Dear Decaturish – LaVista Hills has enormous, untapped potential

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt October 28, 2015
File Photo provided by Dena Mellick

File Photo provided by Dena Mellick

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Dear Decaturish,

My support for the city of LaVista Hills is personal. I grew up in a fairly small suburban town (population 17,000) in New Jersey, a state which was almost as infamous for its corruption as DeKalb County has become. In fact, we saw mayor after mayor of our state’s largest city (15 miles away from where I grew up) go to prison, and had a U.S. Senator who was forced to resign with bribery accusations, as part of the Abscam scandal.

Despite the corruption not far from us, our town never seemed to have any whisper of corruption.  I think that much of the reason lay in the fact that we knew our mayor and councilmen, and they felt that they were an integral part of the town. I knew the mayor’s son, who was one year behind me in school, and our local councilman was someone who lived on the next street, and was my twin brother’s Little League baseball coach. I waved to him when he passed by on our street, and he waved back.  While no one can ever guarantee ethics, people are much less likely to be corrupt when identified with the community and accountable to people who know them well.

I have now lived in DeKalb County for over 40 years.  When I first moved here to become an Emory graduate student in 1971, I was very glad to hear that the schools in our area (Briarcliff and Druid Hills High Schools) were the envy of the state and well-known for their excellence.  I heard that we had the best-educated county in the state.

I must confess, however, that I was befuddled about where I lived:  was it northeast Atlanta (Emory’s address), or Decatur (home address), or, later, something else (Emory-Northlake?  Leafmore-Toco Hill?)? I never quite developed the same kind of civic identity I had experienced earlier.  By the same token, however, I never imagined that the county eventually would have a school system put on probation and a Democratic CEO and Republican councilwoman behind bars, not to mention the sheriff’s being convicted for having the sheriff-elect murdered, and myriad questions about other officials.

My council committee representative in DeKalb never lived very close to me. I did attend some council meetings, but I never really felt much a part of government. Unlike when I lived in New Jersey, I rarely heard much from others about governmental decisions. In recent years before I retired, I was disappointed to hear considerable discussion with new doctors or professors at Emory, who were looking for a place to live, and were advised not to move to unincorporated DeKalb County, because of its terrible reputation for corruption and a perception that it was declining and threatened. Move to Decatur or to Dunwoody or Brookhaven, they were told.

I have observed recently the advancement of Brookhaven since it became a city a few years ago. I happen to know a considerable number of people who live there and also drive through it on frequent occasions.  I was not surprised to hear that its zip code had one of the greatest increases in real estate values since cityhood.

Though I know such people must exist, I have been unable to find one person who lives there who regrets it becoming a city, even though cityhood passed narrowly. I notice police presence there much more than before it became a city, and now find that many apartment complexes in town have “…at Brookhaven” after their name to celebrate their affiliation with the new city.  I have noticed some improvements in local parks, which I frequent.  My wife and I attended Brookhaven’s Cherry Blossom Festival this year, and were very impressed with the city’s spirit and offerings.

We have enormous untapped potential in LaVista Hills, with many talented and professional people ready to help our city, if it passes. I met one of them yesterday at a living room meeting, a gentleman with a PhD degree in engineering, who served several terms as councilman for the city of Dallas in Texas, and wants to volunteer to help with civic organization. And, yes, I see energy and talent among supporters of DeKalb Strong, who might channel it into a positive outcome for our new city, if it passes.

I am distressed with the polarization of politics, which I have seen both at the local and national levels.  I see facebook pages full of insults toward neighbors who disagree, such as suggestions on DeKalb Strong’s page that LaVista Hills organizers are universally underhanded or unethical. Even our own LaVista Hills supporters occasionally need reminders that all of us are neighbors and wish the best for our community.

And, yes, I do not wish to leave the southern part of our county in bad shape; however, I believe strongly that our south-county neighbors will benefit more from a vibrant county than from a continuation of the present trend. After all, the lion’s share of our city’s tax revenue would go to the whole county, so any successful city will contribute to the county as a whole.

I have heartened to see so much interest in cityhood, evidenced by the large number of yard signs (pro and con) in most areas of the city’s footprint. I am excited that we could have a new beginning, and hope that Nov. 3 will usher in a new era.  I am excited to vote “LaVista Hills, Yes.”

– Stan Chapman, PhD

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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