Opinion: Let’s unify, get beyond Buckhead City debate

Credit: bandres@ajc.com

Credit: bandres@ajc.com

Energy should now turn toward improving public safety and other challenges facing Atlanta.

The debate over the future of Atlanta and Buckhead crescendoed last week with the Georgia Senate’s bipartisan rejection of a proposal that could have carved up the capital city, punctuating years of pitched discussions among neighbors about public safety and services.

The legislation would have allowed for the historic de-annexation of portions of Atlanta, siphoning off nearly half of the city’s tax base while requiring it to liquidate its public assets at fire sale prices. In the place of “the city too busy to hate” would have been two weaker ones staring down years of political uncertainty, complex litigation and lost economic development opportunities.

Instead, the Senate’s careful and considered decision Thursday meant Buckhead students would remain with their friends and classmates in their current Atlanta Public Schools, the state’s bonds market wouldn’t be thrown into chaos and businesses would have confidence in local utilities and political institutions.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Both sides poured enormous energy into this exercise. But with the vote finally behind us, it’s time to move forward as one city unified in the commitment to addressing violent crime and the social ills that fuel it.

To remain mired in this debate at the expense of working together to improve public safety and municipal services is to cede Atlanta’s future to Dallas, Charlotte and Nashville. Understand: we’re locked in an endless race for jobs and opportunity. Our peer competitors won’t decelerate out of genteel Southern hospitality when we’re immobilized with a broken axle and busted windshield.

Buckhead is a special place I’ve been lucky to call home for 30 years. It’s a neighborhood defined as much by the glimmering skyscrapers with major businesses as by young families living on quiet, tree-lined streets. Of course, the neighborhood and the city around it aren’t without challenges.

Like virtually every major metropolitan area in the United States, Atlanta suffered elevated levels of violent crime through the pandemic. But focused public-private partnerships, like those championed by the Buckhead Coalition, the Buckhead Community Improvement District and the Atlanta Police Foundation have helped flatten crime by 14 percent in Buckhead. With the support of the Atlanta Police Department, which has devoted significant additional financial and physical resources to local policing, Buckhead now leads the city in crime reduction.

In the short time Atlanta’s new leadership has been on the job, it has shown genuine attentiveness to Buckhead’s public safety and city services concerns while cultivating a rapprochement with the state. Already, the new mayor has gotten to work addressing crime, trash pickup, water and sewer backups and road conditions. It’s a good start and a decent downpayment on our collective future.

More is expected and even more is needed, but Atlanta’s leaders deserve the opportunity to honor their commitments to voters. Every indication is that they will. And if they don’t, we’ll hold them to account in the next election. We’re watching carefully and they know it.

But to continue litigating the now-settled cityhood question wastes time that could be spent productively addressing the real concerns that induced and animated the secession movement. The debate is closed and the vote is final. It’s time to do the neighborly thing and mend broken fences. We need Buckhead cityhood supporters’ enthusiasm and energy to make Atlanta the most welcoming, prosperous city in America. It will take all of us striving towards that goal.

Eric Tanenblatt is the global chair of public policy and regulation at law firm Dentons and the chair of the Buckhead Coalition.