Friday, August 31, 2012

DeKalb Board of Education under scrutiny from SACS

Today's AJC reports that...
An accrediting agency wants the DeKalb County school board to answer allegations that it has mismanaged its oversight of the system and ignored key financial responsibilities. 
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools said it’s received dozens of complaints from a broad spectrum of people in DeKalb. Parents, public officials and school staffers have alleged everything from financial mismanagement to undue influence in hiring — all while the school system faces a financial crisis... Read on @ AJC

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Possibly rabid raccoon at Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve

ALERT from the Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve:

For folks living near the Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve (Pine Bluff, Harrington, Schoel, Wood Trail), please be aware that a raccoon was sighted within the preserve this morning exhibiting possible signs of rabies infection. DeKalb Animal Control has been called to remove the animal, but if sighted again, please keep a healthy distance!

The county's website for rabies control is

UPDATE:  DeKalb County Animal Control has made a site visit and was unable to find the oddly-behaving raccoon. They advise anyone seeing it in the next few days to call 911 and request an officer to respond (and please stick around, at a safe distance, so that you can point out the animal to the responding officer).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Suburban Plaza Redevelopment: August update

from Theresa Same, MANA Zoning Chair

Our cross-neighborhoods committee continues to meet with Selig to discuss the evolving design and future plans for Suburban Plaza. Selig Enterprises has been receptive to feedback from both the committee and the community. We will continue to provide regular updates throughout the design and construction of this project and look forward to your feedback and ideas.

It has come to my attention that in previous updates, I did not properly introduce our cross-neighborhoods committee.  The committee was formed from residents who were actively involved in the stakeholder meetings/contract negotiations with Selig and Walmart in November and December (2011).  While MANA was the only neighborhood organization both able [i.e., incorporation status in place] and willing to sign a contract with Selig and Walmart, many other neighborhoods were identified as stakeholders and represented in our negotiations.  I am joined on the committee by Nancy Ciliax (Clairmont Heights), David Duncan (Medlock Place), Todd Link (resident of Springdale Heights), and Deanne Thomas (Decatur Heights).  I am eternally grateful to find myself working with such a thoughtful and dedicated group of people. We remain committed to working with Selig to shape the best development we can for our community. Selig is represented by Scott Selig, Bill Stogner, Kevin Curry and Greg Catoe.

Design – Selig continues to work with architect Roberto Paredes at Associated Space Design (ASD) to refine the design of the fa├žade and add improvements that will create a “sense of place” within Suburban Plaza. Two design elements have been added to advance this goal are:
1) commissioning a local artist to create custom-painted graphic walls.  Instead of having a long expanse of wall, we have an opportunity for public art at the shopping center.  
2) adding two community kiosks.  These will be permanent structures which will allow for the temporary sale of items such as girl scout cookies, works by local artists, food, etc.

Selig and ASD have been refining design details such as choice of building materials and a color palette.  At our meeting last week, Selig shared samples of the variety of materials under consideration (some are noted in the rendering that appears below).  We were all happy to see that Selig plans to use color and a variety of materials on the renovation that harmonize with Suburban Plaza's surroundings.  We were gratified to learn that Selig plans to use sustainable materials such as resysta.  Resysta has the look and feel of wood, but is made of rice husks, salt and mineral oil.  It is resistant to weather and requires minimal maintenance.

Click to enlarge.

Detail (from image above).
Click to enlarge.

Many people have asked for specific information on which buildings will demolished at Suburban Plaza. The site plan below shows the new Walmart overlaid on the existing buildings at Suburban Plaza.  The blue dotted line represents existing buildings to be demolished to accommodate Walmart, whose footprint is highlighted in yellow.

Demolition plan shown relative to Walmart footprint.
Click to enlarge.

Selig is also working closely with Bilson and Associates on plans that will greatly increase the landscape and greenery that currently exists at Suburban Plaza.

Walmart has not released their plans for their building, but has stated a desire to create a cohesive look with the rest of the mall.

I want to remind everyone again that the design process is always mutable and that changes should be expected as the plans are further refined.

Permitting and Scheduling – Both Walmart and Selig are in the permitting process for the redevelopment of Suburban Plaza.  They are having ongoing meetings with various departments in DeKalb County.

Demolition and construction are still estimated to begin in the first half of 2013.  Selig anticipates that all construction will be complete by fall of 2014.

Leasing – Selig is in serious negotiations with several tenants.  We will release the names of the new or remaining tenants as soon as I have them.

Traffic and Transportation – At the request of the community, Selig has hired a traffic engineering firm to study the intersection of Scott Boulevard, North Decatur Road and Medlock Road.  The engineering company is tasked with identifying operation adjustments that might enhance safety and efficiency; specifically, they will address the interaction between vehicles and pedestrians at the intersection and how crossings can be improved without impacting traffic flow (a Georgia Department of Transportation concern). The firm’s traffic engineers will work closely with both Georgia Department of Transportation (since Scott Boulevard is a state road) and Dekalb County engineers to formulate recommendations.

I hope these updates help better visualize the changes coming to Suburban Plaza. If you have questions or feedback, please forward them to

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Q&A with Marshall Olson

The Champion has an interview with Marshall Olson, our newly elected representative to the DeKalb County School System's Board of Education [term begins Jan. 1, 2012]:
... there has been a lack of clarity on an agreement of the mission of the school board, which you think would be pretty simple: it’s about making sure every child has a chance to get a high-quality education...
...We have this great disparity between a handful of schools that are performing very well and a large number of schools that are falling very short of delivering a quality education. We need to figure out what the components of  high functioning schools are and what we need to do develop that.   Continue reading @ The Champion 
The Champion promises additional interviews with other newly-elected board members, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Used book sale at North DeKalb Mall [Sept. 8]

Saturday, September 8, 2012
10:00am – 6:00pm 
North DeKalb Mall Macy’s Wing 
North DeKalb Mall will host a Used Book Sale on September 8th to give the shopping center’s neighbors an opportunity to sell books from their collection. The sale provides an opportunity to buy and sell at reasonable prices. Books and other forms of media, such as CDs, DVDs, and VHS tapes will also be available. Categories ranging from children’s books, textbooks, religion, art, drama and more, provide a wide array of choices for those who love to read and widen their horizons. The sale affords vendors and customers alike to share their love of reading. Vendor tables may be rented for the reasonable price of only $20.00. Come out and enjoy the fun by sharing with other avid readers, or start a new hobby – reading! 
For more information, call 404-235-6444.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Neighbohood watch recommendations

We had a wonderful Neighborhood Watch meeting on August 16. Ms. Hightower (Public Education Specialist for the Center Precinct) and Officer Anderson did DeKalb County Police proud with their informative and engaging presentations.

Ms. Hightower ran through a series of questions that had been submitted earlier this year. Officer Anderson expanded on some of these as well. Here's a summary of answers as well as information offered to clear common misconceptions [with extra information or clarification in brackets]:
  • could not make a comparison to state whether crime is up or down because the county's data system is being upgraded but as soon as the information can be accessed, will share with the Neighborhood Watch coordinator for release to the community
  • commended our neighborhood for having an organized Neighborhood Watch, calling in suspicious behavior and sharing information with one another
  • DeKalb County police is divided into precincts, and we are in the Center Precinct.
  • patrol requests: these are relayed to police units in response to calls reporting suspicious behavior
  • there are crimes that are typical for shopping centers and they rarely bleed over onto the neighboring community, however, avoid creating "window-shopping" scenarios for criminals who may be nearby. Do not leave "stealable" items in plain sight. This could be purses/computer bags or GPS units in cars, or wide-screen TVs visible through windows. If you can't park the car so it is out of sight, remove all items and lock the car. Some owners leave cars unlocked thinking this may prevent damages, but some thieves cause damage if they don't find anything to steal, so it's best to lock the car.
  • when to call 911: "if your gut says something is wrong" and if the matter is not a civil issue [FYI: here is a list of criminal offenses]. Per DeKalb County, all of the following are 911 calls: crimes in progress, public safety, life-threatening siutations, fire and medical emergencies, all violent crimes, domestic violence, vehicle crashes.
  • General calls to the County should go to the Citizen Help Center at 311. Examples: animal control problems, garbage pickup, abandoned vehicle, pothole repairs
Image from 
  • calling 911 with a suspicion of criminal activity gives the responding officer probable cause that can justify questioning, detention or arrest. [To expand on what was said at the meeting: officers already have the option to stop and talk to any individual, but would require probable cause to search the individual or his/her vehicle, make an arrest, etc.]
  • DeKalb County's policy is that patrol cars only have "lights and sirens on" in situations when someone's life is in danger. The correct response for drivers is to move to the right and allow the patrol or emergency vehicle to proceed.
  • 911 calls go the precinct, and the precinct is divided into beats. The call center prioritizes the call and broadcasts the information so patrols can respond. "Life in danger" situations such as accidents, robberies and assaults have first priority. A call about a suspicious drive-through would have lower priority if higher priority events are in progress. Because the police force is stretched thin, response times will vary depending on the availability of officers.
  • Gather as much information as possible to share during your 911 call. [Take photos if safe, write down license plate numbers; note as many identifying characteristics about suspicious individuals and vehicles as possible]
  • Ms. Hightower estimated that response time for a high priority call is 7-8 minutes assuming there are available patrols. However, the typical kick-in-door-grab-things-and-go robbery takes 5-10 minutes. 
  • Officers do not have citation quotas to fill. Because the police force is stretched thin due to budget cuts, they spend most of their time handling urgent calls. If there's a lull (meaning, no 911 calls), then they can switch to monitoring traffic violations. A lot of arrests (of suspects involved in other crimes) are made as part of routine traffic patrols.
  • A responding officer should have a name badge as well as a shield that shows the officer's unique identifying badge number. 
  • Combined, an officer's vest and belt weigh in at around 35 pounds
  • in addition to what they can see from outside (e.g., large-screen TVs), thieves look for clues about what may be inside the house to steal: think of what information you are giving them. Some examples discussed where shoes (size and style says something about the residents; children's toys may suggest video games; dog toys say something about the presence and size of the family pet)
  • Door-to-door sales require a permit from the County; the permit includes the person's name, photo, and a signature of the Chief of Police and DeKalb County seal. This permit requirement applies to individuals who are selling anything, whether a product or service, in exchange for money. There are very few exceptions. [See Municode website for details]
    • When someone knocks on your door, look first to decide if you will answer. Ask the person to identify themselves. Ask them to show their permit. 
    • Be aware of scams that are going around, share this information with your neighbors, in particular the elderly. Look out for one another!
  • For local crime statistics, see 
  • close your blinds pointing up--go outside at night and see how much you can see through blinds when they are closed "down" vs. "up"
  • when you get home, look at your house from the end of your driveway. What vulnerabilities do you see?
Several handouts were distributed at the meeting. These are now posted in the Neighborhood Watch Page.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Updates on Hannah's health and ways to help

As you may know, our neighbors Hannah and Mark Rinehart need our support:

Click on the image to visit for updates on Hannah's health.

If you would like to help, here are FIVE ways to do so:

1) Contact the Gwinnett County Board of Education ( to encourage the Board to allow fellow teachers to voluntarily donate sick leave so that Mark can remain by Hannah's side. The decision is entirely up to the Board. You can also watch a report on this issue at the WSBTV website.

2) Make a donation: within, you can find a direct link to Operation Appreciation, a nonprofit that helps support National Guard members and their families (Mark is in the Georgia National Guard).  You can also reach the donation button directly through the Operation Appreciation website.

3) Sign up to prepare meals for when Hannah comes home. Per a post in the Hope4Hannah Facebook page, you will need to email to get a security code that will allow you to complete the Care Calendar form. Care Calendar is "is a web based system to organize meals and other help for families during a time of illness or life changing event..."

4) September 29 fundraiser: save the date! UPDATE: read the fundraiser letter (also being coordinated via Operation Appreciation). See the Hope4Hannah Facebook page for instructions on how to donate items.

5) UPDATE: October 6: Support Hannah Rinehart Yard Sale: to take place in the Medlock Park neighborhood, 8 am - 3 pm. Follow this link for additional information.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

T-SPLOST redux

Every which way but loose?

As the results of the July 31 T-SPLOST vote percolate, many wonder about Atlanta's transportation future.

Emory University asks "What's next for the Clifton Corridor?" According to Betty Willis (Sr. Associate VP for Governmental and Community Affairs), the Clifton Corridor light rail project "is further along than other transit projects in the region" and "remains a top priority in the ARC and MARTA regional transportation plans for the future." With Governor Deal in charge of prioritizing regional transit projects, and his stated interest in the Clifton Corridor as an employment and research center, VP Willis conveys hope that Clifton Corridor projects are delayed rather than throttled. VP Willis was also interviewed by the student newspaper.

The "What's next..." article encourages alternative transportation whenever possible, and highlights Zimride, a "private ride-sharing network" that serves specific work hubs. Emory,  GA Tech and Kennesaw State are part of this project; all validate user identity via their respective .edu emails.

In Advice for Passing a Massive Infrastructure ReferendumThe Atlantic Cities notes that Atlanta's transportation shortcomings are shared by other cities, and extends comparisons to how other cities (e.g. Denver) adopted different strategies to advance transportation overhauls that initially faced T-SPLOST-level defeats.

The Atlanta Regional Commission website does not volunteer a post-mortem, but their Plan 2040 (pdf) is available online.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Neighborhood Watch Meeting [Aug 16]

Neighborhood Watch Meeting
Thursday August 16th 7 pm 
at North Decatur Presbyterian Church (611 Medlock Rd.)

Ms Hightower from Dekalb County will be there to answer questions and concerns.

Volunteers needed @ Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve

Individuals interested in helping maintain the Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve, please contact Chris Beck directly:
The Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve has been an asset to the Medlock neighborhood for many years.  At the Preserve, we are taking a new approach to volunteer days.  Rather than having monthly work days, we are asking community organizations, churches, university groups, etc to volunteer and organize a work party one or two months out of the year.  For example, volunteers from the Rollins School of Public Health come every August and volunteer at the Preserve.  The larger Emory community volunteers at the Preserve in November. I am writing to see if MANA would be willing to organize a work party at least one month out of the year.  The day and time would be up to MANA.  MANA would just be responsible for finding 10 or more volunteers for the day. A member of the Nature Preserve board would be on hand to help supervise.Please let me know if this is something that MANA would consider or if you have any questions. Thanks,Chris BeckPresident, Clyde Shepherd Nature PreservePhone:

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood

A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It's a neighborly day in this beautywood, 
A neighborly day for a beauty, 
Would you be mine? 
Could you be mine? ...

International Community School: Opening Day at Medlock Elementary
To continue to sing along, go to Mr. Roger's Neighborhood @ PBS.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Penalty for not sticking the landing

Photos by Russ

Hey, Mister...

... you dropped this on the corner 

of Gaylemont and Wood Trail.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

International Community School readies for first day of school [Aug 13]

As previously reported, the International Community School (ICS) has signed a 10-year lease for Medlock Elementary. ICS is a K-5 charter and IB World School that serves ~400 DeKalb County children; enrollment is determined by a lottery (also see ICS's admission policy). Administrators have been busy in the last several weeks, readying the building and surroundings for the coming school year. A work day with volunteers took place on August 4 and another is scheduled for August 11.

The full school schedule for 2012-2013 is available online; here are some key dates of interest to MANA residents:

August 9 (1-3pm)
Registration Day
August 10 (5-7pm)
Registration Day
August 13
First day of school
December 20
First semester ends
January 8
Second semester begins
May 24
Second semester ends

For information about the International Community School Parent Teacher Staff Organization (IPTSO), please visit their website (currently under construction).

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Supporting Hannah and Mark Rinehart

Please visit
Our neighbors Hannah and Mark are going through a very challenging time. Hannah, a cancer survivor, is currently in critical condition following an infection that led to septic shock and several amputations. Her husband Mark is constantly by her side.

If you would like to learn more and find how to help, please visit

You may send your letters of support via email, or by mail to
Hope 4 Hannah
7019 Surrey Drive
Woodstock GA 30189

Hannah's Facebook wall includes detailed updates by Mark. There is also a Hope4Hannah Facebok support page.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

T-SPLOST defeated

The T-SPLOST vote was defeated across all ten counties that voted on it. In DeKalb, the vote was 52% against and 48% in favor. The vote sought a 1% sales tax over 10 years to focus on transportation projects around the metro Atlanta area. Detractors argued it didn't sufficiently address their given concerns (traffic vs. transit), that certain regions were underserved, and questioned if a 1% tax is the best way to address local transportation problems.

A team of AJC reporters sums up both the election's results and behind-the-scenes tensions leading to the T-SPLOST vote:
"Kasim Reed, who fought years for the referendum as a legislator and as Atlanta mayor, rallied supporters gathered at a hotel in downtown Atlanta. "The voters have decided," Reed said. "But tomorrow I'm going to wake up and work just as hard to change their minds." 
Gov. Nathan Deal's office told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he would now take a central role in transportation planning for the state's metro areas, and he would not support a sequel to Tuesday's referendum. . . ."
"Re-playing 40 years of Atlanta history, controversy built instantly around the proposed expansion of mass transit. Some loved it, some hated it. ... Deeper insecurities were at play as well. A poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year found that 42 percent of respondents believed new mass transit brings crime." Continue reading @ AJC.
Jim Galloway at the AJC reports on what the Governor's above comment means:
"... traffic planners in regions across the state will be quickly asked to resubmit lists of road and rail proposals that require state and federal funding – figuring in an 8 percent decrease in federal funding. The governor has veto power over each list."
"The governor will not move forward without the consent GDOT,” Riley said – very carefully. Deal will court approval from the DOT board, but he intends to keep the initiative. The governor recently appointed a trusted aide, Toby Carr, as the DOT’s planning director, giving him another layer of control over what transportation projects are funded. 
So the Atlanta Regional Commission will soon have to clear its wish lists with the governor. ARC Chairman Tad Leithead said he’ll be happy to do so. “I think the entire state would welcome anything the governor does to keep transportation moving,” he said."

Local election results

In addition to the T-SPLOST vote, other races were closely watched in our neighborhood. Commissioner Kathie Gannon was re-elected and so were Burrell Ellis (CEO) and Claudia Lawson (tax commissioner).  For Board of Education elections results, see below. All images courtesy of the AJC.
Image courtesy of the AJC.
And on a topic near and dear to our neighborhood: a non-binding referendum on whether the county should allow cell phone towers to be built on school property drew a clear answer:

Image courtesy of the AJC.