Inside City Hall: Buckhead’s 2 councilmembers are neutral on cityhood

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Atlanta City Councilmembers Howard Shook and Mary Norwood. (AJC File)

Credit: AJC File

Credit: AJC File

Atlanta City Councilmembers Howard Shook and Mary Norwood. (AJC File)

The two Atlanta City Council members who represent Buckhead — Mary Norwood and Howard Shook — are no strangers to thorny issues in city politics. Shook has been on council since 2002, and Norwood made her return to City Hall last week after three previous terms, two bids for mayor and a stint leading the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods.

Both are influential voices on the northside of the city. And neither is publicly coming out in support or against the Buckhead cityhood movement.

New Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, and much of the rest of the council, have been vocal opponents of the secession movement. But Shook and Norwood have different reasons for staying neutral on the divisive issue.

Last year, Norwood didn’t take a side on cityhood given that she was leading the Council of Neighborhoods. When asked last week what her stance was, now that she’s no longer chair of the group, Norwood said she is still taking in information from both sides of the argument, and leaving the door open to the idea.

“I have not reviewed anything to date that would tell me I have all of the information I need to even begin to make a decision,” Norwood said last week. “I think it’s very important that we take a look at what is the best thing for this area and for the constituents that I serve.”

Last week, Norwood also introduced a resolution to create a “Buckhead Public Safety Task Force,” a move she said was unrelated to the politics of the cityhood movement.

Shook, meanwhile, said he got guidance from the city law department that per state law, the council members aren’t allowed to voice support or opposition to a referendum question. (Buckhead cityhood isn’t a referendum yet, but it could be if the state Legislature signs off on it this spring.) Shook said he asked for the specific legal citation but hasn’t heard back.

But he’s voiced more skepticism about the idea than Norwood, telling us last week that the Buckhead City Committee’s financial analysis is incomplete, and a number of other questions surrounding financials and bond obligations haven’t been answered.

“A lot of attention needs to be paid to what problems people think would be solved with the creation of the new city,” he said, adding that Buckhead City would still be subject to Fulton County’s government entities like the court and tax assessor’s office.

It’s unclear what could happen to Norwood and Shook’s council seats if Buckhead cityhood were to succeed.


Atlanta mayor Andre Dickens puts on his mask as he arrives at United Methodist Church in Buckhead to the memorial service for the late U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson on Thursday, January 6, 2022. (Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

After being sworn in last Monday, Dickens spent his first week as mayor visiting with the city’s police officers, meeting with state and local officials like Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and solidifying his top staff.

He immediately renewed the city’s mask mandate and pandemic emergency orders after his swearing-in ceremony. He’s also asked the city’s department leaders and supervisors to “review existing telework agreements to ensure effective customer service is being delivered,” according to a memo from Human Resources Commissioner Jeffrey Norman that we obtained.

City employees last week were told to continue to leverage a mixture of optional work-from-home and in-person assignments for the near future for non-mission critical employees.

On deck for Dickens: The mayor is expected to speak at the end of the annual Eggs and Issues Breakfast this Wednesday, which will also be attended by the state’s top political leaders.


You may have also seen chatter or news stories last week about a former aide to Atlanta’s new mayor being arrested at the Atlanta airport.

Let’s clear up what happened. Ali Carter was most recently chief of staff in Dickens’ council office. Back in 2020, a warrant was issued for his arrest out of Douglas County after he allegedly made threats during an argument with his ex-wife’s boyfriend regarding the boyfriend’s disciplining of Carter’s children, our colleague Caroline Silva reports.

Atlanta police released body camera footage of his arrest, which showed officers intercept a flight from Charlotte as it pulled into the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Officers handcuffed Carter in front of the other passengers and escorted him off the plane.

As he was taken away, as an officer explained the warrant, Carter said, “I don’t know what the hell is going on.” He also invoked Dickens several times during the arrest.

“Call the mayor, man. I’m chief of staff for our new mayor,” he said. Carter was booked into the Clayton County jail and released the following morning.

The day of Dickens’ inauguration, and throughout his first week in office, Buckhead cityhood supporters sought to use Carter’s arrest to knock Dickens. And they spread some falsehoods about the situation in doing so.

In a press release sent out Wednesday, the Buckhead City Committee said Carter is Dickens’ “incoming chief of staff.” That’s not true; Dickens hasn’t picked a permanent chief of staff for his administration. Last we heard, the city was conducting a search for one.

While Carter did work for Dickens in his council office, a city spokesman said last week that “he is not part of the mayor’s administration and is no longer an employee of the city of Atlanta.”


Meanwhile, former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is undertaking new enterprises now that she’s no longer running the city. The Los Angeles-based Creative Artists Agency announced last week that Bottoms is now one of their speakers.

The CAA works with event managers to book presentations from a roster of celebrities and corporate leaders.

On a more local note, Bottoms took to Twitter last week to call out supply chain issues at the Publix grocery store in her southwest Atlanta neighborhood. It’s clear she’s still got pull in the corporate world because the chain’s Twitter account quickly responded and said the supermarket supply chain is under stress from product and labor shortages.

Bottoms thanked Publix for the response, but she still questioned discrepancies at different Publix stores.

“I understand the global challenges, but it is difficult to understand why some stores, within a few miles of each other, are consistently stocked and others are not,” Bottoms tweeted.