DUNWOODY, Ga. — About 75 Dunwoody residents were at Dunwoody City Hall Nov. 19 for Mayor Denis Shortal’s final town hall.
Shortal announced in April that he would not seek reelection so he could spend more time with his family. The retired airline pilot and Marine has played a role in Dunwoody city government since incorporation in 2008. He served as a member of City Council before being elected mayor in 2015.
While town halls are typically opportunities for residents to grill elected officials on the issues they care about, this event served as more a touching farewell to Shortal.
The night began with a video tribute to Shortal’s 11-year tenure with the City of Dunwoody. Then, for about an hour Shortal talked about his accomplishments as mayor and what he saw in the city’s future.
Following the speech, the crowd gave Shortal a standing ovation before the mayor began taking questions from the audience. A handful of residents spoke, some using the opportunity to thank Shortal, to ask clarification questions or to raise issues that fall on the county government or school district.
One speaker said they would like to see more greenspace within the city. Shortal said he agreed and that the city is working in that direction. Another asked for more roundabouts which drew a mixed response from the crowd. Shortal said roundabouts were difficult to build because they require significant property takes.
Shortal praised his fellow council members, city staff and the citizens of Dunwoody for making the city what it is.
“I think we should be very proud we live here,” Shortal said. “I’m very proud to live here … and I want to thank each of you for your support of the city, because if you think just seven people can do it, you’re wrong.”
Shortal was especially laudatory of the city’s police force. Last year, the department received no excessive force complaints and the city enjoys low crime and low violent crime rates.
He touched on the police’s efforts to crack down on motorists who speed through crosswalks, and the city’s public awareness campaign, “See and Be Seen.”
“We continue to have problems even though the law is very clear,” Shortal said. “If you have one foot in the crosswalks, cars have to stop.”
When Shortal first ran for office, he promised a plan to repave old and damaged city roads. Since 2010, 60 percent of roads in Dunwoody have been repaved, and the city is on track to complete its 20-year goal in 17 years. Shortal said he hopes the future City Council keeps up that pace.
Another campaign promise was responsible fiscal management, which Shortal said he’s accomplished. The city has not raised its property tax rate in 10 years and maintains a four-month reserve. The city’s only debt is to pay for the new City Hall.
“The budget is tight, but we are on very sound financial ground,” Shortal said.
The city has added 12 miles of sidewalks during Shortal’s run, and major additions to Brook Run Park are underway, including an Amphitheatre, pavilion and two soccer fields
Shortal’s speech was sprinkled with the charm and humor residents have grown accustomed to during his term. When Parks and Recreation Director Brent Walker said the park improvements would be open by the end of January, Shortal responded with “So we’ll be using them by April, then.”
What’s next for Dunwoody? Shortal said the city will grow but confine density to the Perimeter and protect residential neighborhoods. He highlighted the High Street development coming in across the street from the Dunwoody MARTA station.
The first phase of the project will include 193,000 square feet of retail, including a movie theatre; 40,000 square feet of office space, ¾-acre public green space and nearly 600 apartments.
Another area to watch for development will be Dunwoody Village.
“The problem is cost, number one, and number two: somebody owns all that property,” Shortal said. “We’re trying to create a sense of place there, kind of a town center.”
Shortal’s parting words:
“If we continue to support the city and be positive with our solutions, everything will be OK.”