Cobb cityhood lawsuits dismissed

A political sign in favor of Lost Mountain cityhood is seen in Cobb County on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
A political sign in favor of Lost Mountain cityhood is seen in Cobb County on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Cobb County cityhood opponents on Wednesday voluntarily dismissed their lawsuits challenging the proposed city charters, saying the issue is moot after all three city movements were rejected by voters in May.

But the dismissal leaves unanswered the question at the heart of the case: Can the Georgia Legislature establish so-called “city lite” charters that limit the authority of local officials to set tax rates and provide municipal services?

The lawsuits argued that “city lite” charters are unconstitutional, and provisions that tried to restrain the proposed cities of East Cobb, Lost Mountain and Vinings from providing certain services have no legal power to tie the hands of local elected officials.

That’s also the opinion of the legislature’s own attorneys, who for years have told lawmakers that “city lite” charters are more of a marketing device than a legal tool that actually restricts a city’s powers.

Nonetheless, state lawmakers this year sent voters three charters that purported to limit the powers of the proposed Cobb cities. And without a court weighing in, it leaves the door open for “city lite”-style charters to appear on ballots in the future.

Opponents say these charters are misleading to voters. Cityhood supporters use the disputed charters on the campaign trail as evidence that these cities would be limited in scope, with guardrails that would prevent the cities from adding new public services and increasing taxes.

“I am very pleased that the voters within the proposed city limits recognized the facts and voted based on that,” said Dora Locklear, the leader of anti-cityhood group West Cobb Advocate, which brought one of the lawsuits.

“There’s still the unconstitutionality of this ‘city lite’ model and the bait and switch that it provides to the voters,” she added. “That still needs to be addressed, either in the courts or at the state legislative level.”

An attorney for the cityhood movements previously told the AJC that the charters are constitutional because they don’t actually take away any powers from city leaders. Instead, they simply provide the initial setup for the cities, and can be changed later by elected officials if they choose.