By; Kimberly Halter and Pat Fox, Reporters for Georgia Weekly Post
David Deng Staff Photographer.
▲ “My goal will be to make sure that we have open and positive leadership here for all of our citizens,” Shortal said.
More than 300 residents, business people and political dignitaries turned out Thursday evening at Dunwoody’s Crown Plaza hotel for the first State of the City address from newly elected Mayor Denis Shortal.
Keying in on past accomplishments and an involved citizenry, Shortal said the young city still faces challenges that can only be accomplished through open government.
“My goal will be to make sure that we have open and positive leadership here for all of our citizens,” Shortal said.
The long-time city councilman and retired Marine brigadier general swept into office last fall by easily defeating incumbent Mayor Mike Davis by a 2-1 margin. And, although he ran a clean campaign by all published accounts, Shortal was aided by a maelstrom of controversy that surrounded Davis from the time he took office in 2012.
True to his campaign itinerary, Shortal declined to discuss those controversies before his address Thursday night. Instead, he directed comments to recapture the sheen reflected by residents when they won a years-long fight for cityhood in 2008.
▲ More than 300 residents, business people and political dignitaries turned out Thursday evening at Dunwoody’s Crown Plaza hotel for the first State of the City address from newly elected Mayor Denis Shortal.
Three years after its founding, the euphoria began to wear off when then-Mayor Ken Wright and the City Council proposed two bonds totaling $66 million for park improvements and land acquisition for parks. Voters rejected the bonds soundly.
Wright was in attendance at Thursday’s meeting.
“I usually don’t miss it,” the founding mayor said.
He called Shortal a “man of honor, a man of integrity. I’m confident he’ll do a fine job.”
When Wright declined a bid to run for re-election in 2012, Davis won in a closely contested race. The new mayor immediately launched an investigation into leaks from closed City Council meetings. That investigation, which dragged on for most of the year, ran up a tab of close to $60,000 for legal fees and a separation package for the city attorney, who was forced to resign, despite his protestations he had nothing to do with the leaks. The investigation also created dissent on the City Council when Councilwoman Adrian Bonser was named as one source for the leaks. Bonser left her council seat in 2014 but only after filing countercharges of ethics violations against other council members.
Residents also targeted Davis on other issues, including a decision to revamp previously approved plans to improve Brook Run Park, replacing a nature trail with a wider concrete-paved route through the park. That campaign drew hundreds of protesters to mount opposition.
▲ Newly elected Mayor Denis Shortal. and Councilman Terry Nall of Dunwoody.
One of the biggest controversies came in 2013, when the mayor and Councilman Terry Nall pushed a plan to change the city charter that would allow the city to assume responsibilities for fire protection from DeKalb County. Residents protested at Charter Commission meetings, arguing that the move was an attempt to subvert the original charter which put taxing authority in the hands of voters. They argued the change was a precursor to bigger government and ran counter to the principles the city was founded on.
Nall, who won re-election himself last fall, argued the city could improve emergency fire services at no additional cost to property owners by bringing them in-house.
Amid the controversies, Shortal resigned his council seat last September to announce his candidacy for mayor. Shortal had served on the council since the city incorporated.
In addition to several members of the Dunwoody City Council, Thursday’s event drew political dignitaries from around the area, including acting DeKalb County CEO Lee May, who has announced he will not be seeking a return to the controversial position in this fall’s election. The seat has been embroiled in controversy since the conviction last year of longtime CEO Burrell Ellis on corruption charges.
Former DeKalb School Superintendent and Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond has announced he plans to seek the post.
Also in attendance was District 1 DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester, who is seeking re-election to the post vacated in 2014 when Elaine Boyer was forced to resign after pleading guilty to swindling taxpayers out of more than $90,000.
▲ DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester, who is seeking re-election and acting DeKalb County CEO Lee May,
Jester, a former member of the DeKalb County school board, has already launched a web site touting her activities since she won a special election in December 2015.
Over the past year, she says, she has led a fight to stop funding for soccer fields before the deal was fully vetted. She has attended more than 250 community meetings and events and sponsored 29 town halls all over the district.
Brookhaven City Councilman Bates Mattison was also in attendance. Brookhaven incorporated in 2012, and as a neighbor of Dunwoody in DeKalb County, both cities have developed close ties.
In his address, Shortal unveiled two items of note.
First, he said, he plans to introduce a plan March 14 to add a quarter of a million dollars to the city’s repaving efforts. That announcement drew rousing applause and was one of the few times the address was interrupted.
“When I was out campaigning, the number one thing I heard over and over again of your concern was paving,” Shortal said. “I hear you loud and clear. Our council hears you loud and clear.”
If the measure passes, coupled with another $100,000 in federal funding, Shortal said, the city will have one-third of a million dollars more to spend this year to repair Dunwoody’s failing roads.
Since its founding in 2008, the city has resurfaced about 26 percent of its roads, Shortal said. This places municipal streets on a 20-year maintenance plan.
“That’s one of the key things we need to do, is pave our streets,” Shortal said. “For 2017, I’m going to ask the council if they will throw in an inflation factor on the paving that will add to the 2016 bill. We want to stay ahead of the paving cycle.”
The second item of note involved schools, and it also drew applause.
“We must continue to improve our schools to enhance the public education of our students,” he said. “To me, the best way to do that is to take control of our own schools.”
Dunwoody’s past legislative efforts to form its own school district have met with poor support at the Capitol, and this year is no different, Shortal said. The legislation is being proposed again this year by State Rep. Tom Taylor.
“It’s my sad duty to tell you I don’t think that’s going to go too far this year at all,” the mayor said, adding that the effort will continue in 2017.