphabet and numbers.  She evaluated each of the children at their educational level and formulated an activity plan with specific goals.  She helped Maggie improve her writing skills in time for kindergarten.  She helped prepare Michelle for preschool.  When PJ was old enough to crawl, she started introducing him to the same types of structure and activity, again preparing for preschool.  Most of all, she guided the girls full-time when it was time for us to rush to Northside in labor.  She kept Pat from stressing out (too much) and made sure the girls could visit with their brother in the hospital and prepare for his arrival at home.

Starshia is not just a sitter who gets the kids off to bed and is an over-18-adult in the house:  she is a trusted professional who provides reliable observations and advice.  She is truthful and tactful at the same time and always communicates so that there is a consistency between her style and ours when it comes to the balance of discipline and affection the children experience.

Starshia has one year's worth of classes left at GPC before getting her Associate's degree and continuing with her career goals.  She considers herself a Dunwoodian and would like to stay in Dunwoody.  We recommend her without hesitation to any family that needs not just a baby sitter, but an advisor, extended family member, and trusted friend who is brilliant with children.  I've learned a lot from Starshia these past two years and she will always be a part of our family.  That is the reason why we would like to see her find a position here in Dunwoody that she can love and be part of the family just like she has in our home.

If you'd like to consider interviewing Starshia or would like to refer her to a family, please contact me via email at  I will make sure you can review her CV and contact information personally.