OPINION: Buckhead a pied piper leading the way to rich-niche cities

Atlanta police investigate the scene of a shooting on May 17, 2021, at the Azule Restaurant and Lounge, located at 2625 Piedmont Road NE in the Lindbergh area of Buckhead. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)



Atlanta police investigate the scene of a shooting on May 17, 2021, at the Azule Restaurant and Lounge, located at 2625 Piedmont Road NE in the Lindbergh area of Buckhead. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Until recently, Bill White, the New York-to-Atlanta transplant with the bearing of a late-night infomercial barker, has been the face of the Buckhead cityhood movement.

But he has been supplanted by the sneering, squinting, taunting visage that is Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host who’s now the go-to guy for White’s secessionist message.

White, a fundraiser by trade, has lived in Atlanta for all of three years and has become the CEO of the effort for Buckhead to break away from Atlanta and become its own city. I understand why residents there want to do so. Crime has risen, as it has all across the city, and the bureaucracy of Atlanta has long been a larded, dysfunctional mess. (More on that later.)

White appeared on Carlson’s show to ballyhoo a feasibility study that says, yes, Buckhead can pay for itself as its own city. This is no surprise. In fact, tax proceeds from Buckhead could fund a new city and still have lots of money left over, according to a recently completed study from those folks at Valdosta State University’s Center for South Georgia Regional Impact. Granted, Buckhead is not exactly in the South Georgia region, but by law they needed a study to say they could pull it off.

As I’ve written before, the precedent that this would set — rich sections of Georgia’s cities taking their tax revenue and going home — is a domino that would create governmental chaos and more mayhem in an era that is already bitterly divisive.

Besides, the idea of the Haves leaving behind Those Who Have Less is not exactly the Christian way. White surely understands this but also knows that self-interest generally trumps a sense of community and shared purpose.

Bill White, the head of the Buckhead secession movement, right, on a recent appearance on the Tucker Carlson show.

Credit: Screengrab from Fox News

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Credit: Screengrab from Fox News

But White’s black-hearted buddy, Tucker, envisions something else, something more delicious: He sees this as a power play and a way to stick it to the Woke Left. And why stop using this beautiful new cudgel in Atlanta? Why not go nationwide with it?

“Atlanta needs Buckhead, Buckhead does not need Atlanta and that’s true of a lot of places,” said Carlson, as White smiled and nodded along. “This is not just a local interest story, this is of interest to a lot of people around the country who are really, really being hurt by the crazed management of their woke leaders.”

Later, he added, “We don’t have to live like this. Nobody in America should have to live like this. You owe them nothing,” his words dripping with derision. They hate you and they act like it and I hope you leave immediately. That’ll be a lesson to the rest of the country.”

Yes, Carlson believes wealthy sections across the U.S. should wall themselves off and leave the bother of paying for others behind.

This scheme, where a section of town can de-annex and start its own fiefdom, has not happened before in Georgia. Yet. The template was set in 2018 when Republican legislators voted to allow a section of Stockbridge called Eagles Landing, named for a country club, to break away and start its own city.

Only those in the confines of the proposed new city were allowed to vote, not residents of Stockbridge at large. Fortunately, the voters turned down that nasty little effort.

Let me add that sharing the cost of governance (i.e. paying for others) is the American way. The Atlanta metro area carries the rest of the state of Georgia with its taxes. And studies show that a number of blue states pay out more in federal taxes and receive less per capita than many red states. I’m sure you won’t hear that on Tucker Carlson’s show, but there you have it.

The "Buckhead city" issue remains hotly debated. (AJC file photo)

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A study put together by the forces opposing Buckhead’s secession says Atlanta would lose about $252 million in revenue. Granted, there would be savings for not having to provide services to the new city, but Atlanta would still have “net fiscal losses … ranging from an estimated $80 million to $116 million annually.”

Atlanta schools would get smacked worse, an estimated net loss of $232 million annually to its budget. You think Johnny can’t read now?

(New cities cannot, according to the Georgia Constitution, create new school districts. So Buckhead would have to think of something.)

The secession also brings to the forefront thorny issues such as what to do with legacy costs like municipal bond indebtedness and pensions. For years, Atlanta, like every other governmental body, has funded operations with tens of millions of dollars in bonds — loans that are secured by the promise that property taxes in that entity will allow repayment. Now some in Buckhead want to wash their hands and walk away from that debt?!

Bonding agencies will have a conniption at the thought of writing municipal bonds in Georgia if chunks of the Peach State’s cities, the wealthy chunks, can suddenly decide to go all footloose.

And then there’s the issue of pensions for cops, firefighters, and Department of Public Works employees, such as sanitation folks, who’ve labored for years and been promised they’ll be taken care of when they can no longer lock up perps and hump garbage cans. Who picks up that long ongoing cost?

As I said earlier, Buckhead residents are angry, frustrated and scared. Overall crime this year has increased 8% in Atlanta Police Department’s Zone 2, which is largely Buckhead, compared to the same time last year. Crime in Atlanta is up 9% overall.

Violent crime, the stuff that makes the news and gets folks worried, is up more than that, both in Buckhead and across Atlanta. So far this year in Zone 2, there have been 48 incidents in which people were shot (a 60% increase), 167 aggravated assaults (a 43% increase) and 9 murders (a 50% increase). Four of those victims were killed in the spa shootings by a wacko from Cherokee County.

Most of the five other APD zones have more than twice the raw numbers of each category of violent crime, although everything is relevant.

Last Sunday, a man got shot in the arm outside a Buckhead restaurant and it made all the newscasts. Also Sunday, three people were shot, one fatally, at a gas station south of downtown at University and Metropolitan avenues, and it barely caused a blip. In fact, I discussed another issue last week with about a dozen residents in that neighborhood — which has long been Black but is gentrifying — and the triple-shooting never came up.

Charlie Loudermilk Park in Buckhead on June 8, 2021. Buckhead, a rich neighborhood, is considering separating from Atlanta.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)


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That’s not to diminish the crime that has occurred in Buckhead and its victims. Those committing crimes, especially violent ones, need to be put away. It’s also not to say neighborhoods in south and southwest Atlanta don’t want more cops, like the people in Buckhead are calling for. They do! They just don’t have the megaphone that Bill White has.

Aside from the crime, there is the ongoing problem of dysfunction in Atlanta government, an issue that comes across again and again. On Monday, I wrote about a water contractor who has unpaid bills from the city going back a year, and the Midtown Alliance’s complaints about the city not completing needed, and doable, projects. That story brought out others contacting me with more horror stories.

The next mayor, who will be elected this fall, needs to back up the truck at City Hall and move out those who are unwilling to do their jobs, as well as install managers who can, and will, manage and help put this city back together again.

The whole city.