For Buckhead cityhood, lack of support from local legislators on display

Credit: Screenshot via Zoom

Credit: Screenshot via Zoom

Atlanta delegation holds meeting focused on cityhood question

The lack of local legislative support for the Buckhead cityhood movement was on display during a Wednesday meeting of state representatives and senators who represent the city of Atlanta.

The delegation heard from stakeholders who outlined their arguments against the secession movement, including questions they still have about the specifics of the cityhood proponents’ plans.

There was no one from the Buckhead City Committee at the virtual meeting to answer those questions. Rep. Betsy Holland, who represents a Buckhead district and chairs the Atlanta House delegation, said committee CEO Bill White was invited to speak during the meeting, but said he had a scheduling conflict. The delegation asked for a time that would fit his schedule, but didn’t hear back, Holland said.

ExploreBuckhead cityhood hangs in the balance as session nears

“We all regret that Bill White deemed it not necessary for him to participate in this process,” state Sen. Nan Orrock said. “It would’ve been a very valuable opportunity for an exchange.”

Sam Lenaeus, the president of the pro-cityhood group, attended the virtual meeting but did not speak. He said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that ”the joint delegation is free to meet whenever it wants to talk about whatever it wants. We offered to send a representative to answer questions from members, but they said no.”

Groups that oppose cityhood, as well as leaders from Atlanta City Hall, Atlanta Public Schools and the Georgia Municipal Association, shared concerns during the meeting surrounding the future of APS, bond obligations and startup costs should Buckhead be carved into its own city.

Ed Lindsey, a former Republican state representative who now co-chairs the Committee for a United Atlanta, which opposes the cityhood movement, equated the venture with trying to unscramble an egg. He said it was especially significant that none of the lawmakers who represent Atlanta have sponsored the legislation that would allow Buckhead residents to vote this November on whether to create the new city.

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Michael Handelman, who chairs the resident-led Neighbors for a United Atlanta, said he has yet to see evidence that creating a new police department from scratch would lead to a drop in crime. Tom Gehl, the director of government relations for the Georgia Municipal Association, said Buckhead cityhood could create a statewide precedent of “dividing wealthy neighborhoods from the less well-off areas.” He also said Buckhead cityhood could negatively impact municipal bond ratings statewide.

“Credit rating agencies are watching,” Gehl said.

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In addition to the legislators, over 100 people attended the virtual meeting, including several Atlanta City Council members, Council President Doug Shipman and APS board members. Mayor Andre Dickens briefly joined the call to thank the leaders and express his belief that Atlanta should stay together.

“Together, we can go further and do more,” Dickens said.

Kenyatta Mitchell, the administration’s new director of intergovernmental affairs, spoke during the call — on her second day on the job — about what Dickens is doing to bolster public safety in Buckhead and work with state leaders.

While none of the Democratic lawmakers representing Atlanta have expressed support for Buckhead cityhood, the fate of the legislation could come down to Republican leaders who control the House and Senate, as well as Gov. Brian Kemp. Dickens has met with several state Republican leaders in recent weeks to lobby against Buckhead cityhood; they have yet to take a stance on the proposal.