About Don McChesney

I am a retired educator having taught in the public school system for 34 years. I served the Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools, and the Gwinnett County Schools. I am product of the DeKalb County School system graduating from Briarcliff High School. I attended elementary school in DeKalb at W.D. Thompson, Briar Vista, and Kittredge. I have both a bachelors and Masters degree from Ga. State University in History and Education. I was personally hired by Dr. James R. Hallford former DeKalb Superintendent. I have spent my entire career in serving education. During my teaching career I was honored with the dedication of the Shamrock High Yearbook and chosen Parkview High School ‘s (Gwinnett) most inspirational teacher in a student essay contest. I also served as President of the Gwinnett Dugout Club. I have also previously served on the DeKalb County Board of Education. My wife of 42 years (Melinda) and I reside in Sagamore Hills.

DEKALB COUNTY SPELLS INCOMPETENCE

I guess it is time to review some of the latest county indiscretions. If I had more time I could turn this blog editorial piece into an almost daily column.

Let’s first look at the Wade Walker library and YMCA fiasco. It appears that our county commissioners are asleep at the switch. We ask them as public elected officials to watch over our tax money and be good stewards of those funds. We already know how well they have taken care of that duty. I will, however, give them a little bit of slack here. When I was on the Board of Education I often looked for our administration to give us good advice and guidance when we were voting on issues. It took me awhile before I realized the advice I was given could not be trusted or always believed. The same is true of our board of commissioners. They too have been often the recipients of bad advice. It is OK to be fooled some of the time, but not all of the time. I am disappointed that very senior members of our commission with lots of experience continue to make so many bad decisions without raising at least meaningful objections. Giving county tax money to charities, buying paintings for office walls , donations to public buildings, having their name affixed on cornerstones, paying tax money to people on other commissioners staff, and paying boyfriends money to be your political advisor. I could go on but this should suffice.

Now we have the Wade Walker fiasco. Public land purchased for parks had the YMCA placed on it. Federal money being used outside of the rules for its use. We are now finding out that the taxpayer will have to bail us out of this incompetent foul up. When will the voters of DeKalb County realize that we must turn out all of the commissioners except one or possibly two. Nancy Jester seems to be the only one looking out for the taxpayer. How novel she is. She is actually doing what she was elected to do. She is such a refreshing voice to this commission of dullards. They refuse to fight and will only play nice because they value being catered to and serving more in public office more than the taxpayers they serve. We should be demanding resignations.

This is the same group of people who voted to borrow the money for a new animal shelter when the money was already appropriated to build it. Waste the taxpayers money on interest instead of paying for an animal shelter. If you have not seen our current shelter you should. It is deplorable. We are years overdue for a humane animal shelter. The same commissioner that led this fight wants the library built where it would be a waste as well as possible violation of the law.

Now the Board of Education(BOE) is back in the incompetence business. They hired a firm to search for highly paid administrators to serve on Dr. Green’s personal “kitchen cabinet”. The BOE approved $150,000 for a search firm that Dr. Green just skirted to hire his cronies from his previous district. Nothing wrong with that except they all registered with the search firm after they had been hired. The BOE will basically question nothing because of what happened to the previous BOE that was removed by the Governor. Thank you Governor Deal and Mark Elgart. I hope the voter is now figuring out that these people removed any fight from the BOE. They are just like the commissioners. They like the privilege they receive and elected office. The students and taxpayers they serve are meaningless. Sometimes you need to make a public outcry because it is your duty. Nancy Jester does and she sheds light on the darkness. I commend her for her efforts.

I assume nothing will happen here. The arm of the law does not seem interested in prosecuting anything or anybody. Not even the Feds. They turn their back on issues that need to be seriously investigated. Some even point to our DA. If they are false investigate and remove the sword of Damocles. If they are real prosecute.

All of this makes me want to revisit city hood. Not all of these issues would come under why cities were being investigated, but some would have eventually fallen on a city government that would have had a much smaller area to probe.

I think it is time to begin evaluating whether we need a BOE and the current board of commissioners. Can you spell INCOMPETENCE?

TADS AND OTHER DEKALB GOVERNMENTAL ISSUES

Happy New Year everyone. Are you ready for another year of exciting DeKalb County politics?

I would like to weigh in first on the proposal for a TAD (tax allocation district) for the former GM site in Doraville. To try to simplify this for everyone , a TAD is local governmental support for development using the taxpayers money to generate long term support for development. As property values increase the additional tax helps to fund a project. DeKalb says we need about $247 million in bonds to pay for the infrastructure. These are improvements that will be made to attract businesses to the development. I don’ know about you, but I am tired of taxing myself in advance to pay for someone else’s business. This is especially so in our well run county.

What happened to the day when developers gathered tenants for a project and figured into their costs a charge they would have to pay for infrastructure? Just like when you bought your house.

It appears to me that the developer that purchased this property could not really afford it. Now they feel the taxpayer should help them be a success. I believe the developer may have been promised a favorable arrangement. Some of our county commissioners thought that financing Arthur Blank and his professional soccer team was a disservice to the taxpayer. I totally agree. I fail to see much difference between this and the Doraville development.

Let’s look at Town Brookhaven. Remember the Sembler folks? They wanted the county to foot their bill. I remember when the school board was approached on this financing issue. I did not like it then and still don’t.

The commissioners will most likely try to sell the public on this by saying that the Doraville property will sell off piecemeal and be a fraction of what it could be. Well Town Brookhaven languished for awhile and then took off. Does it look like a failure to you? They toughed it out with fewer breaks from government and it seems to be a smashing success to me.

I usually don’t agree with much of what the school board does, but turning this one down seems to be right. Of course, I am not sure the students will see the real benefit of the tax money they will not contribute to the TAD. Most of the money will most likely be wasted on adult jobs and pie in the sky educational programs.

That is my view of the issue.

In addition, beware. The Ga. Legislature is in session. Teachers watch out. They are going to try to change the Teachers Retirement state benefits. It does not matter that Georgia’s teacher retirement system is one of the best in the nation. They want the money. Think Social Security. The congress has really made that a strong program. Also did you know that our state legislators have a pension system? Ask whether they are going to dismantle that too. Last time I checked the state legislators were part time workers. How many part timers have a pension plan?

Thanks for thinking about the issues. We all may not agree on the issues but the interaction is good for us all.

Don

FACT OR FICTION: WHICH WILL YOU VOTE FOR?

November 3 is close by and you need to get a handle on voting for a city or not. How do you decide who is right? I suggest you look for verifiable facts vs. neighborhood opinions that cannot be verified by facts. I will give you a spin on the latest info I got from some of the DeKalb Strong supporters regarding police services. The opposition to city hood often throws this argument at LaVista Hills.

LaVista Hills will only have 16 officers on patrol. Will you have a SWAT unit, helicopters, bomb squad, and detectives? First let me say that my answers are confirmed by Commissioner Nancy Jester. I did not just pull my answer out of some misguided opinion that has no relative facts. I did my research to really find out the scoop.

First of all, the police budget is divided into two basic parts. We will call one Basic Police Services. We will call the other General Police Services. LaVista Hills is voting on ONLY Basic Police Services. Basic Services fund the police in cars, directing traffic and responding to your house for alarm, etc. type issues. The helicopter, SWAT team, detectives, and bomb squad are financed through General Police Services and are NOT basic police services. So in short, the correct answer is this. The people in LaVista Hills will be covered with the helicopter, SWAT teams because you will continue to pay for General Police Services that will be financed out of the General Fund. That is NOT another layer of government, because your millage for basic police services will come OFF your DeKalb tax bill.

I am dying to know what information has been so twisted that it states that the new city of LaVista Hills will only have 16 police officers available for patrol. I also checked on the helicopter. It is seldom used because the pilots don’t like to fly it because of questionable maintenance.

I also had a DeKalb Strong supporter state that a DeKalb Police shortage was a “myth”. I once again checked with Commissioner Jester to try to get some facts. The Public Safety Director stated at a meeting with commissioners that DeKalb is short 200-300 police officers. DeKalb takes 100,000 more calls for police than the City of Atlanta. Atlanta has about 1800 officers. DeKalb has less than 850. DeKalb is also a larger area than the City of Atlanta. These are facts not supposition.

Folks vote as you want, but please be informed of the facts. I will caste my vote for a new city.

DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK

Well, have you decided? How are you going to vote on the cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker? The time has come for you to reach an informed opinion on what to do. Is your vote going to be based on the best facts available or on what your neighbor said about another layer of government and higher taxes? Did you know that there are studies available that can give you those answers if you want to find out? Check out the LaVista Hills feasibility study by the Carl Vinson institute at the University of Georgia. It will answer some of your questions about the taxes. Instead of gut feelings and hoping the DeKalb county will miraculously transform to the 1970’s try doing some real research to provide yourself with as much reasoned information as possible.

I have attended many meetings on the formation of cities. I have heard many of the arguments against city formation. I have heard very few backed up with facts. Another layer of government and higher taxes? Is it true? Do you really know?

I have heard many anti city folks say LaVista Hills is trying to push forming a new school system in the potential new city. In fact every meeting I have attended regarding LaVista Hills has gone out of its way to say that it was not about the school system. Many of the questions asked by attendees were about schools but the leadership of LaVista Hills always stated that the formation of their city had nothing to do with forming their own school system. In fact it would take an amendment to the Georgia Constitution for the schools to be taken over by the city.

Taxes. Remember whatever services the new city assumes will come OFF your DeKalb County tax bill. That is a fact. Is there a chance the city might provide some services for less money? Is it possible that reducing the size of the DeKalb bureaucracy might be a cost savings for the new city? Imagine your city commissioner now being your neighbor. Right now your representatives Jeff Rader and Kathy Gannon live nowhere in the footprint of your city. Would they have as much interest in zoning decisions in LaVista Hills as your neighbor in the subdivision down the street that is now your local commissioner? Think about it. The answer is enlightening. Think about your commissioner actually having the time to listen to you because they represent 11,000 people instead of 100,000.

Have you applied for a permit of almost any kind in DeKalb? How long does it take for you to get feedback from the county? Talk to the people in Dunwoody and Brookhaven about this one. Their response times are minuscule compared to DeKalb County.

What about the Mike Bowers findings? Should they have any bearing on your vote? Folks, no matter where you stand on this one, allegations or facts, there is one thing for sure, our county is in disarray with no one watching how your money is spent. I would be willing to bet that there are real facts buried in that forty page report. Do we want to know or should we just keep DeKalb as it is? Can we trust the DA to investigate? Remember, instead of following the law he did what Lee May told him to do in not pursuing his investigation into alleged county corruption. This kind of judgement gives me doubts. Have you read the forty page report?

What about your county commissioners Jeff Rader and Kathy Gannon spending your tax money on specific groups. Look at the list of donations. Jeff Rader – Park Pride of Atlanta. $20,000 . Kathy Gannon- Park Pride of Atlanta $6,000. Did you know that a portion of your property taxes go to creating and maintaining parks in the county? How could you give my tax money and your tax money to these private groups without getting YOU the taxpayer to approve it? I am not knocking the organizations. I am knocking the commissioners judgement. I saw that Mr. Rader said…”I’m comfortable that I didn’t receive any personal benefit from any of them.” Well what about votes? Are any of these donations designed to buy votes for the next election? You need to ask the commissioners. Does this kind of decision making pass the “smell test?”

Here are just two of the decision makers representing you now. Do you want to continue with their process of decision making or would you like to try somebody new? The question is easy for me. Give me some new blood.

Now what about you the voter? If we ignore local races and do not arm ourselves with facts we will create a new smaller government that will have too many flaws. It is exciting to me to realize that we can start anew and have a direct say so about who our representatives will be. Let’s do it right. Let’s be informed and be an active participant.

GO LAVISTA HILLS AND TUCKER

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

On Tuesday evening, August 11, 2015, I attended a LaVista Hills informational meeting at the Avis G. Williams library. It was well attended and was presented by a pro LaVista Hills group. There was no pretense of trying to hide the purpose of the meeting. It was well organized and provided time for anyone who wanted to speak no matter where they stood on cityhood. I observed the meeting and tried to get a feeling of the pros and cons many of the attendees presented. I was struck by a few unmistakable facts. The pro city people generally agree the county is poorly run and your voice as an individual does not garner much attention from your county commissioner. I got the feeling that if we start breaking local government into smaller pieces we would have more direct control over our tax money and the services we receive. Many have arrived at this decision out of the futility of trying to deal with our county bureaucracy.

And the other side … those that oppose the cityhood. I was really shaken that many of the anti city people really did not understand how the county commission even worked. Vague statements about returning to the good old days of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s were uttered. Those were great sentiments but were offered with no substance of fact of how to get those days back. Most, but not all, were senior citizens. Just so you know I am too. I went to DeKalb County Schools in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I remember the “Good Old Days ” in this county. I long for them too. Unfortunately they are long gone and thinking that their return is possible soon is ignoring reality.

Some thought if we just voted the right people in we could fix everything. How long has it been since we voted the right people in? Here is how it works in DeKalb. The south side of the county controls four votes and the CEO job. The North side of the county controls three votes. Have you checked the recent votes in our county commission? A few years ago I did some research when I was on the School board. I found out that the Lakeside, Dunwoody, Druid Hills , Chamblee, Tucker areas paid about two thirds of the taxes supporting schools. Did you get two thirds of the benefits in your schools? Did you get even the same benefits as the rest of the county who was paying considerably less in taxes? I will let you be the judge of that.

What does all this mean? Our county has no resemblance to the county of the ‘Good Old Days’. We must face reality. It is likely that no matter who we elect we will probably lose a vote on the commission for services if we continue as we are. Regarding elections, I can also say that many local elections in DeKalb garner small turnouts by the electorate. That means we are pretty much disengaged, or we are trusting the people who do vote or the local government to do the right thing. How is that working out for us?

LaVista Hills and Tucker have done good studies. They both have done their due diligence. The numbers were not pulled out of thin air. The final numbers were even tempered to the low side to try to include the unforeseen. I do not think we have all the answers, but we are trying. When and if we get our cities, we need to be super diligent. If we do not vote or depend on someone else, or if we do not stay informed it will all happen again just on a smaller level. I want to return to the Good Old Days. It starts with a city that we the community can nurture and grow to suit our local needs.

STOP THE INSANITY

I guess you can tell by my title where I stand on the city movement in DeKalb. I have held this opinion for quite some time, but in light of the latest news about our Board of Commissioners how could you look the other way on the proposed cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker coming up for a vote this November?

Folks, our Board of Commissioners have just voted to finance a Billionaire’s professional soccer complex behind the jail on Memorial Drive. $12 Million (at least) of YOUR tax money that you had no vote on. Of course the location is a great place to take friends and family for a weekend outing. The commissioners, in a public meeting, voted to forbid public comment (4-3). It reminds me of all those 5-4 decisions when I was on the School Board. Thank you Governor Deal for appointing Lee May. What an outstanding choice. Maybe you could step in and replace the board of commissioners like you did the school board because they are not playing nice in public. Did you know the soccer complex is getting money out of the General Fund instead of Parks and Recreation?

Did you know that our now CEO Lee May “funded” a $500,000 study to examine corruption in DeKalb government? The Board of Commissioners voted ‘yes’ on the funding, but now they appear to be wavering on following through. It appears the investigation is getting very close to some members of the Board of Commissioners and maybe the CEO himself. Ms. Johnson and Ms. Jester are probably the only members of the commission without skeletons in the closet. One hasn’t been there a month and the other is a tireless fighter for proper use of tax money.

Why do I mention these two points? Both of them are very reasonable arguments for you to leave DeKalb government and try city hood. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That appears to be a problem for DeKalb voters.

Of course the critics of becoming a city always say there will be higher taxes. Is that true? Well that depends on you the voter. Do your research or just believe what your neighbor says. I can say this. Both Dunwoody and Brookhaven are paying less taxes as cities than they did as unincorporated areas. Is that a guarantee? NO!

Let’s use LaVista Hills as an example. What services are they going to offer?

  1. Public Safety (Police) and Code Enforcement
  2. Land Use, Planning, and Zoning
  3. Parks and Recreation
  4. Permits and Licenses
  5. Public Works issues – Roads and Drainage

All these services would be taxed in the new city. ALL THESE TAXES WOULD NOW COME OFF YOUR DEKALB COUNTY TAXES! The taxes are in lieu of and not in addition to. That is a fact that the anti city people never seem to talk about.

In Lavista Hills the Carl Vinson institute of the University of Georgia has said the proposed city would have the financial resources to support itself and have an annual surplus in the neighborhood of $2 million.

Your local representative in the city would represent approximately 11,000 voters vs. the current unincorporated split of approximately 150,000 or more. You would have 104 police patrolling just your city. It would also be more than one patrol a day.

There are other reasons to vote for being a city. I have listed just a brief accounting. It is a fact that Dunwoody and Brookhaven have benefitted from a decreased tax burden. When local millage rates are set, they cannot be raised without the approval of the voters in the city itself. That is local control.

Finally, I realize that nothing is guaranteed if the voter does not get involved in civic participation. If you do not hold your city elected officials accountable you could end up with a mini DeKalb government. That would be our fault as voters. Based on what has happened in our county, how could you not vote for a city? Remember the definition of insanity— doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. LaVista Hills can promote the feeling of a community. That is long since gone In DeKalb County as a whole. Another possibility down the road is that if independent school districts are approved you can be at the front of the line in creating your own community schools.

STEPHEN GREEN. A GOOD HIRE FOR DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOLS?

Well it is time to look at DeKalb Schools’ latest hire for superintendent. This will be DeKalb’s fifth superintendent since 2009. Did we improve ourselves or do we have more of the same?

If blogs and conversations with friends and neighbors are any indicator, not everyone is taken with Dr. Green. In all fairness, anyone who has worked in an inner city school district will have a mixed record. It is simply the nature of the beast. We should look for progress and different approaches to the way we are offering a public education today. Dr. Green has some plusses and minuses. Does he appear to be a trendsetter? I don’t think so. It seems to me that we are getting a typical superintendent that hasn’t been a big innovator or change agent. Of course only time will tell if he shakes things up in DeKalb.

He seems to have some of the same issues that Dr. Atkinson had coming from a smaller, impoverished system. In the 1960’s the Kansas City school district had approximately 100,000 students. By 2010, there were less than 18,000. The KC district went through court ordered spending programs in an effort to integrate schools in the 1980’s and 90’s. That effort failed. In the 1980’s, 90’s and 2000’s the KC district closed many schools as enrollment declined. In 2007-2008 several schools were successfully removed from the district and put under the control of a neighboring school district. That may be how DeKalb will have to go to see any real progress. I am firmly convinced that large public school systems will die an agonizing death soon if we do not put away tradition and try to administer to our students in a climate where they can be more successful. Yes, independent school districts, charters, and possibly home schooling may be where the salvation will come from. Size does matter.

What did the DeKalb Board of Education do here? I suspect that they had better candidates, but could not get the requisite 4 votes they needed to hire a mover and a shaker. Or maybe they could get 4 but not 5 and didn’t want to bring in a new superintendent on such a slim margin. Perhaps, Dr. Green was the only candidate that could get over 4 votes. Our system really needs a person that is willing to come in and reconstitute our staff at all levels and re-staff schools. Of course that would be a danger to the jobs program the school system is running. Given my past experiences, I know there were people in the room that would fight against anyone they sensed would bring significant staffing changes.

“What about the children, Don?” The majority of the people in leadership at the county are only interested in feathering their nest. The students in DeKalb are a means to an end for them. When we hired Dr. Atkinson, I (my opinion) knew we had at least two better candidates. Dr. Atkinson didn’t even make the cut when we first started looking at candidates. Whenever the leadership in DeKalb feared we were getting close to being serious about a candidate that could bring change, sabotage ensued. After successfully eliminating qualified people from the process, the board eventually maneuvered to hire Dr. Atkinson. That was a 6-3 vote with myself, Dr. Pam Speaks, and Nancy Jester voting against her hiring.

Another dynamic in this particular search was the game played by Michael Thurmond. I am certain Thurmond lobbied hard for the job. He will never admit it, but he did. I still know several people at the palace. They keep me filled in. Thurmond and his operatives were trying to blow up the search process. It may very well have been that Dr. Green was the only choice that could get the votes and put an end to Thurmond’s time at the helm.

The difference in this go round is that Pam Speaks, Nancy Jester, and I publicly voted our displeasure and stated that we had better candidates, with better records. We spoke out about how the search process was concerned about many things but improving the results for kids was not one of them. Well, you know how that turned out. For whatever their reasons, this BOE did not have the intestinal fortitude to voice any objections they may have had. They were probably told to look united. Thank you, Dr. Elgart, and some DeKalb legislators for putting us in this predicament. The BOE is afraid to voice their real feelings because the legislature has decided to believe that if board members hold hands that will translate into higher student achievement. That is bunk and has no basis in fact but that myth has been enshrined in state law to the detriment of our schools. We saw a board removed because of the perception of discord. And what value did that removal provide? Scores are lower now than they were three years ago. We are spending more than ever on the central office. We continue to pay a ridiculously high millage rate. But remember Pam Speaks and Nancy Jester were expelled for being spot on about picking a superintendent. With that kind of history this board bailed. The lesson is that our state would prefer you be united behind failure than correct in your judgment.

Have you looked at Dr. Green’s contract? There are some bad things in the document. Once again I am against the “no receipt” expense account. This isn’t new. All the superintendents have had this and it stinks. The worst part of the contract, to me, is the $15,000 yearly increases he gets if he stays. He is already near retirement age. His family is here. That is a primary reason for his relocation according to Dr. Green. In three or four years he will have earned over a million dollars and he can just fade into the sunset a happy and rich man with multiple pensions.

I am disappointed that no one on our BOE spoke up. I do understand why. You also must be cognizant that each BOE member has but one vote. Did they use it wisely? Were they wrong? Why do school board members seem to feel that they cannot voice their convictions?

Until this school system is reconstituted it will ultimately fail.

In spite of my feelings I do wish that Dr. Green proves me wrong.

Thanks,
Don