LaVista Hills: Doomed From The Start

If there’s one incontrovertible fact in the still ongoing mess that was “LaVista Hills,” it’s that the cityhood referendum didn’t deserve to be on the ballot in the first place. As supporters actively seek sufficient evidence from confused voters in order to convince a judge to invalidate the results of their narrow defeat, they are reinforcing the need for reforming the legislative process currently used to create cities.

The most recent version of LaVista Hills lost, and could never have truly won. 136 votes out of 13,789 cast is less than 1%, and both pro- and anti-cityhood camps should acknowledge that the LaVista Hills incorporation could have easily gone the other way. But even if LaVista Hills had “won,” such a narrow margin would still have been a loss.

There was never any community outcry for a city of Lakeside, nor Briarcliff, nor LaVista Hills, and a glance at the now-failed city’s map shows why. It was a Frankencity, cobbled together by consultants, lobbyists and potential vendors of city services, rather than a community of interest, because there’s nothing uniting areas as distinctly different as say, Embry Hills and Druid Hills. You don’t have to live in metro Atlanta for very long to learn the distinction between ITP and OTP, and cities –brand new governments designed to be permanent and eternal- shouldn’t be created just because a political consultant draws an arbitrary line around a disjointed area.

From its inception, LaVista Hills was given every advantage. Their very first move was to draw a line around a huge swath of Tucker*, catching that historic and tight-knit community off guard. As the two groups battled over their borders, every rule controlling the legislative process for incorporation was either waived or bent in favor of Lakeside/LaVista Hills. The boundaries “poured in concrete” by a specially-tasked House Subcommittee were uprooted at the 11th hour. Their feasibility study was supposed to be completed before the Legislature approved their charter, but an accommodating committee chairman waived that rule. After their charter passed, a sharp-eyed numbers guy found a flaw –their finances assumed a higher property tax rate than their charter legally permitted. Let that sink in a minute. The very financial viability of what would have been DeKalb County’s biggest city was in doubt because a single legislator waived a rule. That’s a mighty big “oops” in the process, one that gives any responsible state legislator pause. Those rules, such as they are, exist to prevent mistakes like that –not to enable them.

Georgia’s incorporation laws require only that a potential new city take over three public services, a feasibility study showing how they’ll pay for them, and a simple majority vote. It’s easier than opening a liquor store.

No, really. If you want to sell hard liquor in bottles in a formerly dry area of Georgia, you need to get a petition signed by 35% of the registered voters in that area. Those signatures have to be verified by the local elections official, and only then does the issue go before the voters for approval. Why on earth is it harder to open a liquor store than to create an entirely new government?

The campaign for LaVista Hills cityhood was as fast and loose with the rules of civic engagement as the sloppy legislative process that created it. LaVista Hills Alliance promised a Republican-style government to Republican voters, bashed the DeKalb County Police Department when it suited them, played the race card at the last minute, and accused anyone who doubted their unbelievable promises of being in league with “DeKalb County’s thugs and criminals.” That bitterness created by their narrow defeat hasn’t been mollified by the end-zone dancing, chest beating, and in-your-face attitude on social media by members of the anti-cityhood group DeKalb Strong.

50% + 1 isn’t a mandate for anything but a divided community. Who would want to live in a community where half the voters oppose its very existence?

Regardless of how the vote is actually determined by the courts, the actual residents of LaVista Hills have already lost.  We didn’t ask for this. Instead, we continue to be but pawns in other people’s games and business models.

When it comes to cities, winning ugly isn’t winning.

*Disclosure: Tucker 2015, used my company, Apache Political, in their campaign for cityhood. Tucker became a city with a 74% “yes” vote.)

26 comments

  1. saltycracker says:

    Maybe our legislators could use an Apache strategy when it comes to redistricting and protect the communities, jurisdictions and trade areas.

      • saltycracker says:

        A broad term that contiguous large groups of people identify where they choose to live.
        The idea is to prioritize keeping neighborhoods, communities, zip codes, cities, counties, states, regions as whole as possible.

        Geography at times plays a limiting role too. But divisions to strictly accommodate cultures, race, religion, political affiliations, is building a house on sand.

  2. Progressive Dem says:

    I can’t disagree with much of the above. The process should require a financial analysis tied to fixed boundaries and a demonstrative vote of 60%. An annexation petition requires 60% of registered voters and 60% of the land ownership.

  3. SallyForth says:

    We can all be Monday morning quarterbacks, but this is just another example of DeKalb’s current corrupt and inept government in action. Tucker was lucky — a much smaller area, much less tax money shifted from the county, zero opposition from the county politicos and their operatives, and LaVista Hills given all the publicity during campaign season. But try telling all the LaVista Hills residents they are not a “community of interest” or have “nothing uniting” them. They just didn’t have a brand before, but now they do.

    Coming out with a 74% vote left no room for hanky panky by good old DeKalb. A 50/50 vote split, less than 1% difference in reported votes for LaVista Hills….. Loose the hounds! Now 100% of the people in LaVista Hills have zero confidence in what happened on Nov. 3rd.

    It is a good thing that the GBI and Secretary of State are going over it all with a fine-toothed comb. Whichever way the LaVista Hills referendum turns out, we have a presidential primary coming up in about 3 1/2 months and scrutiny of DeKalb’s election system (like every other part of DeKalb government) was long overdue. For the sake of the whole county, keep up the pressure, LaVista Hills!

    • ATLguy says:

      This is hilarious. You are blaming DeKalb’s corruption for your side’s failing? It is DeKalb’s fault that “Their feasibility study was supposed to be completed before the Legislature approved their charter, but an accommodating committee chairman waived that rule. After their charter passed, a sharp-eyed numbers guy found a flaw –their finances assumed a higher property tax rate than their charter legally permitted.”? And this nonsense went on FOR THREE YEARS. Don’t you guys realize that it is mostly your fault that the state has put the brakes on this nonsense and is demanding more oversight? And for Hassinger – who is a partisan’s partisan if there ever was one – to admit that this LaVista Hills thing was primarily about Republicans not wanting to be governed by Democrats is … well, what do you say about that?

      ” But try telling all the LaVista Hills residents they are not a “community of interest” or have “nothing uniting” them.”

      I will and I can. Basis for this is LaVista Hills’ attempt to raid some communities – including Tucker – and exclude others that made far more geographical sense.

      This is funny. If your side had won by a similarly small margin, you would have claimed a mandate and insisted that the people who voted against you should just be silent and move forward and help you implement your agenda, the agenda that they did not support at the ballot box. But since your side LOST, you are going to presume that your side has 100% support! That is simply amazing. If anything, your attitude shows the (Democrats) in LaVista Hills exactly the sort of “governance” they are going to get from the (Republicans) who drove this: a steamroller steered by a ramrod. That is going to make them all the more likely to stick to their guns. And yes, so is the REPUBLICAN Secretary of State and REPUBLICAN GBI (the same bunch who alleged that the attempts by the DPoG to register more voters was riddled with fraud and who couldn’t be bothered to process nearly half the registration cards before election day … good thing that the election wasn’t close or there would have been federal lawsuits targeting the SoS to make Bush v. Gore look like kindergarten play) inserting themselves into this. Would they have done so if your side had won? Would you be demanding SoS and GBI involvement had your side won? Or would you be accusing them of subverting the political process and trying to nullify your vote?

      Sorry, but “keeping up the pressure” will do nothing but totally ensure that A) the legislature will never give you guys another shot and B) even if they do, your side will never get the votes that you need at the ballot box. Especially if the legislature raises the threshold from 50% plus 1 to 60%. The significant Democratic presence in LaVista Hills didn’t want to be disenfranchised by a GOP city government before, and they certainly aren’t going to want to now after the ugliness that this has descended into, and now that the state is getting involved.

      • SallyForth says:

        Well! Who wizzed in your corn flakes? If you’re an ATL guy, I wouldn’t think you’d have a dog in this fight. But you do have a dog in the fight to protect everyone’s voting rights and ensure all elections are cleanly done. The vote is perhaps our most precious freedom as Americans. And after all, this IS DeKalb.

        The news today that the Attorney General is now involved indicates the GBI has found something seriously wrong. Maybe May and crew shut down Bowers, but tampering with an election…. This will be harder to sweep under the rug, if that’s the case.

        • Scott65 says:

          Sorry I’m late to the discussion, but I have a life and it doesnt always bring me here. I, Sally, DO have a dog in this fight. In fact, its my voting precinct where this “memory disk was found. I find that anything was purposefully done to throw an election in that precinct to be laughable unless the 80 year olds that volunteer their time have cooked up a scheme to deny you your undeniable victory. Lavista Hills stunk from the get go (it was just Lakeside with another name), and we didnt want any part of it. If anything, I would venture its the supporters of Lavista Hills who are making it look like there are irregularities. Two words Sally…sore loser. Everything Mike said in this piece is correct as well as ATLGUY. There is no cohesion between where I live and Northlake. Thats laughable.

      • Don Broussard says:

        The only way Democrats in LVH would be “disenfranchised” by the GOP is if Dems don’t bother to vote in which case we deserve it. In the LVH precincts in 2012, 57% went for Obama and 41% for Romney. That’s the tragedy of this scare tactic / conspiracy theory spread by the opponents of city hood: it would have been a Democratic majority city. Now we get to continue to be DeKalb’s ATM machine without a single county commissioner living in our area. Note that Jeff Rader donated slush funds to high school booster clubs at Druid Hills, Decatur, and Cross Keys. Lakeside High? zip — he could care less.

    • Howdy says:

      Sally – Tucker was not lucky. It was simply led by better people who knew what they were doing, who knew that it was better to build partnerships and bridges, who knew how to focus on the positives that unite a community, and who knew that Tucker’s was a proud community with a history that simply wanted to be left alone. That’s what 74% of our community said last Tuesday, but LVH would not leave Tucker alone. That was the choice your leaders made. Your leaders tried to “impose” and “force” their way on people who didn’t want to be in LVH and they tried to use the political process to achieve that. And it is now desperately trying to use the political process, trying to sew seeds of disunity and fear among people, and threatening to use the courts in an attempt to achieve what it could not and did not last Tuesday. The use of such tactics is why 50% give or take a few votes (50.5% at present) voted no. Personally, I have no objection to LVH becoming a city, but you do need to regroup and find a better means to achieve your desired end. Having 50% give or take a few votes is no way to create a new city.

  4. LoyaltyIsMyHonor says:

    Although I’m not opposed to creating new cities, neither the feasibility study nor the referendum are required in state law.

    • SallyForth says:

      LIMH, where were you when the LaVista Hills folks needed you? Sounds like this could have been done an easier way. (as long as DeKalb couldn’t have poked them in the eye)

      • LoyaltyIsMyHonor says:

        Sally, I appreciate that! 🙂
        But the process is entirely political so a lot of it is up to House Committee Rules; for better or for worse.

  5. Howdy says:

    This article is very accurate. Tucker was not “lucky” – it was led by more responsible, more realistic people. They chose to define three basic services that were not tax-intensive and that would allow the city to get up and running. Then we would determine where we were, what we wanted to become, and and how we wanted to get there. The Tucker leadership always emphasized building bridges and partnerships. It emphasized the history of Tucker and focused on the positives that unite people. It never bashed Dekalb County nor its police nor anybody else. Although Tucker talked about becoming a city as early as 2006, it was the Lavista Hills leadership (Lakeside them) that wanted to seize so much of Tucker up to within 100 feet of Tucker High School and Tucker’s Main Street that so infuriated and united our residents. And it was two Republican legislators that felt that something was wrong with this, that Tucker was “being run-over”. The issue of defending the Tucker that we all knew and loved convinced us that we needed boundaries to protect us from such intrusions and that’s why 74% of us voted to set those boundaries the only way we knew and that was to become a city. Just think what the outcry would have been had Tucker attempted to set its boundaries 100 feet from Lakeside High School. I think that had the LVH Leadership focused on the positives, on building partnerships, and on listening to what so many people were saying to them, LVH would most likely be celebrating becoming a city by a large margin. As this article points out, even if the LVH leadership finds a way to change a few votes or even succeed in Court, doing so with barely 50% of the vote is hardly any way to start a new city.

  6. Don Broussard says:

    Mr. Hassinger is doing his own end-zone dance here. LaVista Hills has a +$2.6Billion tax digest compared to Tucker’s $1.0Billion – so which city’s feasibility is more questionable? If $20,000 of opposition money had been dumped against Tucker 2015 — it would not have have been a slam dunk and Hassinger knows it. His premise seems to be that only areas with a “community of interest” get to even apply to be in a city. Problem is DeKalb government has ZERO interest in creating a sense of community (true for counties in general). Tucker’s identity (and therefore the vote) did benefit from its town center which includes its high school — a town center which is a fortunate accident of history in that it was a 19th century rail stop when walkable towns were actually built (see Decatur et al). The take away: city planning does matter. Please send that memo to DeKalb County. Why did DeKalb Strong turn all its attention to defeating LVH? Because LaVista Hills really is a game changer. Tucker is basically Clarkston with a better town center — yet even Clarkston has its own police force. Tucker apparently could not afford one. And when it comes to boundaries, Mike can’t explain why Tucker felt it was owed areas inside the perimeter located in zip 30345, in Lakeside High’s attendance zone, and areas never included in the Tucker Census Designated Place. I’m pretty sure Tucker will be happy to use LaVista Hills as a “pawn” in its own “business model” and take Northlake Mall, thank you very much. Nevertheless, I’m pleased Tucker passed and concede there are 3,937 “yes” voters in Tucker who are smarter than 6,936 “no” voters in LaVista Hills.

  7. Howdy says:

    Don – please just back off Tucker! Regardless of how you feel, Tucker received 74% of the vote and is a city today. It is not trying to get a few votes and it is not threatening to go to court to change a vote which didn’t happen to go its way. Tucker has been the name of our town for over 150 years – how about “Lavista Hills”? Where is your “town center”? Let me see if I can address some of your issues. First, look at the Tucker 2015 leadership. It worked to build bridges with Dekalb County. It formed partnerships with Northlake Mall (Tucker-Northlake CID). It held forums where Dekalb Police were invited (not Dunwoody Police) where we discussed the extensive capabilities it offered and they reached out to our community to resolve any concerns they had. In response to your discussions several years ago, they established a Tucker Precinct. Why would we want to duplicate something that we already have?We didn’t just go to legislators, we invited them to come to Tucker and they did – touring our seven cemeteries to understand our history and heritage. The Tucker 2015 leadership focused on the positives that unite people rather than dwelling on the fears that divide them. Tucker 2015 focused on building contiguous areas and not on creating isolated islands. Tucker 2015 did not write angry letters to the AJC deriding any legislators or anyone else. We asked for their help and support and they did help and support us. When the LVH leadership tried to seize so much of Tucker up to with 100 feet of Tucker High School and Tucker Main Street, that really upset so many of us and that is what really motivated us to come out on November 3 to set our boundaries and stop people from trying to run over us. Don, Tucker simply wanted to be left alone, but LVH would not leave Tucker alone. Whatever its size, whatever its tax base, whatever you may think about it, Tucker is today a city.

  8. Dr.DeKalb says:

    Mr. Broussard, your complaints about Tucker remind me of someone who would start a fight by first tying his opponent’s hands behind his back. When the opponent is forced to kick in order to defend himself, you cry foul when you end up kicked in the crotch.

  9. mactuc says:

    Mr. Broussard, Mike’s commentary was spot-on on so many levels. A very well-written summary of the cityhood outcome. One comment that Mike makes that stands out was the frequent disregard throughout LVH’s campaign for a tone that was civil and decent. Mike used the term, “civic engagement.” On this point, the tone of your commentary crosses an eerily familiar “uncivil” line. Who’s to say that the 6,936 “no” voters were more influenced by DeKalb Strong’s efforts than being turned off or even frightened by a uncivil tone that signaled what political life in a City of LaVista Hills would look and feel like? Given the chance, most people wouldn’t choose a marriage whose very courtship is built on discontent, friction, conflict, and venom. The few who decide to tie that knot anyway can look forward to some miserable days and maybe a pending divorce. Problem is, there’s no “divorce” once the cityhood knot is tied. Perhaps the “no” folks could see this more clearly than the “yes” folks. Surely, the “no” voters deserve more credit and are smarter than your statement assumes. Finally, there is so much wrong regarding your statements about Tucker. It’s almost a joke to respond: 1.)Your argument about Tucker’s smaller tax digest compared to LVH is pointless if you’re not considering the reality that Tucker has HALF the population and less commercial areas than LVH would have had; 2.)Your slight that “Tucker is basically Clarkston” is not a slight because there’s anything wrong with Clarkston (as your slight implies), but rather because you rob Tucker of its own unique identity and history–the very thing, the “community of interest” that made Tucker’s cityhood bid appealing and successful. Clarkston has 7,800 residents–Tucker with its 33,000 is 4+ times more populous (Third most populous DeKalb city behind Brookhaven and Dunwoody). Your comparison is baseless. I would say “pointless,” but I think Dr. DeKalb summed it up much better than I can. If your reasoning and model of civility is typical of the folks who voted “yes” for LVH (perhaps you’re an anomaly–let’s hope so), then the “nos” did the right thing.

    • Don Broussard says:

      @mactuc, I think I was pretty clear about the advantage of Tucker’s history and identity. It is predictable that people who have trouble refuting arguments with facts and reason then try to claim the tone is uncivil. No one forced Mr. Hassinger, Tucker’s political consultant, to write an essay on PeachPundit offering his opinions about why LaVista Hills not only failed — but deserved to fail. Again, he made the claim LVH’s finances were “in doubt” and I pointed out something to the contrary. He accused LVH of raiding Tucker (fair enough) without mentioning that Tucker raided LVH by coming well inside the perimeter and will predictably attempt to do so again. I did not disagree with every point Mike makes, and in particular: I agree that a 50%+1 city is a divided city — and conversely a 50%+139 county area is a very divided community, too. He offers no solutions for that situation which is exactly the one in which we now find ourselves in my community. Again, end zone dancing by a Republican consultant with some scores to settle. But congratulations to the people of Tucker for winning their city.

      • Dr.DeKalb says:

        Mr. Broussard, the idea of a divided community is a fabrication. The community across this entire region gets along just fine and has done so for as long as anyone can remember. Aren’t they trying to form a “non partisan” city anyway? Then tell the leaders to start acting “non partisan” and perhaps they would start to see the cracks in their own armor.

  10. mactuc says:

    Mr. Broussard, in addition to being a consultant, Mike is also an editor of this very news outlet. Last time I checked, editors write “editorials” from time to time. On the point of LVH’s finances, Mike refers to a “sharp-eyed numbers guy” who found kinks in LVH feasibility figures. Mike is citing the findings of the same guy reported in the AJC and Decaturish. He’s not making a new claim. Second, you say Mike accused LVH of “raiding” Tucker, when in reality, he is simply reporting what we all know happened–you, on the other hand, claim that Tucker “raided LVH” ITP. 1.)How can Tucker “raid” LHV when LVH doesn’t and never existed? and 2.)Tucker certainly had presence ITP long before the cityhood matter evolved–Northlake homes and businesses on BOTH sides of LaVista have long had Tucker zip codes/designations. And while you did credit Tucker’s history and identity, you undercut your statement with a snarky and baseless jab “Tucker is basically Clarkston,” which many will read as a slight. To conclude, my friend, disagreement over an issue doesn’t make an intelligent citizen accuse another of being uncivil. But rather BEING uncivil and disingenuous does.

    • Scott65 says:

      Might I add to that, if Tucker annexes the rest of Northlake it will be because Northlake wants to be whole. Thats something that LH just simply ignored because it didnt suit them. The Northlake business district repeated said they did not want to be broken up. If they are going to ignore them, who is to say anyone else would fare any better?

      • SallyForth says:

        @Scott65, one correction — it was the legislature that ignored them, over the screaming and crying of the LaVista Hills people, who also wanted to keep Northlake Festival together with the rest of Northlake. For some crazy reason, the legislature split it right down LaVista Road, gave that area to Tucker and crippled LaVista Hills.

        • Dr.DeKalb says:

          Screaming and crying Lavista Hills people? Quite the opposite, SallyForth, I recall they repeatedly saying that Northlake was not essential to their plan.

          And, Howdy, you are correct that Tucker wanted to be left alone, but that group didn’t always take the high ground.

          A defense strategy was what motivated voters, but is that going to be enough to motivate them to run for public offices and keep the corruption from infiltrating their own city council and mayor’s office? Other new cities have tried and their track records speak for themselves.

          Starting cities without clear plans explained to voters about exactly what they will be getting and how much it will cost is a toxic idea. Fixing the process should have been the top priority, not pitting neighbors against each other.

Comments are closed.