Dunwoody residents generally are happy with their city, but some, especially older residents, feel city government is not paying attention to them, according to a new city-sponsored survey.

The survey, conducted of 520 residents who responded from a randomly selected 5,000 Dunwoody households, found residents were satisfied that the city was a good place to raise children, thought the city had a strong sense of community, and felt it was a good place to own a business. Residents said they felt safe, and that location and safety were the city’s greatest strengths.

Dunwoody residents cited a lack of transparency and city government “not listening to citizens” as the biggest issue.

“There are a lot of towns that would love to have these numbers,” Charles Montgomery, director of research for Pioneer Marketing Research, which conducted the survey, told members of Dunwoody City Council during their Jan. 24 retreat at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia.

Residents responding to the survey identified traffic as the city’s biggest problem, with 70 percent calling traffic the city’s top weakness. Dunwoody’s streets and infrastructure, transportation and elected officials also were identified as weaknesses.

Of public services, police were given the highest ratings of any city department in the survey, with respondents collectively rating police services at 4.29 on a scale of 5. Garbage collection, fire services and drinking water, services provided by DeKalb County, also rated about 4 on the scale. The lowest rating, a 2.43, went to traffic flow and congestion.

Respondents gave DeKalb County’s government the lowest rating overall, a 2.12 of 5, with the federal government at 2.55 of 5 and Dunwoody’s city government at 3.14. “This is a very low rating for a county. It’s usually up in the threes,” Montgomery said.

A large percentage of residents identified responsiveness and a lack of transparency by city officials as the biggest issue facing the city. That feeling was expressed especially by residents who are older than 55. Altogether, 21 percent of the survey’s respondents identified responsiveness of city officials as the city’s biggest problem. Thirty-nine percent of residents older than 55 cited the problem, while just 11 percent of those younger than 55 did.

Dunwoody residents say location is the area’s greatest strength, but they also gave high marks to feeling safe in the community.

Overall, residents younger than 55 rated the city’s park and community development departments and city government as a whole higher than did residents older than 55, the survey said.

“If you look at the data as a whole, the city government is very well respected, particularly services [such as] police. That’s very strong,” Montgomery said. “The perception is most people are happy. The number of naysayers is significant and cannot be ignored, but the main [message] is to continue doing what you’re doing and to talk to the ones who feel disenfranchised.”

Montgomery pointed out that the complaints about city government did not involve corruption. “Nobody talked about honesty here,” he said. “They’re talking about transparency.”

City officials said the results showed the city needs to communicate better with residents, particularly older ones.

“My take on it is I think folks are very happy with the services they’re provided… When they come to us for services, regardless of if they get what they want, they feel they were treated courteously,” City Manager Warren Hutmacher said. “Citizens feel on certain projects or policies that they’re not being heard or they’re not getting the result they want, based on the input they’re providing.”

Traffic, as well as local streets and infrastructure, are the biggest concerns.

Some council members said the survey may reflect that some residents don’t like the responses they’re getting from the city on certain projects. Three city projects – the redesign of Dunwoody Village Parkway, the construction of a 12-foot-wide multi-use trail through the forest in Brook Run Park and consideration of building a roundabout at the intersection of Vermack and Womack roads – produced widespread controversy last year.

“In some cases, it’s not that we’re not responding, it’s that we’re not giving them the response they want,” Councilman Denny Shortal said.

The survey found that three-fourths of the city’s residents get their information about Dunwoody’s city government from local newspapers, rather than the Internet, social media or public meetings. More than nine of 10 residents older than 55 get their information from newspapers, the survey found.

“We’re using the web. We’re using email. We’re using the social media. But we’re not doing things pro-actively in print media,” Councilman Terry Nall said. “[We should] get better use of print media.”

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.