Citizen disagreements with the Dunwoody city council reached a fever pitch during its meeting last week, leading to one citizen being asked to leave within the first 15 minutes. Following Councilor John Heneghan’s opening comments about his son’s close call with a pickup truck whose driver failed to yield at a school crosswalk, some citizens called out with comments including “put in a roundabout.”
The comments angered Mayor Pro Tem Denis Shortal who left his seat and directly addressed the crowd in defense of Heneghan. Shortal then asked Police Chief Billy Grogan to step in and remove Jim Smith, Jr., the most vocal of the group. Smith left the meeting stating that he didn’t have to be asked twice.
Within minutes, Shortal raised his voice again, this time his comment was directed at Joe Hirsch during Hirsch’s public comment.
Hirsch was telling council that City Clerk Sharon Lowery failed to provide Hirsch with an affidavit from a 2012 executive session despite being asked 12 times by Hirsch.
“It took 12 months for her to finally admit that she was withholding one document because she decided that the sworn affidavit by Mayor Davis from that meeting was a mistake and she didn’t have to or want to give it to me,” said Hirsch.
Hirsch stated that in his opinion, Lowery’s behavior was criminal. Shortal objected to the word criminal in relation to Lowery. Others on council urged Shortal to allow Hirsch to finish his public comment.
Mayor Mike Davis was absent from council last week. Shortal was facilitating the meeting in Davis’s place.
After nearly an hour of public and council comments, the meeting got underway and council held discussions on a proposed summer concert series and revisions of the ethics ordinance.
City Manager Warren Hutmacher led a discussion on working with the Dunwoody Homeowners’ Association to offer a series of six summer concerts at Brook Run Park. The DHA would organize the event with the city’s help. The city would also provide marketing efforts and assist with cleanup and police services.
The DHA would obtain sponsors and sell tables toward the front of the concert area and assist in booking musical acts. Sponsors, table sales and revenue from vendors were expected to cover the cost of the concerts, said Hutmacher.
The sticking point for most on council was financial. Would council supplement the cost of the event if it failed to break even? City staff recommended that council set aside $10,000 of seed money for the concerts.
Councilor Terry Nall was against the idea for financial reasons and thought the city should focus instead of infrastructure improvements.
“I really think the sponsor needs to cover their own costs,” said Nall.
Shortal, who had proposed the idea, spoke in favor of the series and said that the community needs fun opportunities like concerts.
Councilor Lynn Deutsch was generally for the idea, but suggested that sponsorships be lined up first for optimal budget control.
Nall said that he didn’t think it was the right time for the city to introduce a concert series.
“Nothing builds community like filling potholes and repaving roads, doing the things that have been neglected for years, “said Nall.
Hutmacher was tasked with bringing the agenda item back for the Feb. 25 meeting and limiting any city’s expenses to $10,000.
Alan Mothner, executive director of the Dunwoody Nature Center, urged council to consider a policy decision to support nonprofit organizations with events like the concert series.
On ethics, Hutmacher presented a variety of options for council to review from neighboring cities. His recommendations included the following:
• City attorney dismisses ethics complaints that don’t meet the ethics ordinance
• Hearing Officer dismisses frivolous claims, investigates legitimate claims and presides over ethics hearings as a judge
• Citizen ethics committee sits as a silent jury through the proceedings
• Remove the city attorney, city clerk and city manager from the ethics violation process
Council mostly agreed on the changes, but several wanted the citizen ethics committee to be able to ask questions. Nall thought that the committee should be able to ask the hearing officer questions for clarification. Shortal said he wanted the citizens to be able to ask questions in general, questions that a hearing officer may not have asked.
Hutmacher’s rationale for removing city staff from the ethics process was that the staff serves at the pleasure of council.
“If somebody wants to complain about me behaving unethically, it doesn’t have to go through an ordinance process with a hearing officer” said Hutmacher, “I think it just goes to council and you make a determination and fire me if I’m not acting the way that you all want me to.”
Council is expected to vote on the new ordinance in March.