The bill that would authorize a referendum on establishing the city of Greenhaven still hasn’t received a hearing this legislative session, and time is running out. If the legislation is not approved, it would make the fourth consecutive year that the cityhood measure has stalled at the General Assembly.
Rep. Ed Rynders, an Albany Republican who is chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, recently provided a glimmer of hope when he told the DeKalb County House Delegation he was open to considering the measure.
Rep. Renitta Shannon, D-Decatur, said Rynders seemed to imply he would allow House Bill 644 to move forward.
“He said that in his committee, as far as he is concerned, he does not look to see if the particular city is a good idea or not,” Shannon said. “He just looks to see whether or not they have met the requirements to move forward, almost like a checking the box sort of thing.”
Rynders’ committee has not put the bill on its agenda, but he said it could happen on Feb. 27. The Feb. 28 deadline for legislation to be approved by at least one chamber is quickly approaching.
Kathryn Rice, the most outspoken proponent for Greenhaven cityhood, said the holdup is in the Senate, where no members have agreed to sponsor a bill. The House bill is backed by Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain.
Last week, Rice organized a press conference at the Capitol, where she and others begged lawmakers to allow a referendum.
“Some of our legislators have stood firm in saying, by their deliberate inaction, that they will not let us vote, unlike every other cityhood proposal that has come up after us and passed right by us,” Rice told supporters who waved pro-Greenhaven signs.
The Greenhaven bill never came up for a hearing during the legislative sessions in 2015 and 2017. The measure was approved by the Senate in 2016 but later stalled in the House. At the time, some lawmakers said they were concerned about the size of the proposed 300,000-resident city and whether it could offer services without requiring higher taxes.
A group called Neighbors Against Greenhaven has paid for ads in community newspapers. Opponents believe a feasibility study that said Greenhaven would be viable is flawed, and they point out that parcels within the city’s proposed boundary lines have been identified for annexation by other municipalities like Clarkston.
Neighbors Against Greenhaven members attended the press conference at the Capitol and stood on the opposite side of supporters. Some of them scoffed when they heard Rice equate the stalled bill to voter disenfranchisement during the Jim Crow era.
Kevin Polite, who owns property within the Greenhaven boundary lines, said he and others believe cityhood would leave them worse off.
“The majority of the people against this are senior African Americans. This is just a small group that is trying to get power,” he said of the proponents.
Tia Mitchell is the AJC’s Washington correspondent. In this role, she writes about Georgia’s congressional delegation, campaigns, elections and the impact that decisions made in D.C. have on residents of the Peach State.