Atlanta leaders eye legislation under the Gold Dome

The mayor has successfully thwarted Buckhead cityhood twice — can he do it again?

Atlanta's mayor has successfully thwarted Buckhead cityhood twice — can he do it again?

On a Monday morning at the Loudermilk Conference Center downtown, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens told the city’s rotary club that later in the day, he’d be heading less than a mile up the road to the Georgia State Capitol.

There’s not too many reasons for the mayor to venture outside of City Hall to the Gold Dome. But state lawmakers are gearing up for another 40-day legislative session starting the first week of January which means politicians, lobbyists and even Atlanta’s mayor will be watching closely.

As state lawmakers return to metro Atlanta, city leaders have a carefully crafted list of requests for them, and Dickens said he isn’t wasting any time to get ahead of bills that could impact the city.

“Before the session I tried to go in and meet with the Speaker and Lieutenant Governor to get to know what they’re thinking,” Dickens told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“And they can know what I’m thinking in terms of the things that the city needs and I can get a head start on any kind of bills they may be trying to present,” he said.

But many of the biggest requests of state lawmakers from Dickens and City Council focus on what they don’t want the General Assembly to do — not what they want.

The first-term mayor has successfully thwarted multiple attempts by some GOP lawmakers to back legislation that would have paved the way for Buckhead residents to split off from Atlanta and form their own independent city.

Supporters cite concern over public safety response in the city’s wealthy, northwest neighborhood while opponents say succession would cause an array of logistical problems and set a dangerous precedent for the entire state.

Dickens didn’t seem bothered by the possibility that the debate may reemerge.

“I’m not as concerned about Buckhead as I was in 2022,” he said. “I think that we’ve done our work with the constituents of Buckhead and also with the state leadership to make sure that that is gone for a good time.”

Despite his confidence, the Dickens administration told City Council members that they are dedicated to fighting any cityhood initiative that might rear its head.

The issue was top of discussion for Kenyatta Mitchell, the mayor’s director of intergovernmental affairs, during her presentation last month to council members on the city’s legislative priorities.

“Atlanta is a city of neighborhoods,” she said. “That bond will not be divided based on the whims of outsiders.”

Outside of the legislation session, Dickens hasn’t ignored the possibility of Buckhead cityhood coming up again in discussions under the Gold Dome. At a swanky cocktail hour for young Republicans in October, the mayor said he didn’t see cityhood supporters as “the enemy.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (left) and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens joined the Georgia Municipal Association and city leaders for the annual Cities United Summit on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (City of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

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Credit: City of Atlanta

Dickens has also worked to repair the fractured relationship with the governor’s office that previous mayors arguably cultivated over time.

“Division is such an easy place to go,” Dickens told the large crowd at the rotary meeting earlier this month. “I see past those political lines of Democrat and Republican.”

GOP lawmakers have already shown they aren’t against dipping their toes in Atlanta politics this year.

During a special session of the legislature this year — convened for the specific purpose of redrawing redistricting maps — House and Senate lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution in support of Atlanta’s controversial public safety training facility.

The move was largely seen as an effort to deepen divides among Democrats over the controversial project, especially for metro Atlanta lawmakers caught in debate over the project.

Dickens administration is also sending a clear message to lawmakers that it will push back on any attempts by the state to takeover Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport — a move that would spark a political war between the city and state officials.

The last attempt by legislators to do so was back in 2019 at the height of the strained relationship between Kemp and Former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Mitchell told City Council members that the city will strongly oppose any bills that transfers ownership of the airport or creates any board that would provide oversight of the massive transportation hub.

Another legislative initiative that’s troubled city leaders is efforts to make sleeping on city streets illegal. A small group of Republican lawmakers who represent areas outside of metro Atlanta have pushed bills that advocates say criminalize homelessness and tie the hands of nonprofits who help get Atlantans off the street.

“Adding additional people to our already burdened criminal justice system is ineffective,” Mitchell said.

Instead, Dickens’ administration is advocating for a new identification card for residents experiencing homelessness that would help break barriers to housing.

What else do Atlanta officials want? They’re advocating for more action on the sweeping bipartisan mental health bill — House Bill 520 — that passed last session and legislation that would allow cities to waive or reduce development impact fees for affordable housing projects.

Although Dickens consistently touts decreasing rates of violent crime throughout the city, Atlanta lawmakers want state legislators to help by banning machine gun conversion devices known as “auto sears” or “Glock switches” that can automatically fire more than one round at a time.

The federal government already outlaws such devices.