Lawmaker renews Buckhead cityhood push

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens pledges to fight the effort: `I’m not going to let that happen.’

A bill filed late Tuesday renews the push for the wealthy neighborhood of Buckhead to secede from the city of Atlanta, though it has no support from senior Republican leaders and stiff opposition from many of the region’s most prominent officials.

Republican State Sen. Randy Robertson, Cataula, introduced S.B. 114 that would put the question of whether or not to form a new “City of Buckhead City” to voters. If approved by the legislature, Buckhead residents within proposed boundaries would make the decision through a ballot referendum in November 2024.

The bill is virtually identical to legislation introduced last year but includes a new provision: the mayor of the proposed city would make an annual salary of $225,000 — more than Gov. Brian Kemp. Part-time “Buckhead City” council members would make $72,000.

Robertson and all eight of the other co-sponsors on the legislation live outside of Atlanta.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who successfully stymied the same proposal last legislative session, said Tuesday that he had already met with Robertson to discuss the issue.

Dickens said he sat down with the southwest Georgia lawmaker at 7 a.m. Monday morning, after hearing there was a possibility he would introduce legislation.

Roberton’s “rationale lies on the line of: `Let people make the decision,’” Dickens said of the meeting. “...Of course my thoughts are every time you pay your mortgage in Atlanta you voted on Atlanta, otherwise you sell it because a lot of people want to buy houses.”

The first-term mayor added that the neighborhood he grew up in, Adamsville, and the adjacent neighborhoods of Cascade and Buckhead were formed in Atlanta at the same time, in the early 1950s.

“Now that we’ve got the highest bond rating, the world’s busiest airport, the highest graduation rate for APS ever — now you want to leave us?” he said. “You can’t unscramble this egg. This is together. You want to undo that and still get the benefit of being adjacent to the best city? I’m not going to let that happen.”

Dickens touts his relationship with statewide elected officials and since he took office has worked hard at improving city-state relations.

Kemp, House Speaker Jon Burns and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones have all praised Dickens’ leadership of the city. Jones, who previously endorsed the cityhood idea as a state lawmaker, has said Buckhead secession is not on his to-do list but noted Wednesday he won’t hinder the legislative process.

“I’m not going to shut down the conversation if a senator brings it forward because they have legitimate issues,” Jones told the AJC. “We’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t allow the process to try to play out. I’m not shutting the door on a senator bringing forth legislation to be debated. That’s what the legislative process is all about.”

Other Atlanta leaders expressed their disappointment in the legislation.

“Residents in Buckhead and across Atlanta have expressed to me their strong lack of support for this damaging idea,” Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman said on social media.

District 7 Councilman Howard Shook told the AJC that ”no one should be surprised” by the resurgence of the effort, which has been rumored to be in the works.

“This is not new, this didn’t just happen a couple years ago,” said Shook, who is one of two council members who represents Buckhead areas. “There’s been some dissatisfaction about Buckhead being incorporated into the city since inception.”

Shook said he doesn’t field as many constituent questions about the secession push as he did last year, but he doesn’t believe supporters will give up easily.

“My job is to make sure that if voters do go to the polls to decide on the biggest issue in the history of the city of Atlanta they need all the facts — they need all the pros and all the cons,” he said. “They need to (make) the most informed vote they’ve ever cast.”

Shook noted there’s little consensus on how secession would work logistically, or its cost to taxpayers in both Atlanta and the proposed Buckhead city.

-- Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.