Chamblee City Council 2015

Chamblee City Council has three of five council seats up for election this year on election day, Tuesday, November 3rd.

The following seats are being decided:

  • District Two (currently held by Leslie Robson), covering Huntley Hills and the central city area of Chamblee.
  • District Three (currently held by Tom Hogan), which encompasses several DECA neighborhoods, including Tanglewood Cir, Wakefield Forest, Frontier Woods, & LaVenture Forest.
  • Member At-Large (currently held by Dan Zanger). At-Large council members serve the entire city without a dedicated geographical district. 

A map of the council districts can be found here: http://www.chambleega.gov/DocumentCenter/View/69

It is important to note that despite the geographical nature of two of these seats, ALL Chamblee voters vote for EVERY council seat, regardless of residence address. So your vote matters for every contest on November 3rd.

In preparation for this important decision, the DECA Board of Directors has provided a few questions to the candidates running for these seats (both incumbents and challengers) regarding issues of concern for residents in the DECA area. Their responses are posted verbatim below.

~

Question #1 - Many have said Chamblee can be difficult for new businesses or developments. What is your solution to this problem?


Leslie Robson.
District 2 Incumbent
- Leslie Robson:


We have all listened to and heard complaints voiced by some new businesses and developers in regards to working with Chamblee. To address these issues the City has worked hard to update and simplify our Uniform Development Ordinances (UDO) to make it easier and more equitable to navigate the permitting process. We have also relaxed some of the more stringent requirements placed upon those who wish to do business in Chamblee. I voted for these upgrades and will continue to look for ways to tweak the UDO where it is warranted.

We need to expand our tax base by instituting a pro-business attitude and by pursuing a smart and focused economic development plan.We need to ensure that new development is of the highest quality possible, we have an obligation to ensure our current plans, investments, and actions do not harm future generations. We need to genuinely embrace a model of sustainability in which environmental stewardship, fiscal responsibility, and social awareness are equally important.


Verle Vanhoozen
District 2 Challenger
- Verle Van Hoozen:
 

Chamblee is being noticed by many developers as a prime market for expansion for new business and housing. As this development continues, it is important to evaluate the difficulties faced by each development on an individual, case-by-case basis. It is also important to determine if the difficulty for businesses to expand or to build are a result of Chamblee regulations or Dekalb County, with which both parties are involved. This involvement by both parties may create delays and difficulties for business expansion. Any specific issue or delay needs to be addressed quickly to avoid negative perceptions while protecting the integrity of all parties. The entire process needs to be re-evaluated. As each development comes forward and problems surfaces, an evaluation should be made to determine if the impediment is an overall impediment or a standard that Chamblee has set to foster for its community



District 3 Incumbent
- Tom Hogan:
 

The root of this issue is twofold. First, I don’t think anyone knew how messed up Chamblee’s development codes were, even after having rewritten its zoning codes as recently as 2007. So much emphasis was on the mere fact that we had “upzoned” the City, that it was not until the UDO was introduced did we find that our codes had so many contradictions, redundancies, and that there was such poor organization to guide applicants through the process. This was compounded by the fact that Chamblee is a destination for entrepreneurs, and home to many independent- minded citizens, who will often undertake the zoning and renovation process without professional consultants. I believe the solution to this is to continue to make pre-application consultation appointments with staff available and free. Something new I think the City should pursue to help make it easier is to produce a video marketing strategy, including “how to“ videos, offering tutorials for many of the more common requests, including but not limited to “what do I need a permit for”, “how to use the UDO”, and “how to apply for a variance”.


District 3 Challenger
- Clara Azcunes:


Clear vision, good communication, and consistency... Although this is a simplification of a complex issue because sometimes the difficulties are a result of a perception and conflicting interests, and not a reality. 

That being said, I will strive to have a clear development vision that has at its core what benefits the neighborhoods and creates a strong economic tax basis for our community, because cities exist for the benefit of the people that have made it their home. To achieve this vision I will seek the input from our neighbors before the vision or master plan is created and not after through guided vision workshops. This vision will include an implementation plan and will be clearly communicated so that businesses and developers that share our community vision can partner with the city to achieve it. Consistency will be achieved through a set of realistic requirements and guidelines created to enhance and benefit Chamblee, with the input from neighbors, businesses, and developers. Rules and guidelines will be also clearly communicated to businesses, developers, and the staff that is in charge of overseeing implementation so that misunderstandings and miscommunications are minimized.



Member At-Large Incumbent
- Dan Zanger:
 

This has been a problem in the past, we have recognized that fact and we we have taken major steps to improve our customer service with all of our provided services, especially the development department. 

Hiring new directors in Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Development, Finance, City Clerk and even the City Manager are steps that I have been a part of to move Chamblee forward in this arena. We have simplified our development regulations with the recent updating of our UDO (Unified Development Ordinance) This has taken much of the confusion of what is expected of developers out of the equation. It's also made for an easier process from permitting to final inspection. 

The nature of this process is difficult. There are so many federal, state and county mandates that the city must administer. 

There are challenges that we must face everyday when reviewing the viability of new development in our city. We certainly don't want to chase good business away - however, we never want to lower our standards for development in Chamblee. 

We have 100 years of "already built" environment to overcome and redevelop, and we want to be sure to get it right.
I would point you to Ben Vo at the new City Farmers Market on Buford Hwy, McCaullay and Schmidt at the Olmsted, Parkside Partners with Mercy Care/5256/AGL, JR Connally with the Parkview project, Jeff Garrison & the Whole Food development - even Ed Voyels, Kia and Jim Ellis as examples of successful developments that have been able to work within and embrace the City's guidelines. 

These are major developments that have successfully experienced the process of Chamblee permitting and inspection and found their projects better for having done so.

As a councilman, my job is to be sure that we are running all of our departments as efficiently as possible. I will continue to evaluate and re- evaluate our process and employees as often as necessary.


Member At-Large Challenger
- Darron Kusman:
 

Over the years Chamblee has developed a well earned reputation for being challenging to work with. While it is easy to place blame, the causes are widespread. As a citizen and small business owner doing business in our city and as a former management consultant, I believe I have a unique understanding of these obstacles and possess the tools, experience, and knowledge necessary to change this dynamic. 

Some of our elected officials may assert that the old ordinances were cumbersome, contradictory, and hard to understand and that we have made great progress by passing new legislation and guidelines. I would disagree. 

I would disagree because while cumbersome, the rules were well documented and for the most part easy to understand. What poses a far greater challenge is overly complex paperwork, the general feeling of complacency, high turnover in many city departments leading to a lack of knowledge, unclear and insufficient documentation, inconsistent feedback, and slow response times. In short – the lack of what I would call a “customer-centric” attitude. 

This is not to say that I believe that we should green light every permit or project brought to us; far from it. What I am suggesting is that the process and documentation should be simplified and we should be prepared to provide structured guidance in writing. If we say “no” or “we can’t accept this,” we should take the time to explain why in addition to providing relevant forms and materials. We should empower our employees to make decisions and we should have processes and turnaround times documented so that clear expectations are set. In order to progress we need to take steps to understand precisely where in the process we falter and develop tools to track our progress. 

We need more transparency from our elected officials and we need to take a strategic, pragmatic approach to problem solving. We need management reporting that works and we need to ask our customers and citizens how we are doing each and every visit. I have long said that we need to implement anonymous customer service surveys to track items like overall satisfaction, friendliness, speed of service, and error rates by department and we need to hold employees and elected officials accountable. 

Unfortunately there is no simple solution but we can start by streamlining documentation, being accessible, responsive, friendly, and willing to help. Once we have established this foundation we can begin to address many of the broader challenges associated with changing our reputation.



~


Question #2 -  The Buford Highway corridor has many challenges including some areas of blight, high crime, vacant and unkempt lots, etc. What is your plan to address this and bring more economic vitality to this area of Chamblee that borders or impacts many of our DECA neighborhoods?


District 2 Incumbent
- Leslie Robson:

One of the most pressing problems facing Chamblee today is that of division. We are divided physically by Peachtree Blvd., the railroad and Marta tracks, PDK, and Buford Highway. We are divided by our different nationalities, cultures, and languages. We are even divided by our pedigree - old Chamblee vs. newly incorporated. I want to see every community in Chamblee thrive. We must continue to unite every side and corner of this city, to make sure every voice is heard and every need is served.

To that end I will continue to promote connectivity through voting to fund safe and inviting sidewalks, trails, and bikeways, through cleaning up blighted areas that make our neighborhoods unattractive and invite crime, through planning for economic development that will enable our people to have job opportunities closer to home. I will vote to hire a firm to develop a master plan for our parks that will include ways to connect them. I will also vote to contract with RKG Associates, Inc. to create a Strategic Economic Development Plan that will offer a unified approach to economic development for the entire city. “The RKG approach.... involves a multi-phase process that emphasizes community participation, and uses economic reality to frame the implementation strategy. Participation from the community is incorporated throughout the process to establish buy-in and ensure action.”

I will also look to form coalitions with Doraville and Brookhaven to promote Bu-Hi as a destination not only for our citizens but for people outside our cities.


District 2 Challenger
- Verle Van Hoozen:

Primarily, I will continue to support and strengthen the Chamblee Police Department that addresses the crime in all of Chamblee. Chamblee code enforcement must continue to monitor the blight and 
unkept lots. Secondly, We must be more open to development and business opportunities on and around Buford Highway. Businesses may purchase these vacant lots for expansion. We must recognize the value of Buford Highway for our growing city and develop an easier process for businesses to expand and develop in the area.



District 3 Incumbent
- Tom Hogan:
 

I believe the City can play a significant role in the redevelopment of the Buford Highway corridor. This is where the City can be a true leader. I believe an increased level of code enforcement, along with the installation of sidewalks, and the general beautification of the entrances to the neighborhoods will show all that Chamblee is committed to investing in Buford Highway. I have promoted the idea to several key individuals that a new committee of the Chamber of Commerce be created, called the Buford Highway Merchants Committee. Increased communication and coordination are critical, if we expect businesses to take their responsibility seriously. Plus, there is nothing like seeing that your neighbors are motivated and/or expending costs to improve their lots, to make you want to do the same.


District 3 Challenger
- Clara Azcunes:

A consistent and focused effort of communication and code enforcement needs to take place on this area but that will be a temporary solution if deeper modifications are not implemented. 

The Buford Highway corridor needs to be perceived less as a highway and more as a road that is integrated into the community. I plan to continue on a path that I initiated during my previous tenure when conversations with GDOT were established in an effort to bring sidewalks, streetscape, and intermediate crossing isles for the area that was known as the “deadliest mile.” When cities take the initiative to improve infrastructure the community and investors tend to follow. I plan to also seek federal and foundation grants to maximize benefits while minimizing our investment. I will also impulse activity nodes at two major intersections that are gates to Chamblee: Buford Highway-Clairmont Road, and Buford Highway-Chamblee Tucker Road. These activity nodes will further pave the economic development along the Buford Highway corridor.



Member At-Large Incumbent
- Dan Zanger:
 

First we need a plan. Then, we need to stick to it! We developed a comprehensive plan years ago for the original city limits and subsequently the buhi corridor. We came together as a community with input and ideas from neighbors, businesses and city planners. 

We created a workable plan that addressed every issue that this corridor is experiencing now. We have even moved forward with implementing those plans with the completion of Chamblee Dunwoody streetscape leading from Buford Hwy to Chamblee High School. 

My continues course of action is to establish a standard- and never lower it-
Certainly, compromise is needed from time to time. However, consistent record of voting to uphold the development standards is what will eventually raise awareness to this corridor. Proper attention from the city will enhance its value, and property values will increase. Continued policing and code enforcement is a must to show the community that we are serious and sub-standard is no longer acceptable..


Member At-Large Challenger
- Darron Kusman:
 

The Buford Highway corridor is an international destination known for its variety of cuisines and amazing cultural experiences. At the same time, crime, a significant transient population, and a lack of strong educational opportunities continue to impede development and progress. I have long believed that having a strong school system is a prerequisite for growth and that we cannot focus on the various issues facing south Chamblee in isolation. The increased code enforcement has been polarizing, but without it the issues of unkempt lot and substandard improvements would continue to plague the area. 

As council member, I’d be sure that we invested the time and resources to equip our police officers with the knowledge, tools, and information required to serve and partner with our neighborhoods. At the same time, we need to look closely at our infrastructure and streetscapes - rapidly installing streetlights, trimming hedges and overgrowth, and increasing our police presence to ward off violence. Lastly, we need to install garbage cans on our pedestrian pathways to reduce litter and general blight. 

We must remain steadfast in our approach but once we have begun to work on these items we will quickly see increased development along the Buford and Shallowford corridors. We cannot and will not settle; South Chamblee represents over half the city by population and is a vital component of who we are and what we can be. To ensure responsible growth without losing our sense of identity or overburdening our already antiquated infrastructure we must: 

  • Recognize and respond quickly to changes and opportunities in the marketplace. A sound strategy must recognize the importance of real estate cycles and requires a commitment to maintaining discipline and providing infrastructure improvements when needed.
  • Strategically invest in our parks, infrastructure, and developments in conjunction with acquiring key real estate corridors to create attractive risk- adjusted returns and a connected, walkable corridor. We must create a highly disciplined approach asset management, acquisition, leverage, value creation, and the patient, yet timely, disposition of city assets to provide opportunities for development.
  • Mitigate risk through efficient design and careful site selection. A careful risk assessment must be performed prior to investing city funds; however, this must simultaneously be balanced with the need to strategically invest in key areas to facilitate growth.
  • Utilize debt appropriately. Leverage should be employed at a level that provides a meaningful enhancement municipal investments but not be so high that a fundamentally sound strategy would be put at risk during periods of hardship. We must partner with our developers and provide guidance and incentives to “kick-start” progress where we want to see it most. 
Most importantly, we need to work together to make move Chamblee forward and create a better place for our children, friends, and neighbors.



~


Question #3 - While area school control is managed by DeKalb County and not in the immediate purview of city leaders, Dresden Elementary and Sequoia Middle School in the Cross Keys Cluster are horribly overcrowded. They are also geographically separated from the other schools in the Chamblee cluster which don't face the same challenges in terms of classroom space. In fact, Dresden Elementary School is one of, if not the most over-crowded elementary school in the entire county. What are your ideas to solve this issue?


District 2 Incumbent
- Leslie Robson:

These issues affecting our area schools are not problems that can be solved by one individual. “It takes a village." 

I support the efforts of people like Kim Gokce, Brian Bates, and Nancy Jester, and organizations like the Cross Keys Foundation to force DeKalb County and the D.C. School Board to address the problems immediately that exist in our area schools. To quote Mr. Bates, “We need to continue to keep pressure on DeKalb County leadership to ensure that all our students receive a quality education in safe facilities.” I will do my part by making phone calls, writing letters, and signing petitions to our public officials to keep that pressure on. I invite everyone who wants to see improvement in our schools to join me. 


District 2 Challenger
- Verle Van Hoozen:

School issues, such as overcrowding, are always serious matters—they impact the quality of life for our residents and desirability for prospective residents. Businesses also evaluate the schools in the localities that they may be wanting to locate their headquarters. These tough issues that are of concern by parents and neighboring residents are resolved by Dekalb School Boards and not by city officials. However, Chamblee City Council, as leaders of the community, need to pressure the DeKalb County School Board to redistrict Dresden Elementary into the Chamblee Cluster. Long term, a new school building needs to be built to replace the antiquated current school. I am also in favor of the creation of a Chamblee City school system. However, this would require a change of the Georgia State Constitution.



District 3 Incumbent
- Tom Hogan:
 

Other than annexation into Chamblee, the issue of overcrowding in the Cross Keys cluster has the greatest potential opportunity to impact the lives of citizens in the DECA area. The idea that attention is being given to the creation of a Doraville High School, will potentially have a great positive impact on the attendance areas and may shake up the entire Cross Keys Cluster. It is my hope that any significant change will be coupled with an in increase in neighborhood involvement with the schools. I believe the creation of a School Foundation to raise funds and encourage the investment of time in the school is the logical solution and something I think DECA should take seriously.


District 3 Challenger
- Clara Azcunes:

A regional school system that includes several municipalities can be a long-term solution that I would favor but we need more immediate solutions for this area. 

Specific to the schools I will focus on gaining a clear understanding of the demographics and actual school buildings and grounds for potential use inefficiencies and space repurposing. I will also organize a parent work table to listen to their concerns and ideas, and incorporate all findings in a proposal that will be carried to the county school board as well as to the state school board. This proposal will include proposed immediate and long term solutions for the areas, as well as potential costs, and a implementation time line. 

Parallel to this I will seek a solution for Chamblee as a whole by analyzing existing demographics as they impact existing school clusters and seek a better distribution of students throughout the Chamblee area. That is consistent with unifying Chamblee so that no one area feels as if they are not part of Chamblee... Which is one of my priorities.



Member At-Large Incumbent
- Dan Zanger:
 

Nothing is more important than the proper education of our children. It will in turn lead to a better and brighter future for all of us within, and beyond, Chamblee's boarders.

With that said, for much of the recent past, county officials and the county school board have been evaluating and decision making as if they were operating in a silo. 

Long term, long range planning need to be part of the solution to enhance our schools infrastructure, placements and revitalization. 

The city continually provides the county with data. Population, migration, development patterns, etc.

Until now this data has been largely unused, only to be filed away instead of studied and evaluated. 

Recently our Mayor and City Manager have engaged the county on many levels to address these issues and others that directly effect our schools and school children. 

I have been briefed on the detail and context of these meetings and I support our Mayors efforts in recent discussions with DeKalb COO, Josh Williams and GIS Analyst, Hans Williams.
These discussions have enabled the city and county to work together to discuss and help plan current and future development of our school system.

These types of meetings did not exist until recently. They have finally brought city and county leaders together to put all options on the table, to discuss the city's plans for zoning and development as well as the county's plan for asset allocation to schools and school districts. 

Coalitions like this will lead to viable solutions in creating communities of interest with all parties working together to solve the problems that face our school age children. 

Its engagement such as this that leads me to believe that the county is finally committed to long range planning, rather than reactionary answers to complex situations.

All of us must also take a page from Commissioner Nancy Jester's playbook and let the county school board know we are frustrated with our current status. 

School Board elections have consequences, and we must make the necessary changes to change our current situation. Phone calls, emails, letter campaigns need to be clear, firm, respectful and above all else, constant, to make the necessary changes to the DeKalb Co schools in our city.


Member At-Large Challenger
- Darron Kusman:
  

There is nothing more important than education and giving our children a head start. Serving on the Governing Board of Chamblee Charter High School and my past experience coaching middle school and high school basketball has provided me with unique visibility into what our school system does well in addition to the challenges facing us today. 

Repairing the school system poses a unique challenge in that our schools are still overseen by DeKalb County. Compounding the issue is that many of our elementary age students come from more transient households where parents do not have a long term vested interest in our community. 

Step one requires getting the community more active including developing a strong PTA and after school programs to keep our youth out of trouble. A good example how strong an impact an active PTA can have is Ashford Park Elementary which also serves south Chamblee. Once a strong PTA was formed test scores began to rise driving further improvement in our schools and neighborhoods. 

At the same time, we need to create a foundation to provide additional fundraising mechanisms. With more money our schools can purchase better teaching tools, enhance facilities to reduce overcrowding, and provide additional services to our students. 

Lastly, we have tremendous resources in Chamblee and a citizen base that is willing to help. We have phenomenal people throughout the cluster and whom I personally know at Cross Keys, Chamblee High, and the Interactive College. These individuals want to see our students succeed. Perhaps most importantly, we have a new principal at Chamblee High who has previously turned around a failing school and who would be willing to share his experiences with colleagues throughout the city. 

By leveraging our collective expertise I believe we can rapidly advance education levels and help get our schools to where they need to be despite DeKalb County oversight.



~


4. What is your plan to reach out to the Hispanic and other, cross-cultural communities in the DECA area and throughout Chamblee? 


District 2 Incumbent
- Leslie Robson:


See my answer to # 2.

I have also been working with community leaders across our cultural communities to form ways to surmount the many barriers that separate us. I support the City’s efforts to reach out as well. Through our economic development department and our MainStreet program we are reaching out to plan for more festivals and events that highlight our diverse communities. By engaging the International Community in celebration of our diversity I believe we can make friends, and learn how to appreciate our differences and work together to make Chamblee one united city.


District 2 Challenger
- Verle Van Hoozen:


Being a second term member of the Recreational Advisory Committee (RAC), it has been my position to use Dresden Park as the initial catalyst to reach out to the cross cultural community. We need to expand our “Summer Concert Series” by providing music appealing to all communities as multicultural events. As a RAC member, it is most important to have input from ALL our residents as to the kind of entertainment and services the city can offer going forward. 



District 3 Incumbent
- Tom Hogan:
 

I believe the greatest tool for enhancing communication and integrating the lives of Hispanic apartment dwellers into the concept of One Chamblee, is the reinvigoration of the Apartment Managers Association. I think this is an area where either DECA or the City could take a leadership role. I participated in this organization back in -2008-9, but soon after it because defunct. Perhaps an initiative of the City could offer this effort the ability to fulfill a long- term objective (increased code enforcement, participation in parks and recreation activities, increased sidewalks, reduction in trash along the street) without the prior burdens of funding and authority. I have maintained a relationship with Jerry Gonzales, President of GALEO, and I have maintained very good relationships with the owners/managers of Atlanta Chinatown, the Chinese Cultural Center, the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, and Plaza Fiesta, often offering a welcome from Chamblee at larger gatherings. I am motivated to make Chamblee a City where ALL can pursue their happiness. 


District 3 Challenger
- Clara Azcunes:

The most effective way to integrate our multicultural community is through communication, and communication includes not only speaking the language but also speaking the culture, I speak both. 

During my past tenure as a city council member I facilitated the creation of the Apartment Managers Association to integrate the apartment complexes that house the majority of the Hispanic population. This association opened channels of communication that not only improved code compliance and safety for these neighborhoods but increased their participation on many Chamblee activities. I plan to focus on reviving this association and now including the many other apartment complexes recently incorporated to Chamblee. Using this association as gate to the communities we can really encourage them to be part of Chamblee. I plan to be the bridge to achieve this integration. 



Member At-Large Incumbent
- Dan Zanger:
 

Since I served on the Recreational Advisory Committee (RAC) back in 2002, reaching out to different cultures has been a priority for the city on many levels.

On the RAC, we were able to include our Asian and Hispanic residents in city activities by translating flyers, signs, banners and invitations into several languages. This was a simple idea focused only toward Parks & Recreation at the time, but it proved successful and engaged entire new communities to the city's recreational and social events. 

By reaching out to the business and community leaders of all cultural backgrounds in a similar way to encourage their involvement, we all benefit. 

Better still, by encouraging their participation in city planning, we better understand the needs and issues specific to their community. 


Member At-Large Challenger
- Darron Kusman:


I am learning each and every day and I confess that one can never have too many of these conversations. We need to do a better job integrating the entire city and ensuring that everyone has a voice. This includes doing a better job of communicating what is happening in the city and also keeping people informed about decisions and events. Growing up in southern Arizona, being married to an immigrant, and working at Accenture have taught me more about diversity and inclusion than I ever could have imagined. 

I firmly believe that it is important that we celebrate both our similarities and our differences. I have the privilege of working with individuals from varying cultures and socio-economic backgrounds every day and recognize the importance of giving everyone a seat at the table both literally and figuratively. Chamblee is very diverse and each community has different needs and desires. The consistent themes surround safety, lighting, security, and ease of transportation from walkability to ensuring our streets are safe to travel 

I have developed deep relationships with residents and leaders in DECA and the surrounding neighborhoods and don’t believe that the challenges are insurmountable. I am committed to continuing to develop these relationships and to working in our ethnic communities to develop targeted plans based on local needs. Every community is a valuable part of our city and deserves to be heard. 

As a resident of South Chamblee I am committed to enhancing our neighborhoods. I humbly ask for your vote on November 3rd so that I can become an even stronger advocate for you.


Comments