2015 brought some big changes to Dunwoody. Mayor Mike Davis lost his bid for re-election to former Councilman Denny Shortal, and a new city manager came aboard. Police officers started wearing body cameras—but the department also requested more bodies, as Chief Billy Grogan warned of understaffing and rising crime. A longstanding lawsuit over parks funds was finally settled and Light Up Dunwoody expanded to handle a controversy over a menorah display.
Here are some of Dunwoody’s top stories from 2015.
Voters pick Shortal as city’s third mayor
Mayor Mike Davis lost his bid for re-election and Dunwoody will welcome its third mayor Jan. 4. Former City Councilman Denny Shortal took 63 percent of the 5,487 votes cast in the Nov. 3 election. Davis received 34 percent of the vote. Two other candidates, Chris Grivakis and Steve Chipka, claimed about 2 percent and 1 percent respectively.
Incumbent Councilman Terry Nall handily won re-election to the District 1 At-Large post by claiming 70 percent of the vote, according to county election officials. Council members Lynn Deutsch and John Henneghan were re-elected without opposition. Pam Tallmadge also was unopposed in her run for the seat on City Council that Shortal had held.
Davis said he was disappointed by the news because he thought the council was a “well-oiled machine.” Davis said he felt most proud of the work he did leading a cohesive City Council.
“I think representative government in general has a tendency of breaking down into factions,” Davis said. “I successfully kept our City Council from ever going in that direction. Everybody truly stayed with the idea of making decisions based on what is best for the community.”
Shortal said he plans to bring Dunwoody’s community back into the planning process. “Let’s bring back the positive attitude and mutual respect between citizens and leadership,” Shortal said.
New manager, assistant manager aboard
City Manager Eric Linton took office Jan. 5, relieving Police Chief Billy Grogan from his duties as acting city manager. Linton left Douglas County after 14 years to join Dunwoody staff, following former City Manager Warren Hutmacher, who left the job in April 2014 for the city manager’s post at Johns Creek.
Dunwoody’s mayor and City Council members said Linton’s extensive background in planning and zoning made him a top candidate for the job.
Linton called his nomination a homecoming. “I grew up just outside the Dunwoody city border and attended Chamblee High School, so I am very familiar with the area’s character, history and tradition,” Linton said.
Dunwoody announced on May 29 its decision to hire its first assistant city manager, Jessica Guinn. “We were very impressed with her first-hand experience with various Livable Centers Initiatives, knowledge of land use and master planning services,” Mayor Mike Davis said in a press release. “All of these skills will help our city.”
Light Up Dunwoody amps up controversy
Controversy crept into Dunwoody’s annual holiday planning this year. The possible addition of a six-foot menorah to the property at the Cheek-Spruill Farmhouse caused the Dunwoody Preservation Trust, which hosts the annual Light Up Dunwoody event, to disallow any potentially religious symbols, including a Christmas tree displayed during past events.
Co-presidents of the trust said the mission “to include all” meant restricting all non-secular objects on the property. “Because some holiday symbols are open for individual interpretation, we respectfully request that DHA move the tree to another location,” Dunwoody Preservation Trust said in a public statement.
After briefly considering a complete move of the Light Up Dunwoody event, DHA President Robert Wittenstein and the board members sought a solution that would allow a menorah and a Christmas tree nearby, while keeping the traditional lights at the farmhouse property, located at 5455 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road.
The owner of Dunwoody Animal Clinic, Douglas Morgan, allowed the religious symbols on his property, across from the farmhouse. Santa Claus in his sleigh with reindeer greeted children from the farmhouse driveway.
Police department ‘woefully understaffed’
Crime reports in Dunwoody grabbed the attention of city officials and candidates for elected office this year. “The violent crime rate is up and what has our police chief been doing?” asked Becky Springer, who was defeated in her bid for the District 1 At-Large seat on City Council. “He’s been acting as interim City Manager, filming award-winning videos, and writing and publishing his new book,” Springer said. “We need to be proactive, not reactive. The buck stops with the council; they are ultimately responsible for managing city employees.”
Councilman Terry Nall said a high percentage increase in rape and armed robbery represented relatively low numbers. “I encourage everyone to evaluate crime claims with real numbers and not misleading percentages based on small numbers,” Nall said. “Dunwoody is a very safe city.”
Police Chief Billy Grogan wrote a memo to City Council saying, compared to some of Dunwoody’s neighboring cities, “our [major] crime rate is unacceptably high.”
Grogan called his 51-officer department “woefully understaffed,” and sought a 10- percent increase in the police department’s 2016 budget, to $8.2 million from $7.4 million to add four new officers.
Police don body cameras
City Council members approved $30,000 in the 2015 budget for video storage fees and 37 body-worn camera units that officers began wearing by February.
Police Chief Billy Grogan said his first step after securing the funding was to set policy and advise officers on the guidelines for wearing cameras and recording interactions.
“You want to train officers on policy,” Grogan said. “You push a button to work the camera, but policy concerns when to record, how to classify video and how to upload video.”
Grogan said that the legislature passed a law to exempt police officers from the two-party statute that exists in Georgia. The statute states both parties must be made aware and agree to videotaping.
“If we’re going somewhere where there’s an expectation of privacy, we say ‘We’re recording; is that OK?’” Grogan said.
City recieves $4 million in park bond funds
A long-standing court battle over park funds concluded May 26 with Dunwoody City Council’s acceptance of a $4 million settlement from DeKalb County.
DeKalb County was set to make a one-time $3.2 million grant to Dunwoody to be used toward the construction and development of the 5-acre Dunwoody Renaissance Park.
Additionally, the county would grant $500,000 toward updating the master plan for parks and green space projects, and the county will grant $300,000 for construction of a great lawn at Brook Run Park.
“This is a glorious day,” City Councilman John Heneghan said. “We’re done suing each other with our own money.”