Hearings set for Buckhead cityhood bill during special session, lawmakers say

State Sen. Greg Dolezal (seated, left), signs onto the bill in support of Buckhead cityhood, alongside Sen. Brandon Beach (seated) and other state senators and cityhood supporters. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

State Sen. Greg Dolezal (seated, left), signs onto the bill in support of Buckhead cityhood, alongside Sen. Brandon Beach (seated) and other state senators and cityhood supporters. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

During the General Assembly’s special session beginning Nov. 3, a state Senate committee is set to hold hearings on a bill that could lead to Buckhead’s separation from Atlanta, Republican lawmakers announced Wednesday.

At a press conference Wednesday announcing the next steps for the controversial cityhood push, Sen. Brandon Beach, the sponsor of the legislation, said Sen. Lee Anderson, chair of the Senate’s local government operations committee, agreed to hold hearings on the matter. “Buckhead City” proponents are also pushing for hearings in the state House of Representatives.

Beach said lawmakers will not take a vote on the bill during the special session, which begins the day after Atlanta’s mayoral election. The bill would allow Buckhead residents to vote in November 2022 on whether they want to split from the city. The discussion has become a major factor in the city’s mayor’s race, which is likely to head to a runoff.

None of the roughly dozen Republican senators who have signed onto the bill represent Atlanta or Buckhead, which critics often point out.

While legislation involving cityhood and annexation typically requires the support of local representatives, Beach said the cityhood bill would bypass that process by being drafted as a “general bill,” meaning it would not necessarily need support from the local delegation to move forward.

Standing with Beach and other Republican senators at Wednesday’s press conference, Bill White, the CEO of the Buckhead City Committee, used worries over violent crime in Atlanta to send the message that secession for Buckhead is needed.

Bill White, the Buckhead City Committee Chairman and CEO, speaks at a press conference Wednesday morning with state senators Randy Robertson, Greg Dolezal and Brandon Beach. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

“The residents of Buckhead believe we’re living in a war zone,” said White, who has a political background in New York and moved to Atlanta three years ago. “There’s a total lack of leadership from the city of Atlanta.”

His remarks also touched on street racing, recent shootings and the Buckhead Coalition, a local group made up of business and civic leaders that opposes the cityhood movement. White accused the group of “spewing lies and doomsday drivel.”

The coalition’s leader, Jim Durrett, watched the press conference from the back of the crowd at Charlie Loudermilk Park.

“People are going to learn what the devastating impact will be not only to the city of Atlanta ... but also to the state of Georgia if this were to be allowed to happen,” Durrett said after the press conference.

Opposition to the cityhood push is also ramping up. The Committee for a United Atlanta, which was formed to fight the Buckhead City movement, announced plans to run full-page ads in local newspapers with the signatures of over 200 Buckhead residents and business leaders, including big names like Arthur Blank, Steve Koonin and Robin Loudermilk.

“Carving up the city of Atlanta would be a race to the bottom,” said Billy Linville, a spokesman for the anti-cityhood committee. “Atlanta is known throughout the world as a city that comes together in times of need and that’s what we need to do today — come together, not split apart.”

The Buckhead City Committee released the results of its own study conducted by Valdosta State University earlier this month that showed the new city would be financially sound. That study didn’t examine the fiscal impacts on Atlanta’s budget if Buckhead were to leave.

White said the committee doesn’t plan to study that, but a report commissioned by the Buckhead Coalition showed Atlanta would lose between $80 million and $116 million in annual net revenues if Buckhead incorporated. It predicted taxes could go up for Atlanta and Buckhead residents.

White dismissed those findings as “gloom and doom.” He said Buckhead City would take away about 10% of Atlanta’s budget, and its students would still go to Atlanta Public Schools.

Beach said he has talked to Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who serves as president of the Senate, about the proposal.

“He’s not really for this at this point but he is willing to allow it go forward with discussion,” Beach said.