By Mary Kay Woodworth
Two years ago, friends and neighbors in communities all across north-central DeKalb County began discussing a shared vision to follow in the footsteps of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Johns Creek to pursue a better quality of life through incorporation.
The goals of those seeking a city named “Lakeside” and those who prefer a larger map called “Briarcliff” are mutual: The overdue need for greater levels of local control in an area largely ignored by a county government. The ongoing crises simply exacerbate the problems.
DeKalb County has neglected our community by providing insufficient police protection, a woefully inadequate road-repair and sidewalks program, few parks, and zoning and land-use policies that fail to reflect our community values — to name just a few of the issues.
The county commissioners for our area do not live here and lack a keen awareness of what we need and want — from a lack of economic development in challenged retail areas to improved service delivery to a need for greater police presence in residential neighborhoods.
The Lakeside and Briarcliff teams are now collaborating in pursuit of the common goal of cityhood during the 2015 session of the Georgia Legislature in January. They share a desire to improve our area and to help turn around the fortunes of our county. The information we have gleaned from neighborhood meetings, social media and other community input will be used to ensure that the map considered by the General Assembly is fair, logical and inclusive.
Cityhood for this portion of DeKalb transcends political party, income or any other label critics have tried to put on either previous cityhood effort. We want what is best to help preserve our neighborhoods and to provide incentives to help our area thrive well into the future.
Both city groups can tell you that most residents in our area are embarrassed by their DeKalb elected officials — not just the never-ending claims of corruption, but also the seeming inability to accomplish anything except infighting.
DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis faces trial for extortion and conspiracy charges — a trial that has been postponed several times and puts a black eye on the image of the county. Ethics charges have been filed against each of the seven DeKalb commissioners. The accusations primarily relate to the way these elected officials handle themselves in office or misuse of taxpayer funds.
Rather than seriously addressing the multitudinous problems with the county, Interim CEO Lee May has appointed a “task force,” and hired consultants to look at the impact of cities on DeKalb. Citizens and cityhood groups were left off the panel, as were pro-city legislators, until that fact was made public.
DeKalb officials have consistently lobbied against new cities, using taxpayer-funded lobbyists to work against their own citizens. May himself asked the General Assembly to kill the creation of more cities for three years.
Sadly, it is business as usual not only at the DeKalb Headquarters, but also along U.S. 29, where prostitution and drug crimes continue unabated. Northlake Mall — the largest commercial center in our area — is under severe distress, and no significant efforts are being made to renew it.
In contrast, a small city, governed by those who live here and who care about our community, would target these concerns. This is a proven model of success. But first we have to incorporate.
Our community must agree on a new map and goals for self-governance. LakesideYES believes success depends on beginning with a manageable city size to ensure efficient service delivery, but we also believe that annexation of additional unincorporated areas should be seriously considered once the city is operating successfully.
As we at Lakeside and Briarcliff work on our efforts, you could say we are “dating.” We hope we can come together with a full-fledged agreement to present to the community that will allow a large portion of north-central DeKalb voters to join us next winter in asking the Georgia Legislature, once more, for the ability to self-govern, and to keep DeKalb and our community strong for generations to come.
Mary Kay Woodworth is co-chairman of LakesideYES, a group of volunteers advocating cityhood in the Lakeside community of north-central DeKalb County.