Community Presentations

In the city council’s last work session, we received a few presentations about projects that the city has rolled out, or is rolling out soon. I am sharing them here for any residents who are interested:

Text to 911 – this is a new feature that allows you to use your mobile phone to text “911” if you are in a situation where you cannot make a voice call. This feature is active now, and is text-only (does not support pictures/video). If you use this feature outside Doraville, in a jurisdiction that does not offer text-to-911, you will receive an error message. Police will not be able to track you via text, so you will need to tell them your location.

Adopt-A-Spot – this is a program that the city is rolling out in May. It will offer residents an official way to beautify city owned property and get support. For example, someone planting tulips in the right-of-way would be able to get the city to purchase bulbs, or provide soil or mulch. Contact city hall at 770-451-8745 to get more information

This week, I also received a copy of Dekalb County’s most recent update on the sewer consent decree. This decree has been stalled for a number of years, but the county says it is back on track. They list factors that have stood in the way of carrying out this decree in the past, and what they’ve done to address them. They also ask that residents help the county’s efforts by not pouring Fats, Oils or Greases down their drain. Contact information for the department of Watershed Management is: 770-270-6243 or  Dekalbwaterops@dekalbcountyga.gov

Where we Need to Focus

I recently received an email from a Doraville resident who had a number of concerns related to transparency and accountability in city government. I had not planned on publicly posting my response to that resident, but because I believe that a modified version of the note may have been forwarded to some folks, I want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to read the entire thing if they are interested.

My response gives you an idea of what -in my judgment – are the most important things the city needs to be focusing on. I am always open to feedback. You can email me at joseph.geierman@doravillega.us or call me at 678-373-9137.

Here’s the unedited note:

I appreciate the email.

First off, since most of these questions were originally written for the candidate forum, I encourage you to view the video from the event (the one Tim put online is here: https://youtu.be/iXG-i_N2b0k). I already answered some of the questions you sent at that time – none of my answers have changed.

I ran on being someone who could work with any of the other council members – I said that consistently during the campaign. I’m still working on building bridges with everyone on the council. As one of 7 people on the dais, I can’t “demand” or “require” that my peers do anything. In fact, that’s the fastest way to not get my agenda accomplished.

If Georgia and Federal law allows a member of council to vote on an issue, then I definitely can’t demand that they not vote. From my discussions with the city attorney and the attorneys at Georgia Municipal Association, a campaign contribution does not constitute a conflict of interest.

On irresponsible landlords – I have been working many angles to try to focus on this problem. We’re limited in what we can do by state law – the state prohibits us from creating a rental registry or requiring business licenses for people who rent homes out. The city is working with the county to conduct an audit of homestead exemption to ensure that no one is improperly claiming an exemption. If we find anyone who is, we can target them for further examination. I think now that we have a fully staffed code enforcement team, we also should see some better results on that end as well.

Regarding the city manager – this is the most critical position in the city. We did not have anyone permanently in this role when I was elected, and it was obvious that the city was suffering because of it. We quickly hired Regina Gates, whose experience as city manager of San Jose, California and Norfolk, Virginia we are lucky to benefit from. The council set a regular review process to evaluate her performance at the time we negotiated her contract. I also have bi-weekly meetings with her where I get updated on what is staff is working on and am able to ask questions and make suggestions about our operations.

On transparency, I agree with you. A lot of the ideas you have listed are good ones. I want to see a lot more transparency from the city on a number of issues. I want to have more commissions/committees made up of members of the public. I want to see our website and electronic communications get better. That said, I think we need to focus on first things first: the city was handed to this council without a city manager, without a city clerk, without a parks director, public works director or a finance director. We also did not have a contract for code enforcement. These positions are critical for the operation of the city’s basic functions – let alone improving processes or helping enable citizen committees. In the first three months I’ve been on council, we have hired a city manager and agreed to a contract for code enforcement. We’re close on a city clerk. All the other positions are still open. I think we probably need to create some new positions that are specifically in charge of marketing and our website, but there will be some challenges in finding the money to pay for them in our budget. This is going to be a longer process than if the city had been running on all cylinders when I was elected. In this competitive job market, we do not have the luxury of demanding that key staff live in Doraville – particularly if we want to get the best people possible.

You and I may not agree on what issues are most important to focus on first, or what the best tactics for moving the city forward are – but I think we do agree that we want to see Doraville be a better run city that is more accessible to its residents. The voters elected me to use my judgement on the best ways to move us in that direction, and I assure you that I am working hard to do that.

2018 Capital Budget – Parks in Northwoods

In 2015, Doraville published its Parks and Recreation Master Plan,  laying out a framework of improvements needed for every park in the city. Here are the improvements that were called for in the Northwoods neighborhood’s parks:

Brook Park

  • Renovate tennis courts
  • Add perimeter walking loop with paved access to park amenities
  • Consolidate playground area, make ADA
  • General maintenance is needed on pavilion
  • Provide a restroom facility

Autumn Park:

  • Provide perimeter walking loop with paved connections to park amenities
  • Address ADA
  • Clear invasive species from stream corridor
  • Provide a restroom facility

Unfortunately, the city never developed a strategy for implementing the plan, and thus improvements for the Northwoods parks have remained in limbo since 2015. This is despite the fact that, at the time the plan was published, Brook Park was the 4th most used asset within our city’s Parks system (behind the Civic Center, Forest Fleming Fields, and Forest Fleming Arena). It was also listed as one of the most underdeveloped parks in the system.

On Saturday, the city’s staff emailed Doraville council members with a finalized capital budget for the rest of this fiscal year (through June 30, 2018). A lot of the items in this budget are repairs or maintenance that must be done for safety or legal compliance. There are also a few items listed that we have received ear-marked grants for, so we’re limited in how we can spend that money.

I was happy to see that there was some money devoted to a park in Northwoods, but it was $30,000 for a walking path in Autumn park (the line item also mentions stream improvements, but these will cost a lot more than $30,000 and are unlikely to happen this year). The city also is proposing to spend $10,000 on playground equipment in Autumn Park and English Oak Park – even though the playground equipment in both these parks is fairly new.

The city council has to vote on this budget on Monday night. I think that residents in Northwoods might prefer to see some improvements in Brook Park rather than in Autumn Park. I’m open to making an amendment to this capital budget to reallocate the money if it looks like there is lot of support in that direction.

Here are some of my ideas:

  • Focus on improvements to the pavilion at Brook Park – including updating the tables, adding tables and benches around the pavilion area and renovating the grill.
  • Focus on accessibility to the pavilion. You currently have to walk down a steep slope covered with pine needles to get to it. This is difficult and even dangerous for people who are mobility challenged.
  • Spend some of the money on a conceptual design that engages the Northwoods neighborhood on conceptual designs for both parks.
  • Go ahead with the plan to build the path around Autumn Park

Some of the other recommendations in the 2015 Parks Plan (fixing the tennis courts and removing ivy from the stream in Autumn park, in particular) are good – we just aren’t going to realistically accomplish them for $30-40,000.

I’m interested in hearing thoughts from Northwoods residents about what kind of improvements they’d like to see with the parks. Please feel free to email me at joseph.geierman@doravillega.us. I know that my fellow District 2 Council Member, MD Naser, would also like to hear from you.

 

Addressing Sanitation Issues

This week, I had a conversation with our city manager about several of the complaints regarding trash collection that people have posted to social media or sent to me directly. Among the biggest issues:

  • Sanitation drivers throwing cans into driveways or yards without consideration for the damage they may cause to landscaping or the annoyance they cause when people get home from work and can’t pull into their driveway
  • The recycling buckets that are not enclosed and allow refuse to blow away and litter the neighborhood – many people would prefer rolling bins for recycling
  • Items left out on the side of the street for long periods of time, not getting picked up when they were supposed to be
  • Doraville residents don’t know who to call when they are requesting something related to trash-pick up. Sometimes they’ve been directed to call Advanced Disposal, and sometimes they’re re-directed by Advanced to call City Hall.

The city manager will be meeting with Advanced Disposal’s representative in the next few days to address some of the service issues we’ve experienced – including skipped pick-ups and carelessness with bins. At the same time, the city is going to work to improve its own processes related to garbage pick-up, scheduling and issue-tracking. In the coming weeks, I expect we will see some communication directly from the city about this plan and what it will mean for us.

In the meantime, the city should always be your point of contact for sanitation-related issues, and I’ve been given renewed assurance that our administrative staff will be following up on any requests they receive regarding complaints. The number for city hall is 770-451-8745.

If you would like to have an appliance, sofa, or other bulk-item picked up, please call city hall at 770-451-8745 to request the pick-up. They will give you a date when they are able to sche​dule Advanced Disposal to come pick it up. Do not place your items on the curb before this date. If the pick-up doesn’t happen, please let the city know immediately so they can address that with the vendor.

Please feel free to reach out directly to me at joseph.geierman@doravillega.us if you have any trash-collection related issue that does not get addressed in a timely manner or a question that city hall has not been able to answer for you.

 

Progress at Assembly

I’ve received emails from some people who complain that there is no quality development at the site of the former GM Plant – now known as “Assembly” or “Assembly Yards.” While things have moved more slowly at Assembly than I would have liked, it’s not fair to say that there is no quality development happening.

In fact, the world headquarters of Serta Simmons Bedding (also known as “SSB,” the largest mattress manufacturer in the world!) is currently under construction at Assembly, and slated to open in 2019.  I ride MARTA to work, and can see this development happening on a day-to-day basis from the platform of the Doraville station. It’s been very exciting. There are already 2 stories built, with more to come – the final facility will be 210,000 square feet and will house 500 employees on a 5-acre campus. This is a big company that believes in the city’s vision for that site – having them on board makes it more likely that other companies will decide to move here.

I was recently at a BisNow forum where Andy Barfield, a Vice President at Holder Properties (which is developing the SSB campus) spoke about the site selection process.  They wanted to consolidate along the I-85 corridor, and liked Assembly because of its vision, its proximity to MARTA — and because it was one of the only sites in the area with that much contiguous space:

Barfield did refer to some challenges to an evolving master plan like the one at Assembly. Since the site is still under construction and there aren’t other large tenants, you are sometimes figuring out where roads and utilities are as you go:

Real Estate development projects are extremely expensive, and take a long time to get off the ground. Assembly is going to be “under construction” for some time. With that said, I think that Serta Simmons Bedding deciding to settle in Doraville is extremely good news, and a sign of momentum picking up for the project.

 

Council Hires a City Manager

Doraville has a City Manager form of government. This means that the city council sets policy, passes ordinances, approves the budget, and develops the overall vision of the city. Rather than having the mayor or council manage day-to-day staff and operations, the council hires a city manager who oversees all administrative operations and implements the policies of the council. The City Manager is arguably the single most important job in the city.

When the council met on January 16th, Doraville had been without a permanent city manager since May.  We did have an extremely qualified interim city manager – Regina Williams-Gates – whose resume included long-term stints at San Jose, California and Norfolk, Virginia. The “interim” status, however meant that she wasn’t fully empowered to make some important hiring decisions or to do much more than stabilize day-to-day city operations. I had identified this as a problem during my campaign for office, and it continued to concern me after being sworn in.

I heard from some residents who thought the city should conduct a new job search to get candidates we could interview. I can only speak for myself, but I was against this approach because I felt like it would take too long and potentially add more instability for the people who work at city hall, The time for an extensive search was in the Summer, shortly after this position opened up. At this point, I felt that we already had a capable interim city manager who was interested in coming on as the permanent city manager. We need someone in the city manager position now so that person can start filling several other open positions immediately (Finance Director, Public Works Director, Parks Director, and Clerk among them).

For these reasons, I voted along with the rest of the council to extend an offer to Ms Gates to be our permanent City Manager – an offer I’m pleased to say she accepted. There is a lot of work to be done, but I think we have made one step forward toward making it all happen.

 

 

 

Auto Oriented Business in PIB Marketplace – Feedback Requested

In 2016, Doraville completed a Comprehensive Plan that lays out its development roadmap for the next 20 years. To formulate this plan, the city put together a committee made up of residents, business owners, and other stakeholders (I was actually on this committee) – there were also meetings in different parts of the city that solicited broader resident input. The end result is a strong document that I believe accurately reflects what our residents would like to see Doraville become.

At the North part of our city, the plan identifies an area it calls the “PIB Marketplace” – it is adjacent to the Tilly Mill and Winters Chapel neighborhoods that has been identified for future mixed-use development, with an emphasis on walkability. Auto related businesses (gas stations, repair shops, etc) are not a part of the vision for this zone, and may hinder its creation. I have circled the Northernmost portion of the PIB Marketplace area on the city map below.

PIB Marketplace

On January 16, 2018, the council considered a request for a Conditional Use Permit for an auto glass repair business that wants to go into a spot on the access road that runs along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. It requires a Conditional Use Permit, because auto oriented businesses are no longer allowed in this zoning area. The adjacent businesses are a sign business, a liquor store, and some offices in the back. The business currently using this building is a used tire store:

CUP1705

These are some photos I took of the property that Lightning Auto Glass business would like to move into:

Council Member Koontz made several suggestions including:

  • Removing the chain link fence and replacing with a double-sided wood fence
  • Demolishing the free standing building in the back (currently used to store tires)
  • Making the sign in the front of the business code-compliant

Council Member Naser also made a couple of suggestions for his support:

  • Remove one of the driveways, eliminating a curb cut
  • Add/widen a sidwalk in front of the business.

Several nearby businesses spoke out in favor of the windshield repair business moving into this space. The owner made a passionate statement about wanting to invest in our community. Council Member Fleming indicated her support for the project if the changes above were made, and the case was sent back to staff to re-work the Conditional Use Permit request.

You can view the council meeting video of this hearing at this link. The portion that discusses the CUP for this auto glass business starts at 46:00 minutes, and ends at 1:14:40.

Council is going to vote on this on February 5th. While I think the changes above will be improvements to the site, they still do not support the comprehensive plan (which suggests that mixed-use residential should go in this location). I would like to hear from residents – particularly ones who live in the Winters Chapel and Tilly Mill areas – to hear what they would like to see in this area. I can be reached at joseph.geierman@doravillega.us.

 

Addressing Mayor/Council Salary Increase & Charter Change Questions

IMG_3212 (2)

I’ve received a few emails about the salary increase that went into effect this year for Doraville’s city council and mayor. The city council members’ salaries went up from $8,400 per year to $14,800. The mayor’s salary went from $14,800 to $18,000.  The council voted on this change in August 2017. While she was not able to vote on this item because she was caring for her dying husband, Dawn O’Connor introduced this agenda item and spoke with me about it at length earlier this week. She told me she sponsored this legislation because she wanted to restore the cuts that had been made to council salaries during the recession.

Most of the emails I have received have been concerned about the mayor’s salary increase. I think this concern needs to be looked at in context with what neighboring municipalities pay their own part-time mayors:

  • Brookhaven – $16,000
  • Chamblee – $18,000
  • Dunwoody – $16,000
  • Tucker – $20,000
  • Average: $17,500

With the increase, Doraville is finally back in line with what other cities in this area pay their Mayors.

No one is going to run for mayor or council for the pay.  That said, underpaying for these jobs makes it more likely that only people who are wealthy or retired can afford to run for office. We need to pay enough to be sure that the best people for the jobs are able to afford to run and serve.

 

Along with the email questions about the salary increases, some people have been advocating a charter change that would eliminate the mayor’s position and have the council members take turns as “acting mayor” with the goal of saving $18,000 a year.

If the council considered this, we would have to figure out a way to ensure there are no tie votes, while maintaining a balance between the districts. A majority of council would have to approve the change in our form of government, and then we’d need to get the majority of the city to vote in favor of it in the next general election. Changing the charter is a big deal, and I am not sure that the government we would get from the change that’s being discussed would be any better than the one we have now.

I’m much more interested in working with the council we have today to bring Doraville’s zoning and ordinances into line with those of our neighbors, in identifying landlords who are evading our city’s taxes, and in redeveloping the former GM Plant as well as our downtown.

 

Ideas for: Buford Highway

On November 28th, I attended the Buford Highway “Ideas Fair.” This was an event sponsored by Generator Labs  and We Love BuHi. The two organizations’ founders (Ryan Gravel and Marian Liou) had taught a class at Georgia Tech aimed at getting students to envision ways to help Buford Highway maintain what makes it special, while also focusing on making it a more human-centered place.

My favorite idea was called “Restoring the Right of Way.” It was from a former Northwoods resident who suggested connecting the informal paths that connect Pinetree Plaza to Northwoods in a more formal way (removing fences, adding stairs, etc). It was a good, simple idea that would help make it easier for to cut from the neighborhood to Buford Highway without so much walking – just by using already existing right-of-way space.

There were other good ideas about making bus stops more pleasant, creating apps that would tell the stories of restaurants along the strip, and enabling small business through food carts. Some of the ideas may not have been so practical, or may require a lot of work to make happen, but the best thing about the whole event was that a group of enthusiastic young people were focusing their attention along this road that is so important to Doraville.