Mableton residents push lawmakers to remove them from the city

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Georgia Municipal Association: De-annexing would present ‘real challenge’ for the new city’s leaders

When voters in south Cobb approved creation of the new city of Mableton in November, resident Christie Lynn knew it was time for her anti-cityhood group to move toward Plan B: de-annexation.

“We see this as a forced annexation: we were forced to become part of the city with no described benefit to us,” Lynn said. “We tried to use our voices to say we don’t want to be included, but we ended up in the map anyway.”

Mableton is the one and only successful cityhood movement of four in Cobb County last year. While lawmakers devoted contentious partisan debate toward the failed cities of Vinings, Lost Mountain and East Cobb, Mableton’s cityhood referendum passed through the Legislature relatively unscathed.

But some residents quickly mobilized against it.

Three precincts in the northern part of the city boundaries overwhelmingly voted against cityhood — including Lynn’s precinct, where 71% voted against incorporating the new city.

Nearly 3,200 people in those precincts have signed a petition urging the Legislature to remove them from the city. About 4,800 votes in total were cast in the three precincts.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

An estimated 600 residents flooded state Rep. David Wilkerson’s town hall meeting last week to support de-annexation and to find out how to make it happen. He is leading the charge at the state Capitol to de-annex, and said he plans to have legislation filed soon.

One of the main complaints residents had involved the language used in the ballot question, which was written by state lawmakers. Critics say not only was the question confusing, but it was also distinctly different than the language used for the other cityhood ballot questions.

For Mableton, the question was: “Shall the Act incorporating the City of Mableton in Cobb County, imposing term limits, prohibiting conflicts of interest, and creating community improvement districts be approved?”

In Vinings, East Cobb and Lost Mountain, the questions were: “Shall the Act incorporating (the city) in Cobb County according to the charter contained in the Act be approved?”

“This is inexcusable,” Wilkerson said after showing the ballots side by side to the town hall audience.

Former state Rep. Erica Thomas, D-Austell is the author of the Mableton referendum, and she said the ballot question “definitely was very, very, very, very, very, very clear.”

She said the other details were included to set Mableton apart from other cities and ensure that its leaders had term limits.

“It said, ‘Special election, cityhood, Mableton,’” Thomas said.

Mableton will hold elections for its mayor and council in March. De-annexing before the city has its leaders is a fairly novel concept, said Rusi Patel, general counsel for the Georgia Municipal Association.

If part of the city is removed from the boundaries, the new city leaders would have “the rug pulled out from under” them as they begin planning, Patel said.

Before the Legislature approved the cityhood referendum, a feasibility study found that the area has enough tax revenue to support city services.

“But if you take a chunk out, then you’re changing what the study would have analyzed,” Patel said. “And so it’s probably not a good result if you’re taking out the wealthier area or the higher tax base area because the city wasn’t contemplated with that. And so whether or not the city becomes viable then is a real question.”

Lynn said she believes her area was only drawn into the city boundaries because of the tax revenue needed to support the poorer areas of Mableton.

“What argument would they have to force us to stay in, other than to say they need our tax dollars?” Lynn said.

Thomas said she has no concerns about the city’s viability because she believes the de-annexation effort will fail.

Some residents say they think the cityhood creation process lacked transparency because they were not notified of the boundaries. No state law requires notifation but Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, said he hopes to change that.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

“You don’t have to get any signatures to create a city. You just need a legislator and a legislative body that’s willing to do it,” Wilkerson said. “Hopefully, we will fix the process at the Capitol to come up with a better process of how these cities are created, versus putting the burden on people to actually follow everything we do.”

The Legislature can change the city’s boundaries, Patel said. All it will take to de-annex the precincts is support from the lawmakers who represent those areas.

State Rep. Terry Cummings entered the Legislature this year and is the only state lawmaker who lives in Mableton. Cummings said she’s not sure if she will support removing the precincts from the city.

“I represent the entire district, not just half,” Cummings said.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Lynn said she and others who fought against cityhood are supporting candidates for mayor and council “who will understand that we do not want to be part of the city.”

“We also want candidates that are going to hold the city to the promises they made — better services, no taxes,” Lynn said.