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(VIDEO) – Avondale annexation vote postponed

Annexation and new cities Avondale Estates Decatur

(VIDEO) – Avondale annexation vote postponed

Avondale Estates City Commissioners faced another full house during their Oct. 15 work session. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
Avondale Estates City Commissioners faced another full house during their Oct. 15 work session. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Avondale Estates City Commissioners faced another full house during their Oct. 15 work session. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Avondale Estates City Commissioners faced another large, frustrated crowd during their Oct. 15 work session and decided to postpone voting on a resolution asking state Rep. Karla Drenner to file an annexation bill for the city.

Commissioners also discussed a petition that would bring 154 town homes into the city limits.

The vote on Stratford Green, which had already been scheduled for a special called meeting on Oct. 27. The resolution on the annexation bill was postponed until that meeting. Commissioners at times looked overwhelmed as residents pelted them with questions about the costs of providing services to their potential new neighbors.

Mayor Pro Tem Terry Giager has been busy meeting with local neighborhoods interested in the city’s annexation plans, like Forrest Hills, Katie Kerr and Decatur Terrace. Until Oct. 2, the city’s main spokesman on that issue was the former mayor, Ed Rieker, who abruptly resigned following a heated Oct. 1 work session about annexation.

At the beginning of the meeting, Giager and other commissioners heaped praise on Rieker and said he did great things for the city. But Giager said later in the evening that the annexation issue was a reminder of Rieker’s shortcomings.

“I don’t want to seem disloyal,” Giager said. “Mayor Rieker was a guy that was so aggressive in going out there all the time, probably one of the weaknesses he had was he worked too much and didn’t delegate. He has been the frontal force or assault on this whole annexation thing.”

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During the Oct. 1 work session, Rieker took responsibility for asking state Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, to file an annexation bill last March. That bill included a map of several neighborhoods and commercial properties.

Some of the neighborhoods are currently considering an annexation into the city via petition. If Drenner’s bill had passed, the issue would’ve been decided by referendum. Commissioners never passed a resolution in favor of the bill before Drenner filed it and there was no official discussion about it. Drenner said she’d be reluctant to file a bill like that again without the community’s support.

The proposed resolution asks Drenner to file another annexation bill in 2015. Decaturish asked Drenner if she would introduce the bill again if commissioners approved a resolution supporting it. The representative provided a carefully-worded answer.

“There are four annexation methods that can be used, with going to the Legislature as only one of the four,” Drenner said. “It is possible to pursue other methods prior to utilizing the state.”

Commercial property owners from the area around Rio Circle also showed up to the work session. They formally presented commissioners with a letter asking the city to remove their properties from the city’s annexation plans. They also presented a letter from DeKalb County Farmers Market owner Robert Blazer asking for the same thing. The Rio Circle property owners are petitioning the city of Decatur. Blazer is happy being in unincorporated DeKalb County, but said if he has to choose, he’d rather join a larger city like the proposed city of Briarcliff.

Decatur Self Storage owner Mike Easterwood showed up at the work session to present the letters, along with Carl Fite, another property owner. Decatur officials have been wary of expressing any interest in the commercial property that was in Avondale’s plan.

Fite said his rights as a property owner trump Avondale’s map.

“The map is a wish list,” he said. “It has no teeth. I legally can ask another city to take us in. We’ve done that. Seventy-five percent of the property owners in that area have petitioned Decatur. That’s my legal right and we’ve done it.

“I can’t tell you what to do with your property and Avondale just draws a circle around mine and says we want you. Well I don’t see how it works that way. The Farmers Market chose not to be in Avondale or Decatur. He wanted to go to Briarcliff. That’s his deal, Seventy-five percent of us said we want to go into Decatur. Avondale is not our choice. It ain’t even on the choice map, ok? Not. Zero. That’s where we are.”

Avondale residents asked why the city hadn’t produced a service delivery report showing what it would cost the city to provide services to Stratford. The draft of the report, which was recently published on the city’s website, estimates the costs to the city would be minimal. City Manager Clai Brown blamed DeKalb County for the delay.

“We thought we would have it because when we requested the data from the county in the past, it only took several days to get,” Brown said. “We just received that data today.”

DeKalb’s dysfunction is at the heart of the annexation issue. Proponents of the proposed cities of Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker say cities bring government closer to the people they serve.

That’s true, particularly in Avondale, which is the smallest city in the county besides Pine Lake. When the people get angry, closer can also be uncomfortable for the elected officials involved. Commissioner John Quinn told the audience that the commission plans to be more transparent about annexation.

“The way this was handled last time was not handled well,” Quinn said. “What we’re trying to do this time is have a fresh start and do it right and to have public comment and to have a place on the website that gives you information but also solicits your input on what we do.”

Correction: An earlier version contained incorrect information regarding the day the city plans to vote on Stratford Green’s annexation petition. The petition was scheduled for a vote at a special called meeting on Oct. 27. The resolution on the annexation bill had been scheduled to take place on Oct. 20, but was postponed to the Oct. 27 meeting.