Ethics complaints

For much of 2012, Dunwoody City Council was wrapped up arguing over ethics complaints that consumed many hours and tens of thousands of dollars.

After information discussed in a February executive session was posted on a local blog, Mayor Mike Davis announced he would hire an investigator to find out who was behind the leak.

Davis called on former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson to investigate who released then-confidential information about the sale and purchase of land involved in the Georgetown redevelopment initiative known as Project Renaissance.

Wilson produced a report that accused City Councilwoman Adrian Bonser and former City Attorney Brian Anderson of leaking the information. Anderson resigned after reaching a severance agreement with the city.

The mayor and council filed an ethics complaint against Bonser. Bonser responded with a complaint against the mayor and council, accusing them of holding an illegal executive session and failing to provide adequate public notice. She also filed a complaint accusing Davis of threatening her and asking her to leave office.

Before holding a formal hearing, the Board of Ethics encouraged the mayor and council to try to resolve the issues through mediation.

Following mediation efforts, the mayor and six council members signed an official settlement agreement Nov. 30, in which they agreed to dismiss all ethics complaints and agreed not to file any further complaints regarding the same incidents.

As part of the agreement, Bonser apologized for sharing information in an email to constituents.

Council members also agreed to review the city’s ethics ordinance and to arrange for education and training on the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

Hemy Neuman sentenced to life; Andrea Sneiderman indicted

In March, Hemy Neuman was found guilty but mentally ill in the 2010 murder of Dunwoody resident Rusty Sneiderman. Neuman was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Neuman had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, meaning he admitted to committing the murder but argued he was mentally ill and unable to tell the difference between right and wrong at the time.

During a trial that attracted national attention, Neuman’s defense team said he has a bipolar disorder and delusions that prompted him to kill Sneiderman. They said Neuman was in love with Rusty Sneiderman’s wife, Andrea Sneiderman, who manipulated him into killing her husband. Prosecutors argued that Neuman was not in fact insane, but carried out a planned attack on Rusty Sneiderman so he could be with his wife.

In August, the DeKalb County District Attorney named Andrea Sneiderman as a co-conspirator in her husband’s death, charging her with murder, insurance fraud, racketeering and perjury. The eight-count indictment alleged Andrea Sneiderman and Neuman were having an affair and conspired together to murder Rusty Sneiderman so they could acquire his life insurance money and enjoy a life together.

Sneiderman has maintained her innocence and is living under house arrest at her parents’ home in Johns Creek until her trial, which has not yet been scheduled.

Road rage: Vermack/Womack roundabout, Dunwoody Village Parkway

In 2012, few things have been as contentious in Dunwoody as road projects.

Groups of residents rallied against a proposed roundabout at the intersection of Vermack and Womack roads and planned improvements to Dunwoody Village Parkway.

Engineers say the roundabout would improve the flow of traffic at the congested intersection near Dunwoody High School. Experts also say the roundabout would be safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

But residents near the intersection are staunchly opposed to the roundabout. They worry it will bring more commuters through their neighborhood and will make it unsafe for the many children who walk to the schools in the area.

In response to the outcry, Dunwoody City Council removed funding for the roundabout from the 2013 budget, but later decided to finish the design of the project before making a final decision.

Also in 2012, City Council approved a redesign of Dunwoody Village Parkway, the road that runs through the Dunwoody Village commercial area.

The city plans to reduce the four-lane road to two lanes, remove the tree-lined median and add bicycle lanes, sidewalks and landscaping to make the parkway more pedestrian friendly.

Though the plan had been in the works for a while, a vocal opposition group formed after the final plan was approved.

Some residents are outraged about losing the shady median. Others fret about losing two lanes that now carry traffic. Still others oppose spending more than $1 million to make the project happen.

Brook Run Park multi-use trail

A group of Dunwoody homeowners has filed a temporary restraining order against a planned trail through Brook Run Park.

The city of Dunwoody was ready to begin construction on the 12-foot-wide, concrete, multi-use trail, which it has touted as an amenity for park users as well as a connector to the future Project Renaissance development in the Georgetown area.

But some nearby homeowners are concerned that the trail would increase storm water runoff and flood their homes. Others are upset about the approximately 330 trees that will have to be cut down to make way for the trail.

The TRO, which will be in place until Jan. 13, was filed by lawyer Jenny R. Culler on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case, Dunwoody homeowners Beverly Armento and Rebecca More.

“The hydrology report used to justify the project is fatally flawed,” Culler said of the trail plans after the TRO was issued. “This restraining order was necessary to ensure that the city doesn’t move forward with the destruction of hundreds of trees in Brook Run Park before the court has a chance to hear the matter.”

City proposes opening its own fire department, school district

This year, the city of Dunwoody considered separating even further from DeKalb County by discussing creating its own fire department and school system.

When the city incorporated, officials chose to continue using DeKalb County’s fire and emergency medical services after a study concluded it would not be economically feasible to create a Dunwoody Fire Department.

But in July, City Council asked members of the city staff to reopen the study. Some council members were concerned about fire coverage, the cost of DeKalb’s service, and response time.

In November, City Council agreed to pursue forming a Dunwoody school district in the state Legislature.

During a discussion of legislative priorities, the council asked city lobbyists to look into the option of a constitutional amendment to form new school districts. Currently, the state constitution prohibits the creation of new school districts.

But Dunwoody’s legislators, Rep. Tom Taylor and Sen. Fran Millar, say achieving that goal would be incredibly difficult and time-consuming and perhaps impossible.

To amend the constitution, two-thirds of legislators would need to vote to place an amendment on the ballot. Then a majority of voters would need to approve it.

T-SPLOST fails; road builders look for alternatives

Voters in a 10-county region of metro Atlanta that included Fulton and DeKalb counties sent politicians a message in July by voting down a penny sales tax intended to pay for regional transportation projects. That message? “We’d rather be stuck in traffic than trust you guys with another $7 billion or $8 billion to spend.”

The money was to be spent on a list of specific projects designed to reduce traffic jams by fixing roads, extending MARTA and adding bike and walking paths. The voters shot the program down, with 63 percent voting against it. Now planners and regional politicians are looking for other ways to raise money for the most badly needed projects, such as improvements to the intersection of Ga. 400 and I-285.

Project Renaissance

In March, the city of Dunwoody announced a new redevelopment initiative for the Georgetown area called Project Renaissance.

The city will work with John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods to develop 35 acres off North Shallowford Road into homes, parks and commercial space.

The public-private partnership was announced in the wake of a parks bond referendum that was voted down in 2011. With little cash flow available to develop parks on two city-owned parcels in the Georgetown area, Dunwoody officials looked to the private sector for help.

The city will sell a portion of its land to Wieland to build homes, which will provide the city with money to build several parks in the area that are to be connected by a multi-use trail.

Construction is expected to begin as early as 2013.

DeKalb schools face a tough year

It was a tough year all ’round for DeKalb public schools.

In February, school officials discovered a $41 million hole in their budget for sales-tax-funded school projects. Part of the problem came from the discovery that the reconstruction of Chamblee Charter High School would cost $10 million more than expected. Also, the district got millions less from the state than it expected.

In July, the school board raised property taxes to balance its budget. In November, an outside audit found that DeKalb administrators did not fire as many employees as the school board ordered them to in 2011 and the salaries the system paid to central office employees from 2010 to 2011 exceeded the budget by millions of dollars, according to news accounts.

As year’s end neared, the national accrediting agency AdvancED issued a scathing report on the system, saying board members interfered in school operations and criticizing the system for nepotism and financial mismanagement.

The agency announced it was putting the DeKalb system on “accreditation probation” for a year, meaning it could lose its accreditation – which could be bad news for some kids’ efforts to get in top colleges – if the board doesn’t clean up its act by the end of 2013.

Zoning code rewrite

Consultants have been working throughout 2012 to overhaul the city’s zoning code.

Through several public meetings, the consultants have been listening to residents’ concerns about zoning and land use in Dunwoody.

When Dunwoody incorporated, it adopted DeKalb County’s zoning ordinances. The city wants to update the code, which was written in the 1970s, and tailor it to fit the city’s needs.

During public meetings, residents have identified among their top concerns a need to clarify regulations for home-based businesses and a need to address density, especially as it relates to the burden on infrastructure.

The public hearing portion of the zoning code rewrite is expected to begin in 2013 before the new zoning code is adopted.