The right to vote was a popular rallying cry of citizens attending Dunwoody’s charter commission meeting on the eve of Independence Day. One even chided the commission for holding the meeting on July 3, stating that it was a means to suppress citizen input.
Phyllis Weisser, a homeowner in Fairfield, said that she attended because “the city is acting like our congressman. They think they know better than we do.”
The commission, an appointed group of five citizens, was formed to review the city’s charter and recommend changes in a report to legislators Fran Millar, Tom Taylor and Mike Jacobs (none of whom serve on the city council.) The group has been meeting for weeks, and the past three sessions have seen citizen attendance skyrocket.
A hot button issue, the ability for city council to change city service providers without a citywide vote, passed 3-2 by the commission on June 19. The reaction came to a head last Wednesday night when at least 50 citizens attended to protest the vote. Several gave public comment while holding up signs that read “Unhappy citizens = unhappy city”, and “I demand my right to vote.”
“It is ludicrous that you are even doing this,” said Jeanette Smith. “I am distressed that I ever voted for a city.”
The existing charter states that a change in city services requires a citizen vote, but it does cover fire services if the city wanted to add them. The recommended change states that council can vote to change city services as long as the rate does not exceed the average rate of the preceding three years prior to the cutover of the service.
Services currently provided by DeKalb County are subject to this vote, including fire services. At a recent city council meeting, city staff recommended that council approve $75,000 in funding to conduct a feasibility study on fire services. One of the concerns the city has with fire service from the county is the increasing millage rate for that service, from 2.75 to 3.29 mills over the past three years.
The thought of council changing fire services without a citywide vote brought harsh comments from a few citizens including one who only gave her first name, Cheryl.
“None of you have looked at what Sandy Springs went through,” said Cheryl. “Eva (Galambos) didn’t want the fire department. They eat money up. It took $10 million to start that up. They wanted their new trucks to last 10 years. They didn’t. They had to buy new trucks in seven years.”
Another citizen asked if the city had statistical data to back up a decision to change the city’s fire service.
Merry Carmichael reminded the commission that the current charter clearly states that the millage rate cannot exceed 3.04 unless approved by a majority of Dunwoody voters.
“We voted to become a city with a charter that gives us, the citizens, a right to tax or not tax ourselves,” said Carmichael. “We did not give this right solely to the council.”
Other citizens took the opportunity to air their disappointment with other city decisions like the Dunwoody Village Parkway project. Katherine Wrigley said that she hated to see the trees destroyed in the median on the parkway and asked if it was really necessary?
Weisser said no one in her neighborhood was in favor of the parkway project. She recalled a homeowner’s meeting in her neighborhood that a council member attended. After the meeting, Weisser said she received an email from that councilor who wrote that he thought more than half the people approved of the project.
“He was being tone deaf,” said Weisser. “I think all of you are being tone deaf. You are not listening. The voters in Dunwoody are smart enough to make decisions on our own.”
Max Lehmann, commission chair, reminded citizens that the commission had no purview over that project.
Other citizens used their comment time to talk about the upcoming election, including Jim Dickson who asked the group to hold off finalizing their report until after the election.
“The election is going to bring out how people really feel about a lot of these things,” said Dickson.
Smith said that she would campaign in the next election to fight for the city.
“I voted, I walked the streets for Mike Davis and he has betrayed us” said Smith. “Terry Nall has betrayed us.”
The growing number of citizens attending the meetings prompted the commission to discuss pursuing a larger venue. Lehmann said he wanted to make sure citizens were comfortable at the meetings, and to be able to hear the discussions. The large group left some standing outside of the confer- ence room while others sat on the floor.
The group spoke briefly about the municipal court portion of the charter which brought a very small change re- garding judges. Instead of mentioning judge pro tempore, the commission voted to recommend the language be changed to simply judge(s), plural. City manager Warrant Hutmacher said there was no benefit to dis- tinguish between a judge and a judge pro tempore as there were no distinguishing responsibilities.
The charter’s next meeting is July 17 and they will discuss the area of the charter related to finance.