Brookhaven Reporter - December 2020

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DECEMBER 2020• VOL. 12 — NO. 12

Brookhaven Reporter

BY THE NUMBERS

Mapping Biden’s win in local communities P11

City withdraws tax break for Dresden Village

BY HOLLY R. PRICE AND JOHN RUCH

“It is truly transformational,” said Ayana, who oversaw implementation of the drone team. “We expect it to be very busy.”

A controversial Brookhaven development and its tax break are a no-go at this point, the city has announced. The city announced Nov. 18 that it is withdrawing a court petition for a tax break involving Dresden Village, a mixed-use plan on a 4-acre lot on Dresden Drive near Caldwell Road. The project is no longer “viable” for Connolly Investment & Development, according to a statement from city spokesperson Burke Brennan. J.R. Connolly II, the CEO of Connolly Investment, said the company intends to make unspecified changes to the plan and reintroduce it later. The company could not amend the current tax abatement application and so had to withdraw entirely, he said. “The city of Brookhaven and the Development Authority are disappointed about the loss of a quality redevelopment that augments and completes the Dresden corridor,” Brennan said in the statement. “The future revenues from this project would have positively benefited the city, county, and school board, while enhancing the corridor’s walkability, connection to transit at the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA Station, and ultimately the City Centre master plan area.” “To clarify the city’s comments, we wanted to retool the project to really reflect what is going on in the world today,” Connolly said in a phone interview. “In order to make the project changes that we wanted to make, there was a technicality, if you will, that we can’t amend our request for validation. We basically have to withdraw the validation without precedent. … Once we are ready, we will come back.” Asked whether political opposition to the project’s tax break from DeKalb County government and local residents played a role in the decision to withdraw, Connolly said, “You know, no, it really doesn’t.” The halt to the tax break was welcomed by officials and residents who opposed it. “Right now, I’m just glad the abatement is off the table,” said DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, who represents part of Brookhaven, of the withdrawal of the deal. Ricardo Kamenetzky, who represented

See POLICE on page 9

See CITY on page 22

Holiday Events P5 ROBIN’S NEST

A thankful farewell to readers P13

WORTH KNOWING

CAC leader’s legacy of helping others

A site plan of the Dresden Village proposal.

SPECIAL

Police drone program flies into uncharted territory BY MATT BRUCE

P20

The Brookhaven Reporter is mail delivered to homes on selected carrier routes in ZIP 30319 For information: delivery@reporternewspapers.net

The Brookhaven Police Department is launching itself into a new world of drone policing, with the aerial robots set to respond to 911 calls in a program officials say will save time and money. But that also means flying into uncharted territory of legal and ethical implications, as experts say there are no national standards for police drones.

The department has purchased four drones and plans to begin using them to respond to calls in early 2021. According to Brookhaven Lt. Abrem Ayana, it’s the first full-throttle drone response program of its kind outside the state of California.

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The Nov. 3 election saw a DeKalb County Board of Commissioners seat flip to Democratic representations and Brookhaven voters rejecting the removal of mayoral term limits. Democrat Robert Patrick pulled off the upset in the Board of Commissioners District 1 race, unseating Republican incumbent Nancy Jester. “Unbelievable,” said Patrick, a former Doraville City Council member, in a phone interview. “You start something out 10 months ago and it comes to fruition. It’s a really nice feeling.” Jester, a Dunwoody resident who has held the seat since 2014, conceded well before noon Nov. 4, posting a farewell message on her campaign’s Facebook page that gave the nod to her Democratic challenger. “It has been an honor to serve DeKalb District 1 on the BOC,” Jester wrote. “I am forever thankful to have been of service to the good people of DeKalb County. For

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everything under Heaven, there is a season. As I transition to new opportunities, I want to assure the people of District 1 there will be a positive and professional transition with your interests in the forefront of my efforts. Thank you again and I am #forDeKalb.” The seat represents Dunwoody and parts of Brookhaven, among other areas. The voters’ decision on the term-limit ballot question means that incumbent Mayor John Ernst must leave office at the end of his current, second term, which began this year. The ballot question had 14,618 votes against, or 55.25%, and 11,842 votes in favor, or 44.75%. Under the existing city charter, mayors are limited to two consecutive fouryear terms. U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, a Democrat, will keep her 6th Congressional District seat after defeating Republican challenger Karen Handel with 54.59% of the vote. The race was a rematch of 2018, when McBath ousted Handel from the seat. The district also includes parts of Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Cobb County and north Fulton areas. In the 5th Congressional District, which represents some southern parts of Buckhead, Nikema Williams easily defeated Republican Angela Stanton-King to win the open seat. Williams, who also chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia, will replace the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who died in July in the midst of a re-election campaign. Williams previously held the District 39 state Senate seat, which also includes part of southern Buckhead. She left the seat to run for Congress, triggering a special Democratic primary to replace her. That four-way Senate race headed to a runoff between top vote-getters Sonya Halpern and Linda Pritchett, with Zan Fort and Jo Anna Potts eliminated. The runoff was scheduled for Dec. 1, after the Reporter’s press time. In state Senate District 40, Democratic incumbent Sally Harrell defeated Republican challenger Garry Guan with 60.5% of the vote. The seat includes Dunwoody and parts of Brookhaven and Sandy Springs. A ballot question proposing a reform of the DeKalb County Board of Ethics easily won approval with over 87% of the vote. The proposal approved by voters will dissolve the board as of Dec. 31 and appoint a new one. BK


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DECEMBER 2020 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net

Drive-Thru Parade will be December 6 from 6–8 PM. Sparkle Village, Menorah, Christmas Tree, and Holiday lights will be on display through January 1, 2021.

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City adopts $52.5M budget with pandemic cuts BY MATT BRUCE The Brookhaven City Council Nov. 10 adopted a $52.5 million budget for 2021 that includes a nearly $30 million general fund, down 4% from the current amount. The new budget takes effect Jan. 1. It boosts spending on the police department, but also includes some staff cuts and pay freezes. A plan to bring more parks maintenance workers inhouse will save money long-term, officials said. It’s the city’s first new budget in the world of COVID-19, one keyed by cutbacks in staffing and capital projects. “The city’s commitment to conservative financial management is why we have weathered this COVID-19 crisis as well as we have,” City Councilmember Linley Jones said. “And we have not had major service impacts yet in 2020.” Brookhaven’s property tax rate remained at 2.74 mills, the same it’s been since the city’s incorporation in 2012. That’s 4.3% above the rolled-back millage rate, which effectively amounts to an increase in property taxes for the average Brookhaven homeowner. The proposed budget incorporates the first year of a homestead tax exemption that increases the property tax credit from $20,000 to $40,000 over five years and an exemption plan for seniors that rose from $14,000 to $150,000 over a five-year span. Last year, the city adopted a $27.7 general fund budget for 2020, but actual day-to-day operating expenditures are expected to total more than $31.1 million by the end of the year. City officials proposed $29,898,890 million in general funds for 2021. That’s a $1,249,504 reduction. COVID-19 was the obvious unknown in next year’s equation. The had to budget for the im-

pact of a pandemic all but certain to spill into 2021. City Manager Christian Sigman told council members he was forced to reduce staff for next year, limit new capital improvements, and freeze pay for employees across the board. That didn’t sit well with Councilmember Joe Gebbia, who asked Sigman to re-examine the spending plan and come back with options possible salary adjustments for employees at council’s Nov. 24 meeting. “There’s no question our employees have handled themselves in a stellar way and really have done an exceptional job in this COVID-19 environment,” Gebbia said. Despite the challenges, the city anticipates increases in Parks and Recreation Department expenditures slated to bring spending to nearly $3.7 million in 2021. The city will create an inhouse maintenance team March 21 to begin overseeing the city’s 19 public parks, pools, recreation centers, community buildings and 322 acres of public park lands. That comes with a nearly $1 million price tag for 17 new full-time employees to staff the maintenance team as well as costs for equipment, vehicles and landscaping material. “At full stabilization in the 2022 budget, the move to bring it in-house actually saves $300,000 a year,” Sigman explained. “However, in the transition year, because we can’t get it all up and running on Jan. 1.” The police department’s $11.7 million budget is an 11.6% increase over 2020. Much of that comes from staffing a patrol beat in the LaVista Park neighborhood, a neighborhood of about 2,000 residents that the city annexed in December 2019. Construction of the city’s new public safety building for the police headquarters and Municipal Court is expected to be completed in the second half of 2021.

BK


DECEMBER 2020

Art & Entertainment | 5

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Holiday Events

A float from last year’s edition of the Sparkle Sandy Springs Parade.

SPARKLE SANDY SPRINGS▲

The annual display of decorated miniature houses returned to City Springs, 1 Galambos Way, on Thanksgiving and will remain up through New Year’s Day. A drive-thru version of the Sparkle Parade -- with stationary floats and the audience passing through in their vehicles -- is scheduled for Dec. 6, 6-8 p.m. Info: spr.gs/sparkle.

FILE

6-8:30 p.m., will showcase a variety of businesses on Peachtree between Lenox and Piedmont roads with hot chocolate, cocktails, carolers and local musicians. For tickets and more information about the events, see livablebuckhead. com/holiday. — John Ruch, Bob Pepalis and Holly R. Price

LIGHT UP BROOKHAVEN

The annual lighting of a holiday tree and a menorah at Blackburn Park was scheduled to become a virtual event streamed on Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. at Facebook.com/BrookhavenGAGov. Extending the holiday celebration is a citywide yard decoration contest for residents and businesses. The contest was scheduled to be judged Dec. 7, with winners to be announced Dec. 14. Explore Brookhaven, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, will create driving maps of all entries and publicize it in surrounding towns to bring others to Brookhaven for a socially distanced viewing. To download the map, go to explorebrookhaven.com.

LIVABLE BUCKHEAD

Livable Buckhead is holding a variety of holiday events in the Buckhead Village and Lenox Square areas under the theme “Miracle on Peachtree.” Nearly 40 Christmas trees will be on display at Charlie Loudermilk Park at Roswell and Peachtree roads Dec. 11-14. Drive-in and walk-in -- or “sleigh-in” -- movies will be shown in a parking lot at 309 Buckhead Ave. within the newly renamed Buckhead Village District shopping complex. The movies include “Elf” and “Die Hard” on Dec. 11; “Home Alone” and “A Christmas Story” on Dec. 12; and “An American Tail” and “Love Actually” on Dec. 13. Tickets range from $10 for walkers to $40 for multiple people in a vehicle, and spaces are limited. A “Hot Chocolate Crawl” Dec. 13,

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As Civic Dinners booms, some question diversity, open meetings issues BY JOHN RUCH

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Civic Dinners is enjoying a boom in the meeting business that has made the Atlanta-based start-up virtually synonymous with post-protest racial dialogues in such local communities as Sandy Springs. Governments and other organizations praise it as an off-the-shelf method for quickly gathering hundreds of people to discuss tough topics and inspire new policies. But some participants question Civic Dinners’ own diversity and expertise, especially on racial issues. And its inherently private structure may run afoul of state open-meetings laws and other government transparency guarantees. Civic Dinners has been a “highly successful” engagement method, especially for millennials, at the Atlanta Regional Commission, according to Malika Reed Wilkins, director of the organization’s Center for Strategic Relations. “It was certainly an innovative way for us, the ARC, to get input on some of the key regional issues,” Wilkins said. One Civic Dinners participant, a Black woman who asked to remain anonymous, said that, especially on racial issues, the method is too “mild and conservative” and fails to challenge preconceptions of those who join. “We live in a racist society, and not everybody agrees on that point whatsoever,” the participant said. “...I think the thing that’s most appealing for governments [about Civic Dinners] is, it’s easy. And easy is not going to solve it.” Jenn Graham, Civic Dinners’ founder and CEO, says she piloted the “structured dialogue” program in 2014 at the ARC while working as a consultant. It uses a dinner-party format, with a volunteer host attempting to gather a small but diverse group, each member of which voices their answer to pre-selected topical questions. The method is rooted in dinners in private homes, but has been expanded to large conference-style meetings. In the pandemic, the business has shifted to a virtual platform that Graham says will remain available long-term. Graham did not invent the dinner-meeting concept. In the mid-1990s, “Chicago Dinners” about race and racism were held by a social-justice nonprofit in that city. The Chicago model has inspired other programs, such as the “Dinners by Design” conducted by Yale University psychologist Dietra Hawkins. Civic Dinners began its own “Inclusive Series” about bias and diversity due to the interest of corporate clients, Graham said. Those topics are helping to drive Civic Dinners’ boom into an international business. Earlier this year, the city of Sandy Springs began an ongoing racial dialogue using Civic Dinners, which drew about 250 participants and is already credited with inspiring a city “inclusion and diversity commission.” For next year, Graham said, the business has been hired to facilitate Atlanta policing meetings involving the Atlanta Police Foundation and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Civic Dinners is also the platform hired by a similar but separate program called Equitable Dinners that began last year in Decatur but is also expanding rapidly to national programming. Equitable Dinners is inspired by Hawkins’ model and is focused on “dismantling racism,” says Adria Kitchens, the program’s manager. An affiliate of Out of Hand Theatre, it incorporates a brief theatrical performance to jumpstart the dialogue. It was set to hold 500 dinners in Atlanta this year before the pandemic postponed the plan. In Sandy Springs and elsewhere, some participants have questioned the diversity of the dinners themselves and the reliance on amateur hosts instead of expert facilitators and note-takers, who can be hired but are not part of the basic package. In Atlanta’s activism scene, some organizers have noted that Civic Dinners is itself a White-led organization whose method may encode biases and assumptions, such as preferring “inclusion” to systemic change. The anonymous participant, who joined a Civic Dinners discussion about White privilege roughly two years ago, said she felt “uncomfortable” with answers given by White participants who appeared to view their mere attendance as a “badge of courage.” The method prohibited participants from questioning or challenging each other on such topics as diversity terminology or claims to have abandoned racist beliefs, she said. “People were just sharing, and that was it,” she said. “There was just not a learning moment.” Graham said that the diversity of her own staff is something she thinks about “all the time” and is “high on my list” to improve. “Right now, we have only two African Americans on our team out of 14,” she said, though that small team also includes three people who are Asian, one who is Latino and four who identify as LGBTQ. Continued on page 8


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As more governments employ Civic Dinners, an emerging issue is conflict between the dinner-party concept, with its presumption of privacy and intimacy, and laws that ensure open meetings, open records and other public accountability. Sandy Springs initially denied the Reporter access to its racial dialogue meetings, claiming the media would cause a “chilling effectâ€? on discussion. The city relented only after attorney David Hudson, a board member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, advised that denying access violated the state Open Meetings and Open Record acts. The city of Brookhaven also considered using Civic Dinners to host racial dialogue meetings, but instead is using the platform for a still-mysterious series of municipally funded input meetings. The city refused to let the Reporter attend the first such meeting, held by City Manager Christian Sigman in September, and also refused to record it for later viewing. “The purpose of a civic dinner is to create an intimate platform in which a small group can share their unique perspectives,â€? said city spokesperson Burke Brennan in an email. “It is supposed to be a safe atmosphere for people to express themselves openly to their neighbors and their local government.â€? In response to a formal complaint from the Reporter, Georgia Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Colangelo said it appeared that Brookhaven’s Civic Dinners meetings might be exempt from the Open Meetings Act, but also that the lack of case law about this new form of gathering made it impossible to say for sure. The Civic Dinners makes for “an uncertain question of law,â€? she said, indicating that litigation would have to resolve it. Graham said she had not thought about possible Open Meetings implications of Civic Dinners, but that the company “highly encouragesâ€? media participation. “We actually encouraged Sandy Springs to invite reporters and allow reporters to come‌,â€? she said. “I think participants especially, when they know media is showing up, they get so excited, because they’re like, ‘Hey, this is what this is all about.’â€? Equitable Dinners and the ARC said they have opened their meetings to the press as well. Graham said she did not know about Brookhaven’s meetings and that the city might be using a free version offered on the website, which would leave the company itself unaware. She said the company discourages free users from using the “Civic Dinnersâ€? term for such meetings. “We also want to be cautious about our brand name,â€? she said.

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Police drone program flies into uncharted territory Continued from page 1

Ayana sees the flying devices as the next wave in law enforcement and envisions it as groundbreaking in Brookhaven. After BPD announced their plans in an Oct. 28 press release,he said he was flooded with calls and emails from dozens of departments around the country wanting to know more. “Most agencies right now are looking at it,” he said. “How do we do it, how do we staff it, and things of that sort. I think there are a lot of folks just watching, seeing how it gets navigated.” The Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C., estimated in a recent report that there are thousands of law enforcement drones surveilling from above, yet there is no national standard to govern how police agencies deploy the aerial units. The report said clear exemptions and privacy boundaries are necessary to prevent agencies from abusing the power of drones. “There’s one thing civil liberties advocates and privacy specialists tend to agree upon: Police drones aren’t regulated nearly strictly enough, and the majority of U.S. states still don’t have comprehensive rules on the books governing their use,” the Brookings report said. “... In the absence of clear rules or guidelines, police drone use will almost inevitably expand to fit every void. And as police find new ways to use drones, regulations are required to justify their expanded use.” While Brookhaven police may be the first agency in Georgia to use drones as first responders, the remotely controlled aircrafts already have a presence in local law enforcement for more limited uses. On Oct. 16, SWAT officers from the Atlanta Police Department flew a drone into the apartment of a 30-year-old man and used it to arrest him for the Oct. 3 murder of Hollywood actor Thomas Jefferson Byrd. Meanwhile, the Sandy Springs Police Department has used drones for years and currently has an arsenal of four. Similar to Atlanta, Sandy Springs Sgt. Sam Worsham said their SWAT team uses the devices to clear homes on search and seizure calls. One of the recent advents for Sandy Springs’ drone program is mapping software that the traffic unit uses to reconstruct scenes of fatal wrecks. However, the department doesn’t regularly dispatch the drones on calls. “We don’t have it as a full-time position,” Worsham said. “It’s just sort of we use it as a tool to help us if we need aerial shots.” Brookhaven’s drone unit will entail a team of 12 to 15 officers. All of the officers will undergo training to learn their new roles. Those assigned to remotely pilot the drones need to be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA regulates rules-of-the-road operations like the altitudes and times of day and at which drones can fly. The pilots will stand on rooftops to maintain a line of sight on the drones, keeping a watchful eye of the surrounding airspace when they take to the skies. Mean-

while, officers trained as teleoperators will control the drones’ camera functions, which are equipped to home in on suspects from long ranges. The two-person teams can provide realtime information to ground units responding to the calls. “So instead of patrol officers literally going street to street to street, playing hideand-seek with suspects,” Ayana said, “we can fly our drones over in a pattern, and just search all of that neighborhood area, clearing it in a fraction of the time that our ground units would be able to.” The largest of the four drones will be equipped with an LED gimbal spotlight and, besides a regular camera, a thermal imaging infrared camera for night vision. A second drone outfitted for night vision will also be capable of flying with a spotlight and a public address system so pilots can communicate with people in the field. Some of the drones will be equipped with Faro scanners, allowing officers to take 3D photos to reconstruct crashes. Ayana said the infrared cameras can’t penetrate glass and the drones won’t be used for patrols. The department said it will add measures to its policy to prohibit drone pilots from recording in backyards, private buildings, homes or anywhere a person has reasonable privacy expectations. SpringsDerma-PressAd-DecIssue.pdf

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COMMENTARY

Metro Atlanta’s suburbs hold the future of Georgia politics in their hands Right now, I feel like we’re living in the most interesting state in the world, to adapt a line from a popular beer commercial. Not only does Georgia, with its two Senate runoff elections, hold the fate of the Senate, and hence of the balance of power in Washington, in its hands, but it’s also the only state in the Deep South to have voted for Joe Biden. What’s more, two of the very few bright spots for Democrats at the Congressional level were Lucy McBath’s retention of the local seat she flipped in 2018 and Carolyn Bordeaux’s flipping of another suburban seat. How we got here is, I think, an interesting and illuminating tale. Everyone’s easy answer is to credit Stacey Abrams with the feat of “turning Georgia blue,” as one headline inaccurately put it. She certainly had a hand in it, working to register and mobilize hundreds of thousands of voters. But as one observer recently noted, none of what Abrams accomplished would have been possible without Atlanta, whose economic dynamism attracts people from all over the country. Consider these numbers. More than half the almost 5 million votes cast in the presidential election came from counties in the Atlanta metro area. Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties alone accounted for about 1.7 million votes, giving Joe Biden a 625,000 edge over Donald Trump. Of course, the picture gets a bit more clouded when you factor in all the other metro counties, but it’s clear enough that the Atlanta metro area makes Georgia competitive. No other major Southern city has the same effect on its state’s political complexion. Not Charlotte, not Nashville, and certainly not Birmingham or Columbia. The closest southern analogue to Atlanta’s outsized influence is the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., where Joe Biden’s 500,000 vote margin (out of roughly 1.5 million votes cast) overcame Donald Trump’s slight 50,000 vote edge in the rest of the state. Since 2008, Virginia and Georgia have followed similar trajectories. Barack Obama added nearly a half-million voters to the Democratic columns in both states back then. Joe Biden duplicated that feat this year, adding 431,000 votes in Virginia and 594,000 votes in Georgia.

This comparison takes a bit of luster away from Stacey Abrams’s accomplishment. Virginia Democrats were not exactly lost without her in 2020. Also, Georgia Republicans have a much larger margin outside Atlanta than their Virginia counterparts do outside the D.C.

Joseph Knippenberg is a professor of political science at Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven.

suburbs. But they shouldn’t rest too comfortably on that cushion, not only because it didn’t produce victory at the

Republicans have to hope that they can retain their appeal to non-metro voters while distancing themselves from the Trump persona in the metro area. presidential level in 2020, but because that’s not where the state’s voting population will grow in the future. Retaining the non-Atlanta base is necessary, but not sufficient, for long-term Republican success in Georgia politics In a word, the Atlanta metropolitan area holds the future of Georgia politics

in its hands. Both parties have strong incentives to improve upon their performances ITP and OTP. For Democrats, the two keys are holding onto the affluent, White voters who moved from splitting their tickets in 2016 to voting “D” in more races in 2020, and increasing turnout among Black and Latino voters. Since Donald Trump will not always be around to help them with the former effort, they will have to find ways to differentiate their candidates from the louder progressive voices that tend to dominate the national party. We can expect to hear more of the intraparty debate that has been evident in the aftermath of the disappointing results below the presidential level. As for the other challenge, I will restrict myself here to saying that claims of voter suppression are a better mobilizing tool than they are a description of facts on the ground. There are lots of votes to be gotten from people of color, but those who aren’t already voting are going to be very difficult to get to the polls. Republicans have to hope that they can retain their appeal to non-metro voters while distancing themselves from the Trump persona in the metro area. In the January special elections, the task is straightforward, for they can argue that the only way that President Biden can be the moderate he claims to be is if there’s a Republican Senate to balance a Democratic House. After that, the test will be whether Georgia Republicans and their national counterparts can articulate a nationalist and populist message that isn’t as abrasive and offensive as that offered by the current occupant of the White House. I take it for granted that there’s no going back to the party of Mitt Romney, however much some of those who would be in the executive suites if they weren’t working from home would want it. That party doesn’t win enough votes outside the metro area to counterbalance its inevitable deficit around the Perimeter. None of us really wants to pay much attention to politics for the next two months, but we can’t avoid it. Democrats and Republicans have a lot at stake, in the short term and in the long term. For Georgians, the question is whether purple is a stop on the way to blue or a condition that we’ll, so to speak, enjoy for the foreseeable future. BK


Community | 11

DECEMBER 2020 ■ www.ReporterNewspapers.net

BY THE NUMBERS

Local communities were Biden country in Nov. 3 election Buckhead’s Paces neighborhood. Biden and Trump weren’t the only presidential candidates on the ballot. Libertarian Jo Jorgensen drew small numbers of votes in local precincts. The local Libertarian hotspot? Brookhaven’s Cross Keys High precinct, where Jorgensen won about 2.5% of the vote. For an interactive version of the precinct map, showing vote totals and percentages for each candidate, see ReporterNewspapers.net.

Mexican Restaurant This color-coded map shows how strongly precincts in local communities leaned toward either majorparty presidential candidate. The darker the blue, the higher the vote for Democrat Joe Biden, and the dark the red, the higher the vote for Republican Donald Trump. MAGGIE LEE/MAGGIELEE.NET

BY JOHN RUCH AND MAGGIE LEE Local communities of Brookhaven, Buckhead, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs were Biden country in the presidential election, joining other metro Atlanta suburbs in flipping Georgia blue for the first time since 1992. Democrat Joe Biden earned about 61.1% of the total votes in those four communities, while Republican incumbent Donald Trump won only about 37.5%, according to official precinct-by-precinct results mapped and analyzed by the Reporter. (At press time, a recount requested by Trump was pending, but was not expected to significantly change the results following a previous review that combined aspects of an audit and a recount. That previous review did not alter any local results.) Biden handily won each of the communities as well, with the following approximate percentages: Brookhaven

Buckhead

Dunwoody

Sandy Springs

Biden 64.5% Trump 34%

Biden 60.7% Trump 38.1%

Biden 59% Trump 39.6%

Biden 60.8% Trump 37.5%

As the Reporter’s map shows, Trump lost every precinct in Brookhaven and polled no higher than the 50% range in Dunwoody. (Numbers for Brookhaven are approximate because precinct lines capture some voters outside of the southern city limits.) Sandy Springs had only two precincts that leaned Trump: one in the eastern panhandle above Dunwoody and another in southern High Point around Windsor Parkway. Buckhead won the distinction of both the bluest and the reddest voting precincts among local communities. Biden took 93.1% of the vote in 06Q, a precinct in the Armour and southern Lindbergh neighborhoods. Trump’s best performance -- 58.2% -- came in the Kingswood and Randall Mill neighborhoods in western Buckhead. Trump also prevailed in some precincts in North Buckhead and in neighborhoods along West Paces Ferry Road. Among those was Tuxedo Park, whose residents include Gov. Brian Kemp and U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Republican who faces Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock in one of Georgia’s two nationally spotlighted runoff elections for U.S. Senate seats coming Jan. 5. In a handful of local precincts, neither Biden nor Trump won a majority of the votes, including some areas in northern Dunwoody, southern and western Sandy Springs, and BK

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After Trump, the blue deluge hits suburban Republicans

Around Town

The way Fran Millar sees it, the big change shouldn’t surprise anyone. You could watch it coming. It showed right there in the numbers as election followed election. The much-talked-about “blue waves” that swept away Republican red ground in north DeKalb, Sandy Springs and Buckhead has been building for the past couple of elections. “The wakeup call was in 2016,” Millar said recently as he surveyed the local political landscape after the 2020 election. Support for Republicans eroded that year, he said, and continued to disappear in 2018. This year, once the big wave washed through, only Democrats were left standing. The surprise isn’t necessarily that more Democrats won local elections, but where they won them. Although Republicans still control the state Legislature, candidates with a “D” after their names

ta suburbs that once elected big-name Republicans such as former U.S. Congressman Newt Gingrich, former state Sen. Tom Price and former state Rep. Wendell Willard. And, of course, Millar himself. “The Democrats have taken the hill,” said former state Rep. Ed Lindsey, a Republican who represented a chunk of Buckhead for about a decade. “Whether Republicans can have a resurgence is yet to be seen.” Millar served in the state Legislature for 20 years. He was a state rep. for a dozen years and a state senator for eight more. He said he won 10 of 11 elections he ran. In his Senate elections, he regularly claimed more than 60% of the vote. Then, in 2016, “the Democrat who ran against me did nothing but a Facebook campaign” and still collected 44% of the vote. “I knew that wasn’t good.” Two years ago, he lost to Sen. Sally

have claimed districts once considered safe harbors for Republicans. Democrats now represent parts of the north Atlan-

Harrell. “I went from 62% [of the vote in 2016] to 45% in ’18,” he said. “That pretty well says it.”

What changed? Demographics, he said. Dunwoody’s just not the same place it was when he moved there 40 years ago. Back then, it was part of the “Republican Suburbs,” mostly White communities filled with cul-de-sacs surrounded by single-family houses lined up like guards. No more. Nowadays, he said, Atlanta is like Chicago or New York or other big cities scattered around the country where the suburbs politically have become an extension of the city and “most of the area is blue.” “What I didn’t see was the population shifting so quickly, the demographics shifting so quickly,” he said. Millar’s quick to say that by “demographics,” he doesn’t mean exclusively race. That’s part of it, but not all. Other factors he cited include the changing politics of some suburban women, including blowback against President Don-

and the groundswell of new voters organized by former gubernatorial candidate and Georgia voting rights champion Stacey Abrams. But Lindsey, a lawyer who’s 61 and who spent nearly a decade in the state House and was the Republican whip, believes local Republicans’ problem in his old Buckhead district was simply Trump. “In large part it is, quite frankly, President Trump,” he said. “It’s a matter of turning off from the president, to be candid,” he said. “He simply wasn’t well-regarded in this area. I don’t see a shift in people’s attitudes about policy so much as a shift in attitudes about leadership style.” At age 70, Millar, who runs a small marketing firm, misses doing the kind of work he did in the Legislature and working with other lawmakers. “I do miss doing legislation on things that matter,” he

ald Trump; the rise of the tech industry and the younger people who work in tech; the spread of multifamily homes;

said. “You just don’t turn it off after 20 years.” But he has no plans to try to try for elected office again. After all, it might not be as much fun as it used to be. DeKalb is very divided, he said, and local politics sometimes devolve into the kinds of divisions that now regularly split the country. “I’m old-school,” Millar said. “I can sit down and do a deal with Michael Thurmond [DeKalb’s Democratic CEO].” After the 2020 elections, Republicans appear likely to do a little soul-searching both nationally and locally. Lindsey argues the challenge facing both parties in Buckhead will be to nominate candidates who can appeal to conservative voters. “The question is now that we’ll be living in a post-Trump era, will those folks migrate back to Republican candidates who are right of center, or are they in the Democratic camp?” he said. “That’s going to be the challenge for the Democrats and that’s the challenge for Republicans.” Millar argues that for Republicans, a change needs to come. “I think you have to appeal to people with things that matter -- find issues that matter to people. I’m pro-life, but I don’t think abortion and guns are the way… Traditionally, people vote their paychecks. They didn’t this time because of the pandemic and the personal issues of the president. … You’ve got to adapt. You can’t do the same-old, same-old.”

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14 | Commentary

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A resolution kept, and a seasonal farewell While negotiating this surreal season

of

masked

tors, my publisher, to all the staff and

San-

board of the Reporter, I offer

tas and mugs of eggnog

my utmost respect and grat-

clinked 6 feet apart and

itude.

stockings stuffed with

Truly, writing this col-

hand sanitizer, I’m look-

umn has been a privilege, as

ing ahead to 2021 and

has been working with all of

the resolutions that may

you. For my part, even though

come with it.

I didn’t make it a full decade,

Most of us proba-

this seems like the right time

bly figure that the trials

for me to close the laptop.

of 2020 granted us a 10year pass to forget resolutions and indulge in whatever vices we might possess, just to even the score. But as it is typical

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at the end of a year or the

Robin’s Nest

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see robinconte.com.

And since I’ve got about 150 words to go, I’m going to leave with a few musings that might have once been fleshed-out into fully formed columns, but for now will be bones on the page:

beginning of a new one

to revolt against our bad

People say that your

true personality shows when

habits, we might still find ourselves en-

you’re drunk.

tertaining the idea of resolutions. And

shows when you’re driving in traffic.

what are resolutions, after all, but our own personal battles? We have constant little skirmishes with ourselves: “Don’t eat the cake!” “But I want the cake!” “Go run three miles.” “But it’s cold outside.” “Time to write the column!” “Be quiet. I’m texting.” Simply put, resolutions are commit-

I disagree.

I think it

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the opportunity to meet. But as this

■ Someone called me “precious”

year ends, so will this column. I’ve de-

once, which I believe she meant as a

cided to embark on other goals.

compliment. I didn’t take it that way,

Maybe I’ll finally learn to stand up

though. “Precious” is an adjective re-

straight. Maybe I’ll be a nicer person.

served for cats and old people. And I’m

Maybe I’ll learn to belly dance (and pick

not a cat.

up with the lessons I started 20 years ago).

And here I will deftly transition from “old” to “auld” to “auld lang syne,”

It occurred to me that it has been

and use that phrase to offer my farewell

seven years since I was taken on by the

and best wishes to all of you who have

Reporter. So perhaps there’s a seven-

read and enjoyed (or not!), for the sake

year itch response built in here. But it’s

of seven years gone by.

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18 | Community

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Spirit of unity, suburban impacts are lingering questions after presidential election BY JOHN RUCH Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential election victory over Republican incumbent Donald Trump is being greeted with different emotions among some local political observers — but also with common hopes of Georgia and America moving forward in a spirit of unity. It remains to be seen whether such a spirit can emerge from a contentious election that Trump refused to concede amid lengthy audits. And activists in both par-

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into local politics in the Atlanta suburbs that appeared to drive Biden’s victory. “You can’t be expecting me to think with words in a moment of such intense emotion,” said Valerie Habif of Sandy Springs, a co-founder of a grassroots political group called the Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon, on Nov. 7, the day media organizations projected Biden as the winner. “…In the midst of the nightmare that we were living, could we ever have dreamed that Georgia would do this? And now what’s ahead of us is greater than what was behind us,” she said, referring to the Senate battle. J. Max Davis, a Republican who was Brookhaven’s founding mayor and whose father long served in the Georgia House of Representatives, voted for Trump. But he purchase of $25 or more

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Division and unity For activists like Habif, Biden’s victory is a triumph over the Trump’s insulting manners and approving comments of White supremacists and neo-Nazis in a time that saw an increase in reports of anti-Semitic incidents and violence. She said she wishes election numbers had a bigger margin and “had been a more resounding re-

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“I voted for Trump. It doesn’t mean that I agree with everything he said or did,” said Davis. “I know he’s crass. I know he’s bombastic like the salesman that he is.” But, Davis said, Trump had many good policies and successes on the economy, China trade and remaking of international free trade agreements. On the other hand, “I think Biden has a little of that in him as well,” Davis added. “I don’t dislike Joe Biden at all. … He’s a good person. I think he wants what’s best for the country,” though his advisors and Democratic Party officials might be a different story. Davis’s perception comes from a visit he made to the Obama White House for a U.S. Conference of Mayors event while he was leader of Brookhaven. Davis said he

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DECEMBER 2020

Community | 19

www.ReporterNewspapers.net

“I came away thinking, ‘This guy — I could almost vote for this guy,’” Davis said

other side of the aisle, whether you agree with it or not. … There’s always somebody

with a laugh. Among the topics was Biden’s own brief past as a Republican. “He was

who has an intelligent counterpoint… and when you don’t have that check in there,

so engaging. He’s a natural politician.”

I just think that leads to corruption and it leads to bubble thinking, and we do not need that in DeKalb County.”

Local political fallout

For Habif and her 1,500-member Democratic group, the election showed the pow-

Trump’s divisive manner, on the other hand, likely cost him votes in Atlanta’s

er to sway local voters in longtime Republic strongholds. Democrats did not flip

increasing blue northern suburbs, and that can be bad for political diversity, Da-

many seats this time — but they already did two years ago in local Congressional

vis said.

and General Assembly races and retained them this time. But in Buckhead and San-

“There are a lot of people in Brookhaven who aren’t necessarily blue, but Trump,

dy Springs’ House District 52, Republican incumbent Deborah Silcox lost by under

his personality may have turned them off… They just couldn’t conscience voting for

400 votes to Democratic challenger Shea Roberts. Habif said that race shows San-

Trump,” he said. “It was a personality referendum, in my mind, not necessarily an

dy Springs politics continue to change and that it could affect the city’s municipal

ideological referendum.”

elections in 2021.

He believes one of the casualties was Nancy Jester, a Dunwoody Republican who

“This organization was always about local change,” Habif said of her Democratic

lost her District 1 seat on the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners to Democrat

women’s group. “But at no point did we ever believe that what we did locally would

Robert Patrick. The board will be all Democrats. “That fact that Nancy Jester lost,

have a national impact. And when we look at not what happened in the country but

to me, is a tragedy. … That hurts me just about more than anything else,” said Davis,

what happened in Georgia … think about the power of one. When the vote gets that

calling her a “watchdog.”

close, it’s the power of one. And when many ones come together, that’s about the

“I wouldn’t think the Georgia Legislature would be good if it was… all one party.

power of us.

I wouldn’t want that if I could,” said Davis. “You always learn something from the

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Carol Niemi is a marketing consultant who lives on the Dunwoody-Sandy Springs line and writes about people whose lives inspire others. Contact her at worthknowingnow@gmail.com.

CAC leader leaves a legacy of helping others Carol is a marketing consultant who on thethe DunwoodyAfter 23 years as CEO ofNiemi the Community Inlives 2012, Community Action Center Sandy Springs line and writes about people whose lives inspire Assistance Center, Tamara Carrera has anbecame the Community Assistance Cenothers. Contact her at worthknowingnow@gmail.com. nounced her intention to retire. Her legacy ter (still CAC) to facilitate fundraising and will be hard to equal. more accurately reflect its CAC was founded in Sanmission. dy Springs in 1987 by 10 lo“‘Action Center’ was a cal congregations to adterm from the 1960s for social dress growing poverty in the work organizations funded community. For the next six by public money, not 501(c)3’s years, it operated out of the like us,” she said. “When I scout hut at one of the memwent to foundations for monber churches. Then in 1993 ey, they said, ‘We don’t fund along came Carrera, a bilinfederal organizations.’” gual native of Ecuador new CAC has changed in the era to Atlanta, with an MBA of COVID-19. Its main buildin nonprofit management ing is temporarily closed, and a desire to get involved. its thrift store and food panSPECIAL Her family joined Holy Intries are open only on certain Tamara Carrera. nocents’ Episcopal Church, days, and interviews are conwhere on Mission Sunday ducted by phone and email. she encountered CAC and signed up. The people served have changed, too. In “It was basically all volunteers then,” the beginning, they were mainly families she said. “Neighbors helping neighbors.” in extreme poverty with no savings. Now She soon went from volunteering once many are families that had savings but a week to joining the board of directors. By have used them up. 1997, she was CAC’s fourth CEO. “People we would have never seen be“I started part-time, for basically no fore,” she said. money,” she said of the organization that This year, for Thanksgiving and Christprovided food and clothing to 280 families mas, instead of baskets of food, which rea year with an annual budget of $24,000. quire over 100 volunteers to pack, CAC is She soon realized it wasn’t really a partgiving gift cards from grocery stores and time job but believed in the mission and stores that sell toys. told the board she would work as many Since becoming CEO, Carrera has seen a hours as necessary for the part-time salary. multitude of changes. After the 1996 Olympics, many of the “Early on, we were just trying to orgathousands of people who had come here to nize and define ourselves,” she said. “We work were left jobless but stayed. The comknew the need was there and we were a munity was growing rapidly. So was the Band-Aid, but we had no idea if we were need. Carrera became a fundraiser. having an impact because we didn’t have “That’s when we started strategic planthe resources to do follow-up.” ning,” she said. In 2005, after moving to Hightower Today CAC is the local community Trail, they began creating individual plans emergency assistance agency, every year for each family and following up. serving more than 6,500 individuals in “Now we follow families at 30, 90 and 3,000 households. It has an annual budget 180 days to see if we’re making a differof over $5 million, 18 staff members, three ence,” she said. “We know we’re essential. locations and more than 500 regular volIf we disappeared, it would be devastating unteers supported by 28 religious congreto a lot of people.” gations and numerous individual, corpoCAC is all of this and more. It’s a place rate and foundation donors. where people in need, who are often emCAC prevents homelessness and probarrassed to receive assistance, are treated motes self-sufficiency by providing needwith dignity and respect. ed food, clothing and emergency financial Anyone who has ever been involved assistance. To qualify for assistance, people with CAC, as I was when I served on the must live in one of six ZIP codes in Sandy board, knows that the astonishing success Springs, Dunwoody and part of Doraville. of the organization is the result of dediSince its founding, it has helped more than cated teamwork but ultimately due to the 20,000 households cope with financial commitment and leadership of one person hardship. -- Tamara Carrera. CAC operates out of three buildings: its Dedicated as always, she has promised headquarters at 1130 Hightower Trail, its to stay until the board finds her replacefood pantry and thrift store at 8607 Roment. swell Road and a part-time food pantry at “CAC has been my life for a long time,” 5 Dunwoody Park South in Dunwoody. A she said. “It’s what I was meant to do.” second Sandy Springs location inside 285 For more about CAC, see ourcac.org. is currently closed for renovation.


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City withdraws tax break for Dresden Village

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Brookhaven Fields in a combined neighborhood opposition, said that he was encouraged by the withdrawal from the developer. He stressed that it was never the entire plan that had upset neighbors. It was the alteration of local streets and the large tax break. Kamenetzky was also concerned that taxpayers would have to pay for legal fees for the city and county. “We’ll see what they come back with,” he said. The project would have been a mix of more than 180 luxury apartments and seven condo townhomes, with 30,000 square feet of retail shops and restaurants. Connolly would not specify what types of changes the company wants to make to the plan, but indicated that the pandemic’s impacts on construction, retail stores and the apartment market are factors. “2020 has been a very interesting year with a lot of changes, a lot of them accelerated by COVID,” he said. There is no specific timeline for changing and refiling the project, he said. The original proposal, which won approval in August from the Brookhaven Development Authority for a property tax break worth up to $13.5 million under the code name “Project X,” had strained the city’s relationship with DeKalb County, and drew criticism from at least one county commissioner who said the 22-year abatement was going to be an unnecessary drain on county and school system finances. Local neighborhood associations recently joined the opposition as well. The development was valued at about $61 million, according to the development’s project documents. The Brookhaven City Council, which operates separately from the development authority, approved a rezoning plan for the project in 2017 but did not have to vote on the tax break. The site, currently occupied by a DeKalb County Tax Commissioner Office and a barbecue restaurant, spurred a 2018 lawsuit from a neighboring resident regarding possible zoning violations, which was settled with the developer. At the time, critics said more development in the area would create more traffic. Development along the Dresden Road corridor — which is just east of Peachtree Road and the Brookhaven MARTA station — has boomed in recent years, mostly through similar multistory, mixed-used complexes. The tax break had to be approved by the court before it went into effect and a date had been set for Dec. 1. The county and the DeKalb County School District had won approval to intervene in the hearing to “make their case against the development, which also drew criticism from some residents as unnecessary and lacking transparency. The developer said the tax break was needed because the development would include streetscape and traffic changes. The county and the school district claimed the development authority’s valuation of the development is invalid because it was done without consulting the county Board of Assessors. Because of that, they claimed, the court also couldn’t approve the bonds because confirming such a valuation is an overstep of its power. The county and school district also claimed the development authority violated the state Open Meetings Act because it passed the tax break “under a veil of secrecy,” according to the county’s brief. The county called the Aug. 12 development authority meeting agenda “grossly deficient” because it only referred to the development as “Project X.” Attorney Chris Balch, who represents the city and the development authority, argued that the county and school district couldn’t intervene because they were not residents of the city.

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