DeKalb city border dispute reaches governor’s race

The effort to create Georgia’s newest city is well on its way to becoming an issue in this year’s governor’s race, even as a key committee vote scheduled for Wednesday still does not have a final map of its boundaries.

Lakeside’s borders have changed repeatedly since advocates first proposed carving the city out of north-central DeKalb County last year. The exact borders were again murky when the state Senate, two weeks ago, approved Senate Bill 270 with a new map its sponsor said was up for debate.

At issue: Lakeside has repeatedly included part of Tucker, a century-old community whose residents had already proposed forming a separate city unto themselves.

“The Legislature is imposing on the people of Tucker to agree to form Lakeside,” said Gene Reeves, a retired executive who has lived in Tucker since 1970. “Everyone knows where Tucker is, and those boundaries should be respected.”

Leaders from both would-be cities met privately Tuesday afternoon, trying to hash out a last-minute deal on boundaries.

At the same time, dozens of area residents showed up at Briarlake Baptist Church, where Gov. Nathan Deal was making a campaign stop to answer questions about faith and politics.

Several residents had submitted cards to ask the governor about his stance on the border dispute. The governor, after speaking for 30 minutes touting his record, did not answer any questions about the looming cityhood issue but did end by saying the question of borders was not “appropriate” for him to address.

Cityhood “is not on my agenda. Those are local issues,” Deal told the crowd. “I respect the power of local governments and General Assembly members who represent local communities to come up with what’s best for the county.”

Already, though, Deal’s Democratic opponent for governor has raised the issue of the DeKalb County border fight as an unfair political battle.

State Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, represents the would-be city of Briarcliff that overlaps with the southern part of Lakeside. He railed against the Senate’s Feb. 26 approval of Lakeside as an example of denying Briarcliff residents and other citizens the right to vote on their own futures.

“This map changes every day,” Carter said. “The big problem I have with that is all of the people who live in my district, who are left out of this map, are left behind without a vote. Their only crime is being represented by a Democrat instead of a Republican, and we all know it.”

Tucker and Briarcliff cityhood proposals, both sponsored by DeKalb Democrats, stalled in committee this year.

But representatives from both attended a House Governmental Affairs committee meeting last week to argue that Lakeside’s creation would doom their efforts.

In addition, a handful of Tucker advocates worked under the Gold Dome on Tuesday, again trying to convince state House members to yank their community from inside Lakeside or kill Lakeside outright until there are clear borders.

The dispute has already split the relatively small DeKalb Republican Party, which represents between 10 and 20 percent of voters in Georgia’s most heavily Democratic county.

Among the Tucker proponents: Frank Auman, the former head of DeKalb’s Republican Party, and Honey Van de Kreke, a business owner and longtime GOP activist.

Meanwhile, key players in the Lakeside movement include Kevin Levitas, a former Republican state lawmaker from the area, and Steve Schultz, a GOP consultant who once ran an unsuccessful campaign against Levitas.

Susan Meyers, a board member of the Lakeside City Alliance, declined to comment during the governor’s remarks about the boundary or political issues.

Rather, she said the battle itself showed the momentum in DeKalb for areas to carve themselves into cities.

“People are immensely unhappy with the county and want the ability to vote on their own future,” Meyers said. “We expect the House to pass (the Lakeside bill) and for the referendum to pass on the ballot May 20.”

Before that, political considerations could erupt at Wednesday’s committee hearing. Also on the agenda is the resolution from DeKalb’s House delegation leader, state Rep. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta, to vote against any new cities this year.

Even the sole Republican on the DeKalb County Commission approved that “cooling off“ period as a way to give DeKalb time to plan how to carve up its entire county at once, via new cities, annexations or the possible creation of townships.

State Rep. Amy Carter, R-Valdosta, did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment about Wednesday’s scheduled agenda.

DeKalb County leaders, though, decided not to wait. Late Tuesday, interim CEO Lee May issued an executive order to create a 15-member charter task force as early as next week.

Among its goals will be to plot the county’s march toward municipalization, as well as review whether DeKalb should eliminate its CEO form of government.

May and the commission had agreed on that agenda for lawmakers, but none of their joint requests have been taken up this session.

“Unfortunately, there has been no political will to address these issues at the state level, and we’re seeing the very real problem of how unclear the right to incorporate with your own borders can be,” May said. “So we have to show the residents, the lawmakers and everyone we are serious about handling this work ourselves.”

What’s next: The House governmental affairs committee meets at 1 p.m. Wednesday in room 606 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building in Atlanta.

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