Imagine if Buckhead residents decided they’d had enough of the city of Atlanta and wanted out. They were tired of the political clout residing elsewhere in the city. Or they wanted to leave behind the city’s poorer, less desirable portions to form their own government.
Well, a bill now in the state Legislature would create an avenue for that kind of thing to happen.
The bill would carve out a chunk of desirable land from the southern portion of the city of Stockbridge and enable those residents to create the city of Eagles Landing, which is also the name of the country club there.
The city of Stockbridge is fighting this bitterly, saying the secession would pull 9,000 residents from the city of 27,000. It would also erase more than half of the city's $8.1 million general fund.
City Council members, legislators and even the Georgia Municipal Association have said this sort of thing has not happened before.
“This has not been done; a new city has never gone in and de-annexed part of an existing city,” said City Council member Elton Alexander. “They’ve never gone in and raided the sovereignty of a city. If this happens, you know there will be all sorts of (new) cities.”
And, as you might have guessed, there is a racial element to this effort, the proposed city’s opponents argue.
Last fall, Stockbridge residents — 62 percent of them black, 25 percent white and 12 percent Asian — elected the city’s first black mayor, Anthony Ford. All five council members, who are elected at-large, are black.
Interestingly, black voters in many jurisdictions have fought in court over the years to get district voting — rather than at-large voting — because it gives minority candidates a better chance of getting elected. Perhaps a white voter here may someday try the same tactic.
“There was no move to leave the city when it” was controlled by whites, said Alexander, who would become an Eagles Landing resident. He added, “If this bill passes, it will put bond ratings of all cities at risk. Bonding agencies want stability.”
State Sen. Emmanuel Jones, a Democrat who represents most of Stockbridge, chimed in: "This would set a dangerous precedent. No city would be safe from other cities' incursions. They are carving out prime development. It would undermine the existence of cities. I can't tell you how dangerous this is."
The bill in the Legislature to create the new city is being pushed by Republicans, although not all Republicans.
Last year, state Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Albany, chair of the House Governmental Affairs Committee, told the Henry Herald: "What you're asking for is extremely unique that we can't find has ever been done before. … On the surface, that makes me nervous. We don't want to create a situation where a neighborhood can jump ship every time someone threatens to raise property taxes. We'll be seeing cities do this all the time."
The Georgia Municipal Association, which of course supports municipalities, put out a statement on the issue. It uses the term “existing municipalities” three times, so I’ll paraphrase: This shouldn’t happen unless the current City Council and a majority of voters approve.
That means if Buckhead wants to secede, then voters in all of Atlanta, not just the disgruntled Buckhead voters, should get to vote.
Vikki Consiglio, a leader of the pro-Eagles Landing movement, pushed back on the idea that this is at all unique. She pointed out that cities such as Dunwoody and Sandy Springs were carved from unincorporated county areas.
“Cities form from other governmental entities,” she said. “Our city is from two governments — from a city and a county.”
About half of the residents of the proposed city are now Stockbridge residents. The others are in unincorporated Henry County.
She also pushed back on the idea this would be a white power grab. About 47 percent of the residents of Eagles Landing would be black, 39 percent white and 8 percent Asian.
Eagles Landing would be about 12 square miles and would encompass more than a dozen subdivisions, including Eagle’s Landing Country Club, whose residents include celebrities, doctors, athletes and other big-hitters. (The country club’s name includes an apostrophe, but the proposed city’s name does not.)
The legislation, according to state Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, one of the sponsors, would de-annex chunks of Stockbridge and allow voters of those areas — and other adjoining unincorporated areas — to vote in a referendum to create Eagles Landing. The legislation would add new land to Stockbridge to make up for what the city loses. That too, it seems, would go to a vote.
He says he’s all about people getting the right to vote and represent themselves.
Kathryn Gilbert, a former Stockbridge City Council member, groaned when I mentioned the white-black dynamics of the Eagles Landing initiative.
“That’s a ridiculous allegation trying to make it a racial thing; it would be a majority-minority city,” she said. “I am so fed up with this racial crap.”
Gilbert, a resident of Stockbridge for 20 years, supports the proposed city, of which she would be a resident. “Stockbridge has a horrific reputation,” she said. “The city is a laughingstock.”
Over the past decade there have been seven mayors, if you include the time the mayor-pro-tem had to sit in. The council voted one mayor out of office and another, who was ordered by the council to attend anger management classes, resigned. Weird land deals and loud accusations have been the norm.
I'm not saying that Stockbridge has been a hotbed of good government or anything. In fact, the politics of the past 10 years read like the place is Crazy Town.
But to allow aggrieved populations to grab their goods and run whenever they have a beef with City Hall will set in motion a dynamic that I don’t think will, in the long run, be good for the state.