Stockbridge Mayor Anthony Ford had one thing on his mind Wednesday morning, just hours after voters in his city rejected a referendum that would have allowed the community of Eagle’s Landing to break away and incorporate.
“We have to sit down and have dialogue and find out with the real issues are,” Ford said of his plan to meet with organizers of Eagle’s Landing cityhood movement.
Stockbridge residents on Tuesday soundly defeated the controversial proposal that would have created the city of Eagle’s Landing by de-annexing half of Stockbridge and combining it with portions of unincorporated Henry County.
It was a ballot measure that threatened to drive apart Stockbridge, a city of more than 29,000 that will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020. Some residents accused each other of spreading misinformation and complained that racism and classism were the real reasons behind the wealthy community’s cityhood efforts.
But supporters of Eagle’s Landing’s incorporation argued the area had been ignored for too long by Stockbridge and said that the community could do a better job of providing services and attracting economic development on its own.
“It was never about Stockbridge. It was about us wanting to better our community,” said Vikki Consiglio, a leader of the effort, who said she’s been called names, received death threats and was vilified by people who did not know her just because of her involvement.
As she waited for the votes to be tallied late Tuesday, she said, “The biggest thing we are excited about is that we got to vote.”
Another supporter of cityhood, Charles Marshall, said while the measure was defeated, the ideas behind it — such as the need for parks, libraries and a sharper focus on economic development — weren’t. For instance, he said Stockbridge could develop a large city park in Eagle’s Landing that could encourage economic growth.
“We still need to work together because, if we don’t, we will miss an opportunity to develop the area,” he said. “There should be a simple goal in mind: How do we revitalize the area that benefits both Stockbridge and Eagle’s Landing.”
Opponents of the referendum said they felt relieved that it failed. Yolanda Barber, chairwoman of the Coalition to Keep Stockbridge Together, said it was not a hard choice for many of the people she spoke to. Some were angry that only those who would be included in the new city could vote on the measure, she said. That’s because the referendum’s passing would have had an impact on those left behind, she said.
“The people in the community have spoken,” Barber said. “And now we can begin the process of healing and really uniting where everyone is included.”
James Carmichael, who lived in the unincorporated portion of Henry County that would have formed part of the new city, said he thinks the measure was doomed after a federal court judge’s ruling in late October affirmed that Eagle’s Landing would be on the hook for a portion of the more than $17 million Stockbridge owes in municipal debt.
Carmichael, who opposed cityhood, said that would have necessitated a city tax and that turned off voters, especially those currently in the county like himself.
“I thought that was very pivotal,” Carmichael said of the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May. “I didn’t think that the promises (cityhood supporters) were making were well-founded or based on reality.”