Atlanta Greek Festival

October 1, 2010

The Atlanta Greek Festival is this weekend at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 2500 Clairmont Road. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children under 12. Go there hungry. The food is great! Extra parking and a shuttle bus to the event are available at Century Center. Please visit atlantagreekfestival.org for more information.


Mike Gets Results: The Kosher Bill

August 2, 2010

The issues I most enjoy working on are the ones that directly impact the daily lives of my constituents.

I represent a portion of Atlanta’s orthodox Jewish community in Toco Hills along LaVista Road. Due to a lawsuit that was filed in federal district court, I was presented with a unique situation affecting this community which turned out to be one of the most interesting issues that has crossed my desk during my six years in the General Assembly.

I am writing this update for my constituents both inside and outside the Jewish community. There is more detail in this article than is needed for some constituents, but I thought everyone might want to see how an issue finds its way from the needs of constituents to become a law of this state.

Georgia had a set of kosher statutes that were overseen by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, although to the best of everyone’s recollection they were never actually enforced by that Department. In essence, these statutes said: “Thou shalt not call non-kosher food ‘kosher.’” They defined the term “kosher” as satisfying “orthodox Hebrew religious rules.”

These statutes applied to food that is prepared or served at the same location where it is sold (for example, at a restaurant or at the kosher counter of the Toco Hills Publix or Kroger). There already is a reliable means of identifying mass-produced food which meets orthodox kosher standards. The capital “U” inside a circle that is printed on many products sold at your local supermarket stands for “Orthodox Union” and is one such reliable designation for mass-produced food.

A rabbi from a conservative synagogue in Cobb County joined with the ACLU to file a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s existing kosher statutes as violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Every law professor with whom I discussed the issue agreed: That lawsuit was likely to prevail and Georgia’s kosher statutes were likely to be struck down as a result.

The ACLU engaged the services of four lawyers from one of the largest law firms in Atlanta to work on this lawsuit. If they prevailed, these four very expensive lawyers were likely to win an award of attorneys’ fees against the State of Georgia. That’s your tax dollars we’re talking about.

Members of the orthodox community approached me to help fix the problem and replace Georgia’s kosher statutes with something that would pass constitutional muster and avoid future lawsuits.

What we worked out is House Bill 1345 (click for more information).

HB 1345 sets forth a disclosure scheme in which establishments purporting to sell kosher food that is prepared on-site will have to fill out a form disclosing what rabbi or organization has certified the food as kosher and answer a series of questions about how the food is prepared. To see what this form looks like, click here. The form must be posted at the place of business where the food is sold so that kosher consumers can review it. The old “thou shalt not” kosher statutes have been repealed.

This new disclosure scheme will be administered by the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs (click for link) under the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act. One benefit to having GOCA oversee the new rules is that they have the resources to enforce the rules and intend to do so. That’s an improvement over the Department of Agriculture, which did not enforce the old statutes.

If you’re a kosher consumer and are concerned about the kosher standards used by an establishment that calls their food “kosher,” you should ask to see their disclosure form. Please keep in mind that under the new kosher statute the words “kosher-style” and “kosher-type” (and only those words; no others) are “safe harbor” terms that do not require a disclosure form to be posted.

In addition, the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act applies only to consumer transactions. If you’re attending a catered event, the only person to whom a caterer has a legal duty to make a disclosure is the person who paid for the catering services. In other words, you should ask your host, the one who paid money in a consumer transaction, what the caterer’s disclosure form said.

I would like to thank Rabbi A. D. Motzen of Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Yechezkel Freundlich of Congregation Beth Jacob, Rabbi Reuven Stein of the Atlanta Kashruth Commission, University of Georgia Law Professor Hillel Levin, attorney David Schoen, Representative Kevin Levitas (one of my House co-sponsors), Senator Don Balfour (the Senate sponsor of HB 1345), and Bill Cloud and Anne Infinger of the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs for their help in passing our state’s new kosher statute. This legislation was signed into law by Governor Perdue on May 20, 2010. Getting the bill to the Governor’s desk was a team effort.

After the passage of HB 1345, the ACLU dropped its lawsuit. The four lawyers went home empty-handed.

Click here if you would like to watch a video of my presentation of this legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives.


CEO Budget Meeting in Toco Hills

February 15, 2010

CEO Burrell Ellis is coming to Toco Hills on Tuesday evening to talk with the community about his proposed 2010 DeKalb County budget. The CEO’s budget proposal includes a substantial property tax increase.

Commissioner Jeff Rader also will be participating in this meeting. He has prepared a thoughtful analysis of the CEO’s proposed budget. Click here to read Commissioner Rader’s commentary.

The Board of Commissioners decides what goes in the final budget, subject to any line item vetoes by the CEO. As Commissioner Rader has suggested, the BOC could downsize the budget to avoid having to increase the millage rate, which is used to calculate your property taxes.

This budget meeting will be held on Tuesday, February 16, at 7:00 p.m. at the Torah Day School of Atlanta (TDSA), 1985 LaVista Road.


Atlanta Greek Festival

October 1, 2009

The Atlanta Greek Festival is Friday, October 2, through Sunday, October 4, at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 2500 Clairmont Road. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children under 12. Go there hungry. The food is great! Extra parking and a shuttle bus to the event are available at Century Center. Visit the festival website for more information.


Atlanta Greek Festival & Brookhaven Arts Festival

October 2, 2008

Two of my favorite annual House District 80 events are coming up the next two weekends. If you are looking for something to do, the food, sights, and sounds at these events can’t be beat:

Atlanta Greek Festival – Runs Thursday, October 2, through Sunday, October 5, at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 2500 Clairmont Road. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children under 12. Go there hungry. The food is great! Extra parking and a shuttle bus to the event are available at Century Center. Visit www.atlantagreekfestival.org for more information.

Brookhaven Arts Festival – Next Saturday and Sunday, October 11 and 12, on Apple Valley Road behind the Brookhaven MARTA Station. Admission is free. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the festival. Evan and I enjoy strolling through this festival every year and have artwork from the event hanging in our home. Visit www.brookhavenartsalliance.com for more information.


County Commission May Decide Ashkouti Rezoning

September 22, 2008

Here is an update from the Merry Hills Homeowners Association on the Ashkouti proposal for a 385-unit high-density development on North Druid Hills Road. The county commission could make a final decision on the proposed rezoning for this project at their meeting on Tuesday, September 23:

This Tuesday evening September 23 at 6:30 p.m., the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners will be holding a meeting to make final decisions concerning various zoning issues including the Ashkouti proposal for North Druid Hills.

As you know, their application has been denied by the community council and the DeKalb Planning Board. However, these two groups merely make recommendations to the Board of Commissioners who ultimately make the final decision. This will take place this Tuesday evening at 6:30 in the Maloof Auditorium at 1300 Commerce Drive in Downtown Decatur.

There are other issues that they will be deciding and there is no way to know exactly when the Ashkouti proposal will come before them. However, as with the other two meetings, our appearance is of the utmost importance. Our commissioners value our input and look to see how the neighborhood feels about proposed development plans. Therefore, we respectfully encourage at least one member from each household to be present at this meeting.

It is also the case that other potential developers look to see how involved the neighborhood is in these issues. A large turnout on our part sends a strong message to both our elected representatives and other potential developers that we are concerned and involved in our community. This will serve to help US shape the future of OUR neighborhood.


Trifecta of Community Events

September 8, 2008

This is just a friendly “heads up” about three community meetings and events occurring in the near future.

The first is Tuesday’s DeKalb County Planning Commission meeting to review the Ashkouti Development proposal to build a 385-unit mega project that would raze two of the single-family homes on the cul-de-sac at the end of North Holly Lane in the Merry Hills neighborhood.

The second is an organizational meeting this Sunday for the Ashford Alliance, the umbrella community association for the neighborhoods around Murphey Candler Park, Nancy Creek, and Silver Lake.

The third is a fun “Open Mic Night” sponsored by the Chamblee Arts Alliance later this month.

A copy of the notice I received about each event is found below.

1. FROM THE MERRY HILLS HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION:

As you all know the Ashkouti Development Co. is trying to gain approval for a 385 unit project on North Druid Hills Road. Gaining approval is a three step process. Step one took place the other week when the Community Council denied their application. The next step will be on Tuesday Sept. 9th when the DeKalb Planning Commission will be reviewing their request. After the Planning Commission it will go before the Board of Commissioners. Once again our presence at the Planning Commission next week is of great importance. Although they were denied by the community council, that in no way guarantees what the Planning Commission will decide. Therefore, a strong showing from the community will send a loud and clear message to our elected officials. I therefore respectfully suggest that all who are able to attend do so. Details as follows:

Tuesday September 9 th – 6:30 PM
Dekalb County Planning Commission
Auditorium in the Maloof Building
1300 Commerce Drive
Decatur

2. FROM THE ASHFORD ALLIANCE COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION:

I just wanted to make you aware that the Ashford Alliance Community Association is having a meeting that is open to our neighborhoods to discuss and receive your feedback on how the organization can best strengthen our voice on important issues impacting our homes, neighborhoods and this community. The purpose of this Sunday’s meeting is to ensure everyone has the ability to have a voice through the Ashford Alliance Community Association so that these issues can continue to be addressed effectively for the entire community.

The meeting will take place:

This Sunday, September 14, 2008
D’Youville Club House
4148 D’Youville Trace
3:00 – 6:00 p.m.

The D’Youville neighborhood is located directly across the street from Chamblee Methodist Church on Chamblee Dunwoody Road.

Our DeKalb County District 1 Commissioner Elaine Boyer and Bob Lundsten, longtime Board Member of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association and DeKalb County Board of Zoning Appeals will be special guests. Each of them can impart a valuable perspective on some of the important issues coming our way which necessitate the need to have a strong community voice. They will also offer some insight into how some other civic associations in DeKalb County have grown and strengthened their voices.

Below are a few observations I have made which reinforce the need to engage the issues and consider the impacts to our property, neighborhoods, schools, parks and infrastructure in a community wide forum like the Ashford Alliance Community Association:

-The City of Dunwoody transitions into operation in December 2008 and they will be defining land use, transportation and growth policies which impact our neighborhoods and quality of life;

-DeKalb County will be undertaking to revise their Zoning Ordinance beginning some time in the next 6 months;

-Neighborhoods from Huntley Hills to Keswick Park and all the way to Ashford Dunwoody Road on the west and Harts Mill Road as a northern boundary are considering annexing into the City of Chamblee;

-DeKalb County will have a new CEO beginning in January 2009;

-The General Assembly is likely to take up transportation funding in the 2009 legislative session;

-The Cities of Doraville, Chamblee, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs and DeKalb County all have significant growth policies for the areas on the periphery of our neighborhoods and our community;

-Redevelopment and in-fill housing continue to occur at increased rates in our immediate neighborhoods and community, notwithstanding current slow to moderate growth in the economy as a whole;

-We have a new substation and Georgia Power may not be done looking in our community for new locations for additional substations;

-Our schools have recently transitioned and are experiencing increased enrollment, increasing traffic, pedestrian and neighborhood impacts;

-Our private schools are looking at changing facilities to keep pace with other private school facilities in the Atlanta Metro Area.

I’m sure you all have more observations of impacts and issues and hope that you share them with your neighbors through the Ashford Alliance Community Association.

I hope you consider these issues and find the time in what I know are very hectic family, work and community packed schedules to participate in the AACA when you can and attend this Sunday’s meeting.

3. FROM THE CHAMBLEE ARTS ALLIANCE:

Poets, Writers, Singers, Comedians, Politicians!

Open Mic Night
9/23/08
Tuesday 7:30 – 8:30 pm
At Get Coffee
5336 Peachtree Road, Chamblee 30341 (at Pierce)
678.580.2263

Meet your neighbors and fellow artists. Bring your biz cards and network.
To schedule a 5 minute slot, contact Brian Baker, 770.986.0907 or [email protected]


Toco Hills Meeting with County Commissioners

September 1, 2008

DeKalb County Commissioners Jeff Rader and Kathie Gannon are hosting a meeting on Tuesday, September 2, to discuss the high-density development projects proposed for the Toco Hills area. Please consider attending this important meeting, as it is a chance to share your thoughts with the county commissioners who will make the final decision on any zoning changes that would be required for the proposed development projects. Here are the meeting details from an e-mail message from the North Druid Hills Residents Association:

You are invited and encouraged to attend a Community Meeting with DeKalb County Department of Planning and Development staff, and Commissioners Gannon and Rader concerning the Williamsburg Apartments, LeCraw Proposal, and Toco Hills Town Center boundaries. Copies of the Toco Hills Town Center map will be available at the meeting.

Toco Hills Town Center Planning Meeting
Tuesday, September 2, 2008, 6:00pm
Maloof Auditorium, 1300 Commerce Drive, Decatur


Standing Up for Merry Hills

August 19, 2008

For my constituents who live south of I-85 in the Toco Hills/North Druid Hills area, I am writing to notify you of a crucial rezoning meeting this Wednesday, August 20.

A developer is proposing to build a mammoth apartment complex along North Druid Hills Road between Merry Lane and the Alzheimer’s care facility. This proposal is the most egregious encroachment into a residential neighborhood I have seen during my time in public service. It reaches into the interior of the Merry Hills subdivision and includes two single-family lots on the cul-de-sac at the end of North Holly Lane.

If this developer (Ashkouti Development) is permitted to build in Merry Hills, it would set a terrible precedent for future high-density projects affecting the residential neighborhoods in the Toco Hills/North Druid Hills community.

Other neighborhoods have prevailed when developers overreach, but winning these battles requires citizens to attend the rezoning meetings. The first such meeting is Wednesday. Here are details about the meeting taken directly from an e-mail from the Merry Hills Homeowners Association:

This is a request for residents to come and speak about the Ashkouti proposal on North Druid Hills (NDH) at the upcoming Community Council meeting. The meeting represents the first stage of approvals the developers are requesting, which is a land use change from “Suburban” to “Town Center” land use designation which will then subsequently enable them to request the desired upzoning if approved this round.

The meeting is Wednesday August 20th, 6:30pm at the Mason Mill Recreation Center.

The Community Council has a very lengthy agenda this month that includes, among others, a parallel request for the much larger N. Williamsburg project proposed at Clairmont and NDH, a request for the redevelopment of the Executive Park, and a similar change at Emory for their new health sciences plan. You may need to wait up to an hour before the item is called, but your attendance and voices are critically important to inform decision-makers how you feel about this proposal.

The Community Council will listen and then make a recommendation to the Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners on this land use change application. You are invited to attend those meetings as well in September and we will remind you of those as they come up. I’m sure many people will want to speak, but typically the community has 10 minutes to speak. If you are certain you will attend and want to speak please contact [email protected]

We appreciate everyone coming out!


Breaking News on School Sale Vote

January 18, 2008

Amidst news reports that the Sembler Company is scaling back its proposed project at the intersection of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff Roads, the DeKalb County Board of Education today voted unanimously against selling the 30 acres of school property on North Druid Hills Road to Sembler.

I know a substantial number of Toco Hills, Merry Hills, Sagamore Hills, and Oak Grove residents who worked very hard to communicate the community’s opposition to the school board members.  Good work.  This shows you can make a difference when you make your voice heard.

On a related note, this past week I conducted a telephone survey of registered voters in House District 80 who reside in the immediate vicinity of the proposed high-density, mixed-use projects at North Druid Hills and Briarcliff.  I thought you’d be interested to see what our neighbors are thinking.  Here are the results:

Do you support the high-density, mixed-use commercial and residential development projects that are proposed for the intersection of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff Roads?

Yes – 22% – 55

No – 66.5% – 167

Undecided or no opinion – 11.5% – 29

Would you support a decision by the DeKalb County Board of Education to sell the 30 acres of school property on North Druid Hills Road to the Sembler Company for redevelopment into a new high-density, mixed-use commercial and residential development project?

Yes – 22% – 55

No – 66.5% – 167

Undecided or no opinion – 11.5% – 29

Do you support the creation of a tax allocation district to use county and school property taxes from commercial properties in the local area to fund transportation infrastructure improvements at the intersection of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff Roads?

Yes – 24.5% – 61

No – 57% – 143

Undecided or no opinion – 18.5% – 47


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