A five-page memo sent out last week by Dunwoody’s attorneys to about two dozen members of several city boards and commissions outlining a new city policy prohibiting members of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association from serving on city boards has been made public.
Community activist and DHA member Bob Lundsten posted the memo on his Facebook page on June 23. The City Council is holding a special called meeting on Friday, June 24, at 9 a.m. to discuss the controversial policy that has been met with criticism on social media and from DHA President Robert Wittenstein.
Lundsten criticized city officials in his post for taking the actions outlined in the memo in private.
“Regardless of what you think of the Dunwoody Homeowner’s Association or their role in Dunwoody, the city’s actions this week represent terrible governance and a lack of ethical leadership,” Lundsten said in his Facebook post. “If the city really wants to change a policy they are well within the law to do it publicly. While I disagree with their actions and the lawyer’s rationale, I find the method they used to be reprehensible.”
The memo, sent via email from City Attorney Cecil McClendon and Assistant City Attorney Lenny Felgin, is addressed to Mayor Denis Shortal and the City Council, members of the Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, the Construction Board of Adjustment and Appeals and the Design Review Advisory Committee. City Manager Eric Linton is also included on the memo.
The memo posted by Lundsten acknowledges DHA’s long history, including that it served as the city’s de facto board for DeKalb County before the city was incorporated eight years ago. But the memo clearly states that DHA is not “part of a decision making apparatus of the city government” and that a potential conflict of interest exists if a member of DHA also serves on one of the listed city boards.
The same conflict of interest exists if City Council members attend DHA meetings where a developer outlines plans for a proposed development before filing such documents as a rezoning request with the city, according to the copy of the memo posted by Lundsten.
“Moreover, even if not a member of an organization, active participation in DHA hearings and decisions is, for obvious reasons, a conflict of interest. Likewise, even without active participation, being members of the board and being present at the discussion the DHA board has concerning actions coming in front of the city can arguably create an appearance of pre-judgment on issues,” the memo says.
The memo gives the specific examples of the Center for Discovery and the Dunwoody Club Forest subdivision plat litigation.
“Both of these cases contain written e-mail correspondence between councilmembers and citizens discussing the issues involved prior to such issues materializing in front of the BZA (Center for Discovery) and council (Dunwoody Club Forest),” states the memo.
“Many of those emails contain indications that board members and councilmembers went to the DHA meetings where these issues were discussed and came away with certain understanding of the issues that should have been reserved for the quasi-judicial hearings that had not yet occurred. The preferred course of action would have been recusal of councilmembers and, depending on the case, Board of Zoning Appeals members from any discussions in front of the DHA board or other formal gatherings prior to any public hearings before the council or board that concern the same topic,” according to the copy of the memo posted by Lundsten.
Lundsten is a former aide to disgraced DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer and who was sentenced to probation last year after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction charges related to his use of a county charge card. Boyer was sentenced to prison for misusing county funds..
The Center for Discovery case involves a personal care home that attempted to locate on Manget Way approximately two years ago. The rezoning request was eventually denied by the city amidst strong outcry by neighbors. Center for Discovery is now suing the city in federal court for $5 million.
Robert Wittenstein, who was not president of the DHA at that time, said the DHA’s position was that while it supported personal care homes, it had doubts about the applicants plans for the property.
The Dunwoody Club Forest issue involves a plat of land where a developer wanted to build two houses on a piece of property in the subdivision. Strong outcry from neighbors led to the city to deny the developer’s request.
Wittenstein said DHA did not take a position on the Dunwoody Club Forest issue.
Top city officials remained tight lipped in the days following the move. Repeated calls and emails to Mayor Denis Shortal went unanswered. Calls and emails to City Manager Eric Linton and City Attorney Cecil McClendon for comment also were not returned.
A city official said the mandate affects some 24 members of the Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, the Construction Board of Adjustment and Appeals and the Design Review Advisory Committee.