A tale of two (really hacked off) cities

They say watching legislation grind through the process is like witnessing sausage being made. If so, a spectator to the bills to create LaVista Hills and the city of Tucker would see mystery meat on the table, entrails on the floor and bottles labeled Suspicion and Conjecture in the spice rack.

The border conflict between two proposed cities in north-central DeKalb County has occupied a good bit of time under the Gold Dome and promises to be one of those 40th-day, thumb-in-the-eye efforts that make the legislature worth the price of admission, which is still free.

Last year, the proposed city of Lakeside, which was named for a high school, pushed around the proposed city of Tucker, which also has a high school with that name. In real life, Tucker High’s football team would likely squish the Lakeside squad. But Lakeside’s adults have more political muscle than Tucker’s and are now blowing them off the line with a sneaky late-game rally – albeit under a different team name.

This year, there is no Lakeside movement shoving its weight around. The engineers of that scheme renamed the effort LaVista Hills, because it just sounds more suburban-y, and the Lakeside name was freighted with ill will.

The new-and-improved LaVista Hills was a kinder, gentler effort that tried to make peace with Tucker this year and carve out agreed-upon boundaries. Both angled for some nice residential neighborhoods outside I-285 and valuable commercial areas inside the Perimeter. When they couldn’t come to an accord, the two sides agreed to abide by the lines drawn by a House subcommittee.

Both sides ended up grumbling about the boundaries, but the lines ostensibly were “set in stone.” The city proposals were supposed to pass with no tinkering, because just about everyone at the Capitol is sick and tired of Lakeside and LaVista and Tucker and DeKalb County.

Enter Fran Millar.

Millar is a Republican state senator who helped create the city of Dunwoody. At the end of last year’s session, he was muttering all sorts of unpleasantries because the Lakeside effort he shepherded had been thwarted by fellow Republicans who didn’t like what was going on.

This year, invective is flying again, although most is aimed at Millar. Two weeks ago, the House bill, which was to remain untouched and unamended, was touched and amended by the senator from Dunwoody. Millar pulled a swath of residences — and a tax-generating Walmart and a QT — out of the Tucker map and into LaVista Hills.

For good measure, chunks of neighborhoods to LaVista’s south, Medlock Park and Mason Mill, were thrown in. Those chunks include North DeKalb Mall and the Toco Hill shopping center, which will boost LaVista’s tax base. But some homeowners who got swept along in the ploy are screaming. In fact, one mild-mannered older lady said she’d like to visit the Capitol to lob a ripe tomato at Millar.

Meanwhile, residents in the Shamrock area have been been clamoring to get out of LaVista. Of course, they were told they couldn’t leave, because the map was “set in stone.” Imagine their surprise.

Millar said he is from the other legislative chamber and was not bound by the House pledge to leave the bill untouched. He said residents living near Livsey Elementary School were overwhelmingly LaVista-leaning but were drawn into the Tucker map against their wishes. (Several residents there disagree with his assessment.) Millar said he was simply rescuing the LaVista-leaners.

I kind of see it like Putin going in and rescuing those ethnic Russians in Ukraine. A strong leader must be decisive, although I’d prefer Millar not release photos of himself shirtless on a horse.

Millar’s move was roundly condemned by folks on the east, south and west sides of LaVista, creating a the kind of anger trifecta only a savvy, experienced legislator can achieve.

The veteran lawmaker is willing to take hard-line stands to get what he wants. Earlier, he held hostage some bills designed to reform troubled Dekalb County, hoping to get a continued freeze on property tax assessments. He finally relented and allowed the reform bills to move, because even Fran knows blocking efforts to fix his county would be as popular as kicking a puppy.

Millar, naturally, leaves Democrats seething. But his antics have caused his own side consternation, too.

Frank Auman, former head of DeKalb’s Republican party and a Tucker leader, said Millar’s land grab “smacks of inside dealing.” He believes Millar’s move was orchestrated in concert with LaVista Hills organizers. They deny that. Auman also said Tucker advocates would not have sat on their hands during the entire legislative session if they knew something like this was afoot.

Even Buzz “Lightyear” Brockway, a Gwinnett County Republican and vice-chair of the House Governmental Affairs Committee, was cheesed at Millar’s move. On Facebook, Brockway, who helped draw the lines for the two new cities, said Millar’s manipulation “puts us back to where we were last year, with one group getting almost everything they want and the other getting very little of what they want.”

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a Decatur Dem, told me Millar is “monomaniacal about the Livsey precinct,” willing to scuttle all the work that went into creating the two cities.

The two took shots at each other on Facebook because, well, that’s how we roll in DeKalb.

“Please don’t be disingenuous,” Millar lectured Oliver, “it is beneath you.”

Millar is unapologetic, knowing the best defense is always an offense. “I don’t mind wearing the black hat,” he told me.

But he said he’s not willing to don this particular headgear during yet another legislative session if the cityhood effort falls short this year.

“If it doesn’t pass, you won’t see cities anytime soon,” he said. ”We’re done with it. Last one I sponsor.”


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