A standing-room-only crowd packed the July 17 meeting of the Dunwoody Charter Commission and was given a civics lesson.

“I want to explain what this commission does,” Rep. Tom Taylor told the more than 50 people crowded into the conference room where the meeting was held.

The five-member commission, Taylor said, could consider only whether to recommend changes to the city’s charter, the founding document of the city. It did not take positions on recent controversies within the city. Groups of residents publicly have protested recent city actions, including the construction of a 12-foot-wide multi-use trail in Brook Run Park and a plan to redesign Dunwoody Village Parkway.

“If you’re talking about Dunwoody Village Parkway [or other controversial issues] …, you’re in the wrong meeting,” Taylor told the crowd. “This is strictly for charter review.”

The commission, he said, “is not here to undo actions of a duly elected body.”

A large crowd also attended the charter commission meeting two weeks ago, overflowing the room in City Hall where the commission had been meeting. The size of the crowd convinced city officials to move the commission’s meetings to a larger meeting room in an office building across a parking lot from City Hall.

The five commissioners were appointed by the three state legislators who represent Dunwoody, by City Council and by the mayor. Each appointed one commissioner. The commission only makes recommendations. Any changes it feels are needed will be reported to state lawmakers. The state Legislature would then consider whether to make the changes, Taylor said.

Commissioner Robert Wittenstein criticized unsigned messages he said were circulating in the community about the commission’s actions. “I think leadership matters and leaders ought to sign their names,” he said. “This is an awful piece of trash.”

Taylor also urged the audience “to tone down the rhetoric.”

Crowd members questioned actions by city officials. Some criticized the commission for proposing that the charter be amended to allow the city to take over fire services and fire taxes from DeKalb County without a public vote.

“I want to have a say about what happens in our city,” Merry Carmichael told the commissioners. “If I have to pay, I want to have a say.  It’s as simple as that. The citizens are being totally ignored and this is not acceptable.”

The commission next meets July 31.

Tom Taylor

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.