As a follow up to a shorter post on the LaVista Hills proposal, here is a partial transcript from the official video of Day 39 in the Georgia House of Representatives with an introduction (Video: Day 39 PM PT2). This was the day the House chose to keep their word to the public and not permit LaVista Hills to expand into more of Tucker.
However, the final expansion into Tucker took place and residents in the proposed LaVista Hills map will vote for or against that incursion on Tuesday November 3, 2015.
This is a long and detailed post, but those details paint an important picture of why so many residents have concerns. I believe it’s worth attention no matter how you intend to vote.
If you’re already familiar with how it happened you may want to skip down to the transcript.
On March 31, 2015, Representative Tom Taylor of Dunwoody presented his request to the House that they accept the changed version of LaVista Hills bill that came back from the Senate with a different map.
A bill coming back from the Senate with changes is not unusual. It was unusual that before the bill passed through the House, before the 2015 Session even started, House leaders told everyone involved that the boundary created by the House subcommittee between the Tucker and LaVista Hills proposal was “set in stone” and could not be altered.
If either group attempted to cross that boundary at any point in the legislative process, the House would kill the offending party’s bill. Neither Tucker nor LaVista Hills were completely satisfied with the boundary drawn by the State, but all involved accepted the terms as the only means to move either proposal forward and, based on mutual trust, the matter appeared to be settled.
This was the solution to keep both bills from stalling due to overlapping maps.
Yet what some were concerned would happen, did happen. When the LaVista Hills bill crossed over into the Senate Senator Fran Millar, also of Dunwoody, presented a new map that ignored the boundary drawn by the State and put more of Tucker in the proposed LaVista Hills map (He has done this to Tucker before).
While it’s true that Millar as a member of the Senate was not bound by the agreement made in the House, it’s hard to say that the LaVista Hills leadership and their other bill sponsors were not. Especially when, as revealed in the transcript below, it was Representative Taylor, with Representative Mike Jacobs of Brookhaven, who came up the idea for a boundary set in stone.
Representative Taylor tried to convince the House to go back on their word to the public and approve the changes, but the House kept their word and voted against the measure 106 to 62. As House Speaker David Ralston said after the vote was counted, “The gentleman’s motion has failed.”
This failure appeared to jeopardized the LaVista Hills proposal and it went to a six member conference committee of both the House and the Senate. This may have been exactly were Senator Millar wanted it. He was on the committee along with Representative Taylor and Representative Ed Rynders of Albany; all three were sponsors of the LaVista Hills bill.
The other three members of the committee were Representative Buzz Brockway of Lawrenceville, chairman of the subcommittee that set the boundary “in stone” back in December and said he would not support any change to that boundary; Senator John Albers of Roswell, chairman of the SLOGO committee that approved Senator Millar’s changes in the Senate; and Senator Steve Henson of Tucker, a sponsor of the Tucker bill and the only member of the committee living inside the boundaries of either proposal.
In other words, half of the conference committee were sponsors of the LaVista Hills bill along with a fourth member who previously favored the changes in the Senate. This gave LaVista Hills far better odds to expand the map than they faced on the House floor.
The committee reached a compromise giving most of the residential neighborhoods in the disputed area to LaVista Hills and most of the commercial property to back to Tucker. Both bodies in the Legislature approved the changes and Governor Nathan Deal signed the bills enabling a separate vote for each on Tuesday November 3, 2015.
Many wonder if LaVista Hills will secure enough votes in that area to make the turmoil, strife, and division in the community worth it. Will that one divided precinct give them the votes they need to form a new government? No one will know until after the vote, but the conversations around those changes are important.
This transcript includes Representatives Buzz Brockway (R – Lawrenceville), Mary Margaret Oliver (D – Decatur), Scott Holcomb (D – DeKalb), Tom McCall (R – Elberton), and Barry Fleming (R – Harlem) questioning Representative Tom Taylor (R- Dunwoody) on the House floor.
Representative Fleming along with Representatives Brockway and Oliver served on the subcommittee that created the border in December. Fleming is a co-sponsor of the LaVista Hills bill (HB520) with Taylor. Representative Holcomb is co-sponsor of both the LaVista Hills bill and the Tucker bill (HB515). He lives inside the LaVista Hills proposal.
The meeting answers important questions. It reveals that Representative Holcomb was intentionally kept out of the loop on what Tom Taylor and Mike Jacobs were doing in Holcomb’s district.
Apparently, their goal was to build data in an attempt to justify the changes to the map. But why leave a co-sponsor of the bill, and the only member of the House living in the proposed LaVista Hills footprint, out of the discussion? Who benefits by limiting local representation? Isn’t this about local representation for LaVista Hills supporters? It only makes sense if those driving LaVista Hills were interested in Representative Holcomb’s support and influence on their behalf, but not his leadership.
The meeting also shows that Representative Taylor, a resident of Dunwoody, either doesn’t understand where the map was changed, was deeply misinformed, or intentionally gave false information by telling the House that “the only commercial that came in[to the LaVista Hills map] was one Quick Trip .” The change to the map brought in two shopping centers including a CVS and a Walmart Neighborhood Market. All with Tucker mailing addresses (map).
The conference committee placed most of those areas back in the Tucker map but not the majority of homeowners. Many with Tucker mailing addresses remain in the LaVista Hills footprint.
Representative Holcomb makes significant points about Taylor and Jocobs subverting the legislative process, and Taylor reveals to Representative McCall, “this group asked the Senator who represents that area [Millar] to be brought in and he changed the borders to do that, Sir.” Yet a week earlier LaVista Hills leaders insisted publicly they were not asking for the map to be changed.
Perhaps Taylor simply meant a “group” of LaVista Hills supporters living in Tucker and not the official group. But within that “group” in Tucker was a member of the LaVista Hills leadership team so it appears to be the same apple no matter how you slice it.
It’s an eye opening read. The video can be seen here. This is only one thread in a much larger tapestry of why people have deep concerns about the LaVista Hills plan.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Taylor: “Thank you Mr. Speaker. Ladies and gentlemen of the House, this bill originally passed out of here with 129 votes subject to couple of years worth of committee hearings in the government affairs committee.”
“We sent, and I want to thank particularly Representative Brockway, Representative Hamilton, Representative Fleming, Representative Mosby, folks who worked very hard on this and tried to cut a deal with this version. We passed a version out of the House that went over to the Senate and was amended in two ways.”
“Senator Millar had a precinct that wanted to come in they wanted to, a large number of folks in the precinct wanted to come into the City of LaVista Hills that was the amendment were talking about 1900 people.”
“Representative Jacobs and I supervised a poll over the weekend on March 28, 29, and 30th that did about 900 calls in that area, mostly of, virtually every phone number. About 60% or almost 2/3 of the folks in that area surveyed wanted to come into LaVista Hills.”
[Note: They supervised “about 900 calls” and approximately 700 residents hung up or did not answer the phone. Roughly 200 took part in the poll. Taylor’s 60% represents approximately 120 responses. Taylor and Jacobs distributed a document to members of the House enumerating the actual numbers and response categories.]
“You know, I know the hour is late and this is a DeKalb County bill, also there is another amendment by Senator Parent which took out a couple of streets in the neighborhood, it was divided, this was not disputed it all, and all parties agreed to that.”
“Looking for your favorable support on this, it’s been through the ringer, at the end of the day this again, this doesn’t create a city. What it does create is the opportunity on these folks to finally get a vote on this, this November and basically weigh in on whether they want to incorporate or remain unincorporated DeKalb.”
“You’ll hear a little bit from the opposition I think on this. There’s been some folks working the lines that there’s been a lot of commercial they came in with this particular change in the one precinct. Basically what is in that one precinct that came in is 1900 to 2000 individuals and the only commercial that came in was one Quick Trip. I urge you to give the voters there a chance a possibly to vote on this.”
“I’ll be glad to get any questions Mr. Speaker.”
Speaker Ralston: “You have a number of questions. Chair recognizes Representative Brockway to your right for a question.”
Brockway: “Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Does the gentleman yield?”
Taylor: “I do.”
Brockway: “Representative Taylor you know my fondness and friendship with you. As you know I chaired a subcommittee that attempted to bring peace to this area and draw a line that would be mutually agreeable to the folks in LaVista Hills and Tucker. And as you know Senator Millar made changes to that, that he had the right to do, and so I suppose it’s more of a statement, isn’t it true that despite my fondness for you that I’ll have to vote against your motion here today.”
Taylor: “And I bear you no ill will for that.”
Brockway: “Thank you, Sir.”
Speaker Ralston: “You have other questions do you continue to yield?”
Taylor: “I do.”
Speaker Ralston: “The chair recognizes Representative Oliver to your left for a question.”
Oliver: “Does the gentleman yield?”
Taylor: “I do.”
Oliver: “Setting aside the issue of friendship, wasn’t I paid, and Representative Brockway and Representative Mosby and four or five other House members paid a per diem to come to the House in December to resolve the dispute between LaVista [Hills] and Tucker, and weren’t we paid that per diem to set it in stone what the border would be, and further Sir isn’t it true that the House knows better than the Senate about where the border might should be in the district that we represent not them?”
Taylor: “I do not disagree with the fact that it came out of the House one way went over to the Senate and came back a different animal, but that is where we are now. This has been in process for a long time and at the end of the day I want to give the people in this area chance to vote on it whether they want to be in it or not.”
Speaker Ralston: “Chair recognizes Representative Holcomb to your left for the question.”
Holcomb: “Mr. Speaker, does the gentleman yield?”
Taylor: “I do.”
Holcomb: “Isn’t it true that you and representative Jacobs in a press release last August announced the process by which the border between Tucker and LaVista Hills would be resolved?”
Taylor: “That’s true.”
Holcomb: “And isn’t it true that through that process it encouraged the groups to get together to mediate and try to resolve the difference, and if that weren’t to occur there would be a follow on subcommittee that would arbitrate the dispute?”
Taylor: “That’s correct.”
Holcomb: “And isn’t it true that I participated in the mediation and worked with the groups, and one of the groups expressed a lot of concern that if they reached an agreement it could be unwound in the Senate?”
Taylor: “That’s correct, Sir.”
Holcomb: “And isn’t it further true that there was in fact a House subcommittee that was chaired by Representative Brockway and there was a lot of work that was done through a transparent process, and inclusive process, a public process, and then as a result of this there was a map put forth for the resolution of this issue between Tucker and LaVista Hills?”
Taylor: “That is correct and I do appreciate the work of that sub-committee.”
Holcomb: “And isn’t it further true that on day 33, across the hall in the Senate, in a committee meeting, without previously being presented to the public, a different map was presented and it was only revealed to the public after a vote was taken changing the borders of these two areas?”
Taylor: “What I recall is that in the Senate Committee they changed it, the Senate Committee, the SLOGO, voted to approve that map presented by Senator Millar.”
Holcomb: “And isn’t it further true that you conducted a poll in the district that I represent over the last three days without give me the courtesy of a heads up that you were doing this, which is probably unprecedented in history of this body, and that that poll is problematic because it did not bother to ask if anybody had a preference of no city which, as you’re well aware, what we’re doing here is putting forward to the voters an opportunity for referendum so they can choose between a city no city?”
Taylor: “Actually the no preference was 37 responses out of the several hundred calls which amounted to 19%.”
Holcomb: “Well no preference is different than no city, in terms of a question. And finally isn’t true that if you and Representative Jacobs we’re just going to conduct a telephone poll to resolve this, we could have save a lot of time and energy by a lot of members?”
Taylor: “At the end of the day what we’re trying to do is give these folks a chance to vote, this has been here for a couple of years in front of this body, you know, my commitment to everybody in this room is, if you vote this out this it’ll be the last your see this issue. Period. Forever.”
Speaker Ralston: “Chairman Recognizes Chairman McCall to your right for a question.”
McCall: “Thank you Mr. Speaker. Does my hog hunting buddy yield please, Sir?”
Taylor: “Yes, Sir.”
McCall: “Couple of questions. Number one, I’m sure most of you are trying to figure out what a country boy is worried about happening in DeKalb County, but I have to commute through there either way I go home. What worries me the most, is it not true that this committee that Representative Brockway and Oliver and all were on, met all summer long and had agreement and input from the citizens this affects. And is it not true that they pretty much gave their word that this is what it would be and I don’t want, is it not true, the reputation of this House to be tarnished in anyway by the representatives giving their word on something and then we go back and not do what they say they were going to be able to do?”
Taylor: “I respect the work of the committee. Like I said we’ve sent a lot of things over the Senate to come back as a completely different animal, this is very much that case. Thank you for your question, Sir.”
McCall: “One further question. Is it not true that when we came back after the dinner break, lunch break, whatever we call it up hear, the speaker was talking about how the Senate was monkeying with redistricting that the House sent them. Is this not the same thing the Senate is monkeying with district lines on cities instead of representative districts? I don’t get the difference.”
Taylor: “The difference I see there is this group asked the Senator who represents that area to be brought in and he changed the borders to do that, Sir.”
Speaker Ralston: “The Chairman recognizes Representative Fleming to your left for a question.”
Fleming: “To the Gentlemen in the Well. Is not true that I also had the, delight, to serve hours and hours on the subcommittee looking at the city lines along with Representative Brockway this past year? [Pause] Yes I did.”
Taylor: “Yes you did, Sir. [Laugher] I wasn’t sure that you enjoyed it that much.”
Fleming: “And is it not further true that although this is not exactly the map that that Committee suggested to the Senate, that the Senate has sent it back to us with basically one precinct difference? Isn’t that correct?”
Taylor: “That is correct. And a very small change on a couple of streets that were not in dispute that Senator Parent asked to be brought out because it was splitting the neighborhood. So there are actually two, but the one has never been a dispute.”
Fleming: “To the gentleman in the Well, also, is it not further true that this one precinct that has basically been changed happens to belongs to the Senator that represents this area? Is that not true?”
Taylor: “That is correct, Sir.”
Fleming: “And is it not further true that although hours and hours have been spent trying to, mold something that makes everybody happy, that sometimes around here that is impossible and occasionally we have to compromise, slightly, to get something ended, is that not true?”
Taylor: “That is true, Sir.”
Fleming: “To the gentleman in the Well, finally last question. Is it not true that my colleagues will please vote for this map, that the Senate has agreed to accept it, and we can be done finally with one more DeKalb issue?”
Taylor: “Thank you, Sir. With that Mr. speaker I’ll all ask for favorable consideration. I’ll yield the well.”