Despite Eagle’s Landing defeat, Stockbridge mayor presses court fight

Despite defeating the Eagle's Landing secession plan at the ballot box last week, Stockbridge Mayor Anthony Ford wants to continue the fight in court.

The unprecedented attempt to break away from an existing city to start a new one had drawn statewide interest in the Eagle’s Landing ballot issue. Some feared that other affluent communities in the state, namely Buckhead, might attempt to break away from their current cities if the effort in Henry County succeeded.

Ford said he will ask the Stockbridge City Council this week to press forward with pending litigation that attacks the constitutionality of what Eagle’s Landing secession proponents were trying to do.

It’s important, he said, to resolve the questions before the Georgia Supreme Court and U.S. District Court in Atlanta to protect other communities who may face what Stockbridge officials viewed as an existential threat to their community’s future.

“We have to have a decision because there are going to be other people around the country and around the state looking to us on this issue,” Ford said. “Other people may get invaded by other folks who want to take their economic corridor and split off.”

Residents of Eagle’s Landing, a wealthy community in the southern end of Stockbridge, sought last week to separate from the south metro Atlanta city and create a town of their own. To do so, the plan was to de-annex half of Stockbridge — including half of its businesses — and combine it with parts on unincorporated Henry County. That ran counter to traditional cityhood efforts in Georgia that cobbled together only unincorporated parts of a county to form a new city.

Stockbridge residents overwhelmingly voted down the referendum and many believe the secession effort inside the city is dead.

Joshua Meddaugh, an associate professor of political science at Clayton State University, said he doesn’t think Stockbridge’s win will dissuade other Georgia communities from seeking secession. Instead the fight gave them a “do’s and don’ts” blueprint to follow.

The courts, however, may not believe they need to wade in right now, Meddaugh said.

“They might argue that it’s a moot point considering the referendum failed,” he said.

Continuing the lawsuits will come at a cost to Stockbridge taxpayers.

To date, Stockbridge has spent $480,000 in legal fees alone to argue the city's case against Eagle's Landing cityhood, including hiring a legal team that included former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers and the Atlanta firm for which he works, Balch & Bingham.

Ford said he did not know how much more Stockbridge would spend. Still, the mayor believes it’s important to get an answer from the courts for other communities.

“It can answer, ‘What have the federal and state courts said about this issue in some other place in the country?’” Ford said. “We need that.”

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