Wednesday, February 3, 2010

DeKalb Schools Spending $382K On Hollywood Conference

We've reported many times on government waste and abuse of taxpayer money. It doesn't just happen on the state and federal level, but also on the county and city levels. In this instance, WSB-TV is reporting that nearly 200 DeKalb County school employees will be boarding flights to Los Angeles this week to attend an education conference that will cost taxpayers nearly $400,000. The money isn't coming from local tax dollars but from federal dollars that came to the county as part of the Obama administration's 2009 stimulus package.

Stimulus money from Washington is often discussed in terms of "shovel ready" construction projects that are supposed to create jobs for unemployed Americans. But the DeKalb County School System has decided to use stimulus money to attend a four-day conference sponsored by America's Choice, which a schools spokesman calls "a great thing."

The organization's Web site describes it as a "solution provider" ... that offers "comprehensive, proven solutions to the complex problems educators face in an era of accountability." The Web site also says America's Choice has "an unparalleled history as a national thought leader."

School spokesman Dale Davis told WSB investigative reporter Richard Belcher that 184 principals, instructional coaches, district staff and teachers are scheduled to attend the conference in Hollywood. We found that the primary conference hotel is the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel and Spa.

Davis said the school system will spend $91,500 for conference registrations and another $291,400 for hotels, flights, meals and incidentals. That's a total of $382,900 in federal tax money. In an email, Davis wrote, "I am happy that you are expressing interesting in this training opportunity for our employees. We are focused on student improvement. America's Choice is in partnership with the district to help improve the academic success in 40 of our lowest performing schools."

DeKalb's Board of Education recently touched off angry public protests by teachers when it awarded a new contract with a $15,000 raise to Superintendent Dr. Crawford Lewis. The board has defended the raise, even though it came at a time when the system is facing severe budget problems. Lewis is not attending the America's Choice conference.

We'll update this story as soon as we get new information.

Sinkhole Opens Up In Georgia Diner Parking Lot

A deep sinkhole opened up in the parking lot of a popular Gwinnett County restaurant. There are concerns it could get worse during the upcoming rains and there's debate over who will fix it.

Barricades and yellow tape surrounded a sinkhole in the parking lot next to the Georgia Diner on Pleasant Hill Road Wednesday. The sinkhole had already eaten a tree and some pavement.

The sinkhole isn't very wide – but it is at least 20 feet deep.

"Yeah well…somebody's got to fix it I would think," said customer Edward Powell.

But the fix is turning out to be complicated.

A restaurant employee, who did not want to be named, said the restaurant hired attorneys because the owners believe the sinkhole repair is the county's responsibility since the broken pipe joint links up to the storm water system. But the county said there's an easement – a clear agreement that when the property was developed, the property owner would become responsible for management and maintenance of pipes.

The county estimated the cost of repairs could be $500,000, not just because of how deep it is and the utilities that might be down there, but because of how close it is to the diner.

The county said the owner was warned about the issue. The employee said that the owner feels the county's fix of another problem two years ago caused the current issue.

"Well they need to fix it before a big rain comes and the whole thing will flood," said Powell.

The restaurant owner's attorneys couldn't be reached for comment. The county said it will monitor the issue in the coming days to make sure it doesn't become a threat to public safety.

Body Discovered On Train Tracks

East Point police are investigating the discovery of a body on a set of train tracks. It happened near the intersection of Willingham Drive and East Main Street.

Authorities have not released details on how the individual got onto the tracks, but they are still investigating.

Bear Sighted Wandering Through Cumming

Some residents in Cumming are concerned that a bear is making himself quite at home in their neighborhood.

"New Year's Eve, my wife looked out and said ‘there's a bear in the back yard!'" said John Lalonde.

And sure enough, Lalonde said there was. The bear has been spotted at least six or seven times at four or five different houses, and residents say he keeps coming back. Apparently, the bear is a fan of birdseed.

"He mosied onto the bird feeder, drank water and went through the bushes. He came back the next night did the same thing," said Lalonde.

"He was here 25 minutes the last time he was here. He spent 25 minutes eating," said Lalonde.

In that time, Lalonde managed to get a picture of the bear. Although grainy, you can make out a large dark figure that appears to be looking back.

"He's over 6 feet … 400 pounds. Big," said Lalonde.

The bear stopped by Ron Williams' back yard a few doors down. It climbed over his fence and made a beeline for the birdfeeders too.

"I heard this loud growl and I turned around and the bear was standing at the tree," said Williams. "Full grown black bear, beautiful shiny coat … I mean he's full grown," he said.

Williams was only 15 feet away. He was concerned about his dogs, Blue and Blazer, who had no idea what they were dealing with.

"My dogs were all over, they're at the bear nipping at its heels and I'm trying to get them away," said Williams.

For now, people in the area say they won't go out after dark until they're sure the bear is gone.

"I take the feeder down at night," said Lalonde, hoping that will get rid of their unwanted visitor.

"I'll put up with a dog, a coyote or a deer because they will run from you. But a bear … that's a different story," said Williams.

Information taken from WSB-TV and

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