In Dunwoody, 2013 turned into a cranky year. Many residents found something to complain about, whether it was removing trees to make way for a 12-foot-wide, concrete trail through the forest at Brook Run Park or moving the dog park from one spot in Brook Run to another.
Dissatisfaction showed in odd places. Yard signs decrying city projects sprouted on busy roadsides. Church halls filled with people who wanted to take over the school system from DeKalb County and start their own, city system. City government meetings turned into lecture halls. The Dunwoody Charter Commission had to ask for a bigger meeting room as its gatherings, which promised little more than sleepy civics lessons, turned into pointed, heated debates on the city’s future.
But not everyone was angry all the time. Two incumbents seeking re-election to City Council held their seats. Hundreds of residents showed up to eat from food trucks during a new program at Brook Run called “Food Truck Thursdays.” And when the city formally opened the first phase of the Brook Run trail with a parade, dozens of kids and parents showed up with decorated bikes and wagons to celebrate.
City projects take off
In his State of the City Address in February, Mayor Mike Davis announced, “It’s time for us to act.” The city had spent its early years planning, he said, and in 2013, “our goal is to turn … our vision into reality.” Soon city contractors were at work all over town. They built a 12-foot wide, concrete multi-use trail through the forest in Brook Run Park. The city built new parks in the Project Renaissance multi-use development city officials saw as a way to turn ill-used properties into new play areas and homes. By year’s end, work was under way to transform Dunwoody Village Parkway into a narrower, cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly road.
As the city moved forward with its plans, yard signs sprouted all over Dunwoody attacking them. Some criticized the removal of trees to make way for the new path through Brook Run Park. Others objected to the city’s plan to rebuild Dunwoody Village Parkway or to a stalled proposal to consider building a roundabout at the intersection of Vermack and Womack roads. The people behind the signs organized a new, grassroots group calling itself Save Dunwoody. Groups of them and like-minded folks packed meetings of the City Council and the city Charter Commission to complain about the direction being taken by city government. In the fall, the group coalesced around candidates for City Council seats who claimed they wanted to oust incumbents and change the city’s direction.
Charter Commission inundated by city opponents
Verbal battles over the city’s direction spilled over into an unlikely, and unsuspecting, city body – the Dunwoody Charter Commission. Appointed by state lawmakers, the City Council and the Mayor, the five members of the commission were asked to take a look at the city charter to see if it needed any legislative tweaks as the city turned five years old. The commission’s debates drew scores of people who came to listen and criticize city policies. So many came that the commission had to move to a larger room. After months of meetings, the commission recommended a number of changes to the charter, including one to allow the city to create a fire department and pay for it by imposing a property tax mimicking the levy imposed by DeKalb County for its fire services.
City riles dog park fans
The city’s plans to remake the dog park in Brook Run Park drew growls, too. City officials say the trees shading the current 4-acre park have been damaged by the dogs and the soil has been impacted by constant use. They propose moving the park to another location within Brook Run and managing the park to protect it from overuse. Dog park fanciers responded by packing City Council meetings to complaint that the changes raise safety issues because the new park is near a playground and a skate park.
Two incumbents re-elected while one outsider claims seat
After a divisive election that yielded public complaints about city projects and city officials’ perceived lack of communication with residents, Dunwoody’s voters responded with mixed messages. The two incumbents who sought re-election – Councilmen Denny Shortal and Doug Thompson – were returned to their council seats. But challenger Jim Riticher, one of three candidates who ran together and said they wanted a “clean sweep” of the council and a change in city direction, won the only seat with no incumbent on the ballot. After winning re-election with 51 percent of the vote, Thompson said the race had been “so close that I don’t think either side can think their platform was the consensus opinion of the majority of Dunwoody.”
Bonser retires from council
City Councilwoman Adrian Bonser, who was elected as one of Dunwoody’s original city councilors and has held her post since, did not seek re-election, citing health reasons. During 2013, Bonser clashed at times with other council members and Mayor Mike Davis. After a council rewrite of the city procedures for handling ethics complaints against city officials, a complaint filed against Bonser – which she often had described publicly as being politically motivated — was finally heard and dismissed as “frivolous.” In her final council meeting, Bonser asked the city to reimburse her for her legal fees defending herself. Other council members agreed she should be repaid the $1,777 her legal defense cost her.
DeKalb school board members replaced
It was a tumultuous year for the DeKalb County Board of Education. In February, Gov. Nathan Deal removed six members of the school board after a regional accrediting agency put the school system on accreditation probation. A report from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools cited the school board members with financial mismanagement and meddling in the operations of the schools. Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond, a former labor commissioner and state legislator, was brought on to help lead the struggling school system.
Parents want city schools
Seeing the DeKalb school system’s troubles, a group of Dunwoody parents organized to try to create a separate public school system in the city. In 2012, State Rep. Tom Taylor, a Dunwoody Republican, introduced legislation to allow “new” cities created since 2005, including Dunwoody, and contiguous cities to start their own school systems. A group calling itself Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education sponsored a study that found Dunwoody could operate its own schools and have a $30 million surplus from the amount city taxpayers were paying for the DeKalb County schools. Shortly after the release of the study, a new parents’ group called Georgians for Local Area School Systems, or GLASS, organized to lobby the state Legislature to pass Taylor’s bill next year.
Food Truck Thursdays draw a crowd
Not everything that happened in Dunwoody in 2013 was based on complaints with the city. The Dunwoody Homeowners Association’s weekly gatherings known as “Food Truck Thursdays” drew hundreds of homeowners to Brook Run Park each week during the summer. The music-and-food-truck events grew so popular that they were extended through October and are expected to return next year.
Andrea Sneiderman : Just days before her July murder trial was scheduled to begin, DeKalb District Attorney Robert James announced that he would drop the most serious charges against Andrea Sneiderman. Sneiderman had been charged with conspiring to kill her husband, Rusty Sneiderman. Andrea Sneiderman’s former boss, Hemy Neuman, was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for shooting Rusty Sneiderman in front of a Dunwoody day care center. Andrea Sneiderman’s trial proceeded on the remaining perjury charges, and a DeKalb County jury found Sneiderman guilty of 9 of the 13 counts against her, such as lying under oath and concealing evidence. She was sentenced to serve five years in prison.