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Dunwoody rejects move to kick HOA out of government

Fearing a homeowners association’s influence in city government, Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal asked its members who serve on government boards to choose: resign from the association or the boards.

His mandate was short-lived.

After members of the powerful Dunwoody Homeowners Association protested, saying they supported the city’s creation eight years ago and deserve a voice in local government, the directive was put on hold Friday.

The Dunwoody City Council and Shortal voted unanimously to suspend the purge of the homeowners association’s members from four boards. Over Shortal’s opposition, the council also decided to seek outside legal advice on what constitutes a conflict of interest for members of government boards.

The Dunwoody Homeowners Association boasts more than 1,000 members, some of whom are active in local government and serve as volunteers on the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Construction Board of Adjustment and Appeals, the Design Review Advisory Committee and the Planning Commission.

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“I’m so disappointed in my city,” Gerri Penn, who resigned from the Zoning Board of Appeals following Shortal’s request. “The Dunwoody Homeowners Association should be credited for making this city possible. … This was just terrible.”

Shortal said he was worried that the city could lose costly lawsuits if developers can prove that board members make their decisions based on the will of their homeowners association. In one case, the city is being sued by owners of a proposed personal care home whose application was opposed by both the Dunwoody Homeowners Association and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“The facts boil down to the protection of this city, the citizens of this city, from financial ruin,” Shortal said. “The financial liability — the city doesn’t have the deep pockets to do that.”

Some residents told the City Council on Friday that the city’s government shouldn’t be biased toward the interests of one organization like the Dunwoody Homeowners Association.

“I would rather have my representatives elected than have some kind of quasi-shadow government influencing decisions about the future of Dunwoody,” Austin Kearney said during public comments Friday.

An email sent from the assistant city attorney on June 17 asked 22 citizen members of city boards to choose one organization or the other.

The email was sent after a discussion by the city’s leaders in a closed-door executive session, leading members of the homeowners association to protest that policy was being made illegally and in secret.

“There’s a terrible flaw in this idea that City Council members or board members ought to avoid Dunwoody Homeowners Association meetings where we are talking to developers,” said Robert Wittenstein, the president of the homeowners association. “We expect our representatives to come into meetings with an open mind, not an ignorant mind.”

Councilman Terry Nall said Dunwoody’s government should be careful to set policy following a public discussion and vote — not in executive session.

“We cannot change what has already occurred, but we can take steps today for corrective action,” Nall said before the City Council vote.

Shortal acknowledged that policy should be made in the open. The city will review board membership criteria after receiving further legal advice.

“If there’s anything that we did wrong, it’s that we should have brought this out and discussed it in front of you,” Shortal told residents Friday’s meeting.

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