Buckhead leader to depart Atlanta as cityhood group disbands

Movement ‘never ever will go away until Buckhead has the right to vote’
Bill White, chairman and chief executive officer of the Buckhead City Committee, looks through some of the boxes that are left to move from the organization's headquarters on Thursday, Mar. 30, 2023.  (Steve Schaefer/steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Bill White, chairman and chief executive officer of the Buckhead City Committee, looks through some of the boxes that are left to move from the organization's headquarters on Thursday, Mar. 30, 2023. (Steve Schaefer/steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Bill White picked up an old mailer sitting inside one of the boxes that littered the green concrete floors of the Buckhead City Committee headquarters.

Old hunter green and gold yard signs that read “Buckhead City” were stacked against the walls near collections of hats, t-shirts and other mementos.

White, the leader of the movement to sever one of Atlanta’s most prosperous neighborhoods into a city of its own, surveyed the room.

“Let us vote 2022,” he said, reading one of the old pamphlets. “Boy, that’s a keeper.”

It was one of the committee’s final days in its cavernous office on the corner of Peachtree and Pharr roads, a building that was once home to a car dealership, nightclub and five-story indoor Ferris wheel. Soon, it’ll be something else.

Signs of change were already evident: large blue painted canvasses from the artist Kate Seville were leaning against the walls and resting on a drying rack. White mentioned plans to donate the committee’s leftover green polo shirts to homeless people living nearby.

White, the committee’s divisive, ebullient and sometimes abrasive volunteer CEO, was surprisingly upbeat given recent events.

One month ago, 10 Republicans in the state Senate joined all of the chamber’s Democrats to reject a proposal that would have allowed Buckhead residents to vote on whether the north Atlanta neighborhood should secede from the rest of the city.

The vote came after Gov. Brian Kemp’s Executive Counsel David Dove issued a two-page memo that raised nearly a dozen questions about the constitutionality of de-annexing portions of an existing city.

Three days later, White penned an email to supporters bidding farewell “for now.” He blamed the Kemp administration, the mayor’s office and the civic group the Buckhead Coalition for the bill’s demise.

“Unfortunately, now that Governor Kemp has displayed that he does not support our right to vote, there is no path forward for a cityhood referendum while he remains Governor until the end of his term in 2026,” White wrote.

In an interview last week with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, with two security guards once again keeping watch, White expressed amazement at the momentum the cityhood push had gained since he joined the cause nearly three years ago.

The New York City transplant aired grievances about his political enemies, including many top aides to the governor and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens. He singled out several Republican senators whom he said had privately voiced support for the cause only to switch sides after Kemp’s team lobbied against it, and vowed to exact revenge by funding primary challengers.

White brought along several supporters to the interview, including WSB radio personality MalaniKai Massey, to show that the political will for an independent Buckhead is still alive. He insisted there are many Buckhead residents who will continue to work toward a referendum and raised the possibility of fighting through other channels, including filing a lawsuit questioning the claims made in Dove’s memo.

“Just like these other cityhood (movements), it never ever will go away until Buckhead has the right to vote,” said White, noting that it took Sandy Springs years to incorporate as an independent city.

The Buckhead City Committee headquarters and sign on Friday, Jan. 21. (J.D. Capelouto/jdcapelouto@ajc.com)

Credit: J.D. Capelouto/AJC

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Credit: J.D. Capelouto/AJC

New paths

White, however, said it will not be him leading the push moving forward.

He said that he and husband Bryan Eure, an insurance executive, are planning to sell their home in the Paces community on the western edge of Buckhead and move to their newly-renovated house on Lake Burton in North Georgia. Eventually they plan to settle in a place like Florida that has no state income tax.

“There’s no point in being here” White said, noting that Kemp will be in office until the end of 2026. “We have to leave for our own well being and fiscal sanity.”

White said he and his husband are following the lead of other cityhood supporters — and former Gov. Kemp backers — who are leaving Buckhead in response to elevated crime rates and what they view as the blasé response from elected leaders.

White didn’t start the Buckhead independence movement. But since joining what was then the Buckhead Exploratory Committee in late 2020, the longtime fundraiser for political, LGBTQ and veteran’s causes helped grow the secession push from a small, grassroots campaign to a cause célèbre.

Under his watch, the committee raised $2.5 million from 4,000 donors, he said, and attracted support from former President Donald Trump and frequent attention from Fox News host Tucker Carlson. At the state Capitol, conservative lawmakers representing districts far outside Atlanta took up the cityhood cause, most notably Lt. Gov. Burt Jones.

Bill White, chairman and chief executive officer of the Buckhead City Committee, shows the proposed map of Buckhead City at the organization's headquarters in Atlanta on Friday, February 4, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)


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White has long said he’s taken no salary from the cityhood push, and the committee’s 2021 tax documents, the most recent available, show that no members of the group’s board were paid.

That filing reported that the group raised more than $1.1 million that year and spent nearly $342,000 on lobbying, upwards of $117,000 on advertising and about $15,000 per month on rent. Because the organization is registered as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, it does not have to disclose its donors.

But White also earned his share of enemies.

Democrats, the city’s political and business establishment and powerful Buckhead civic groups argued that he was capitalizing on local fears of crime and racist tropes to grow his political profile.

White also alienated several of the state’s top Republicans, including the late House Speaker David Ralston and former Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan, especially after he circulated a vague, unfounded allegation last year about the late head of MARTA who had died by suicide.

During the AJC interview, White voiced few regrets about his work for the committee. He said he’s ready to return to his strategic consulting firm, Constellations Group.

White continued to skirt around naming the committee’s biggest contributors, although near the end of the interview Lisa Loudermilk deGolian, daughter of the late businessman and philanthropist Charlie Loudermilk Sr., dropped by the committee’s headquarters.

In the wake of Kemp’s stated opposition, the Buckhead City Committee’s board voted unanimously to shut the entity down no later than Sept. 1, according to White, and to transfer IP rights, social media and website control to board members for future use.

Banker Jamie Ensley took over as the organization’s president and treasurer late last year and is tasked with winding the entity down. Among Ensley’s remaining tasks: using the roughly $30,000 remaining in the committee’s coffers to pay taxes, attorneys fees and other remaining bills.

Anyone looking to carry the secession banner forward would need to start a new entity with new board members and fundraising, White said.

In the meantime, cityhood supporters are regrouping and considering new strategies. Among the plans being considered involve potential legal challenge to the memo authored by Dove, Kemp’s executive counsel.

“We are actively pursuing potentially suing him to establish the basis that Buckhead City of course is constitutional and to disprove the misinformation in that memo,” White said. “It doesn’t change that (Senate) vote, but there is an avenue to take that up in a proper proceeding.”

Another potentially costly option would be to challenge the way Buckhead was originally annexed into the city in 1952.

Christian Zimm, an attorney who served on the committee’s board and plans to stay involved in the cause, said supporters are “in the reevaluation stage of this and looking at the best path forward.”

“At the end of the day, the courts are going to have to be involved at some point in this discussion,” he said, whether that’s before or after legislation is passed by state lawmakers.

Bill White, chairman and chief executive officer of the Buckhead City Committee, looks over items that still need to be removed from the organization's headquarters on Thursday, Mar. 30, 2023.  (Steve Schaefer/steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

‘A resounding success’

Despite the movement’s demise this session, White called the Buckhead cityhood effort “a resounding success at every level.”

He said it especially helped draw important attention to Buckhead’s economic contribution to the city and the neighborhood’s needs.

White also outlined a laundry list of things Dickens should do to appease disgruntled Buckhead residents.

Foremost, he’d like to see a deputy mayor of Buckhead with full budget control and authority to spearhead the complete repaving of mansion-lined Blackland and West Paces Ferry roads.

White also advocated that Dickens assign roughly two-and-a-half-times more police officers to Buckhead than currently patrol the neighborhood.

Emergency fire and 9-1-1 call centers should be privatized for faster response times, he said.

White is not optimistic that the requests will be fulfilled or even heard. He said the mayor and his staff refuse to meet with Buckhead city supporters.

Despite the opening of a new Buckhead police precinct last summer, White said the area isn’t feeling any safer. He brought to the interview the funeral pamphlets for two people, Eleanor Bowles and Christopher Eberhart, who were murdered in the neighborhood late last year, and shared surveillance video from his own house from the prior evening that showed what sounded like some two-dozen gunshots popping in the distance.

White said he sold his Range Rover after it was “almost stolen” out of his driveway, which he replaced with an imposing, four-door Chevy Silverado.

“Oh, so sad for Bill and Bryan, they can’t have a Range Rover, that’s a great part of the story,” he said sarcastically, “but it’s pretty sad that you would have to be afraid to drive the car that you are driving.”

Despite his departure, White said he tried his hardest to make the neighborhood a better place.

“Please be kind to me,” he said in a text to the AJC. “I did my best and my intentions were truly to help.”


Jan. 20, 2021: The newly-formed Buckhead Exploratory Committee holds a virtual town hall meeting to discuss the possibility of Buckhead breaking off from the city of Atlanta, reviving an idea that had floated around for years.

Late March 2021: Republican lawmakers file a bill in the Georgia legislature to carve “Buckhead City” out of a portion of Atlanta.

Spring 2021: A new organization, the Committee for a United Atlanta, emerges to combat the cityhood push. Chaired by several prominent attorneys, the group vows to educate Buckhead residents about why separating from Atlanta is a bad idea.

Early May 2021: A fundraiser for the newly-branded Buckhead City Committee rakes in more than $300,000, a show of support for the nascent effort being led by New York transplant Bill White.

Sept. 3, 2021: The IRS recognizes the Buckhead Exploratory Committee as a tax-exempt non-profit.

Sept. 21, 2021: Valdosta State University completes a feasibility study on behalf of the Buckhead City Committee that finds the would-be city would be financially viable. The report finds that based strictly on the financials and barring any “social, political and governance issues,” a new city could sport a $100 million surplus on its annual budget, thanks to its large tax base.

Nov 1, 2021: During an informal legislative hearing, lawmakers get their first look at debate on whether Buckhead should split from the city of Atlanta. GOP Sen. Brandon Beach spearheads the effort during the session, but it does not receive a committee hearing.

Dec. 1, 2021: Newly-elected Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens begins actively working to stymie the Buckhead cityhood movement both during public appearances and behind closed doors. State GOP leaders praise his eagerness to repair fractured city-state relations.

Feb 10-11, 2022: Late House Speaker Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan denounce the Buckhead cityhood movement, rendering it null for the 2022 legislative session. That came after White angered officials by floating a conspiracy theory about the suicide of the head of MARTA and retweeted a post from a white nationalist blog, among other actions.

June 29, 2022: Dickens stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Gov. Brian Kemp to cut the ribbon on a new Atlanta Police Department mini-precinct in Buckhead Village.

Feb 27, 2023: A Senate study committee gives Buckhead cityhood supporters their first legislative win when they vote to advance two measures out of committee. Along party lines, senators advance both bills — S.B. 114 that outlines details of the “City of Buckhead City” and S.B. 113 that allows for the transfer of government services and facilities from Atlanta to a newly formed municipality.

March 1, 2023: The Kemp administration pens a memo of at least a dozen questions about the constitutionality of Buckhead cityhood legislation. Kemp executive counsel David Dove warns in the letter that the pair of secession bills “could reshape local governments in ways that “ripple into a future of unforeseen outcomes.”

March 2, 2023: In a bipartisan vote, the Georgia Senate rejects legislation that would have paved the way for a cityhood vote in 2024. Ten GOP senators join all the Democrats in the chamber in opposing the bill.

March 5, 2023: The Buckhead City Committee announces its “farewell” to supporters in an email that slams Kemp for allegedly killing the bill before it got “an honest vote” in the Senate. White tells supporters there is no path forward for the secession movement while Kemp is still in office.