The Jolt: Mayor of proposed ‘Buckhead City’ would make $225,000 per year

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Republican state Sen. Randy Robertson of Cataula (center) has offered bill on the proposed "Buckhead City." (Natrice Miller/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Republican state Sen. Randy Robertson of Cataula (center) has offered bill on the proposed "Buckhead City." (Natrice Miller/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Buckhead neighborhood in Atlanta has long had a reputation as one of the priciest parts of the city, but one detail in a new bill again proposing a “City of Buckhead City” is bound to get lawmakers’ attention.

The salary of the mayor, if the hypothetical city is ever created, would be a cool $225,000, according to Senate Bill 114, the new bill from state Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula.

For perspective, that’s quite a bit more than Gov. Brian Kemp’s annual $175,000 and exponentially more than most small cities around Georgia.

Our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu spotted this year’s version of the Buckhead City legislation in the hopper late Tuesday. Along with Robertson, all four of the other lead Senate co-sponsors live outside of Atlanta, too.

Much of their proposal is the same as last year’s, with the exception of the salaries for the mayor and six city council members, who would have made $9,000 and $8,000, respectively in last year’s proposal.

Along with the mayor’s big boost, this year’s bill would also have the part-time “Buckhead City” council members raking in $72,000.

Compare that to Buckhead’s neighbor, Sandy Springs, where the mayor and council make $40,000 and $12,000 per year. The “Buckhead” leaders would all also be paid more than their City of Atlanta counterparts.

If the bill passes the General Assembly and is signed by Kemp, Buckhead residents within the proposed boundaries would decide on cityhood in a vote in the November 2024 election.

And a reminder that it would have to officially have to be called “the City of Buckhead City” because the city of Buckhead, Ga. already exists.

***

 Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens opposes the creation of a separate "Buckhead City." (Steve Schaefer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

DICKENS REPONDS. As word spread earlier this month that Robertson was planning to re-introduce a measure paving the way for Buckhead’s breakaway bid, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens dialed him up to suggest a meeting to discuss the plan.

Robertson surprised the mayor by setting the meeting for 7 a.m. on Monday.

“I don’t know if he was expecting me not to show up, but I was sitting in that office just about before he was,” Dickens told one of your Insiders during an interview in front of the Atlanta Press Club on Tuesday. The mayor said Robertson didn’t seem to oppose Atlanta remaining intact, but wanted to give Buckhead residents a chance to vote to divorce the city.

Then Dickens told the group of journalists and corporate leaders in the audience, “I’m not going to let that happen.” More:

“The neighborhood I grew up in is called Adamsville, the adjacent neighborhood called Cascade and Buckhead all came into the city of Atlanta at the exact same time in the early '50s. … Now that we've got the highest bond rating, the world's busiest airport, the highest graduation rate for APS ever — now you want to leave us? You can't unscramble this egg. This is together. You want to undo that and still get the benefit of being adjacent to the best city? I'm not going to let that happen."

- Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens

The response was the biggest applause of the event — which happened to be held at the Buckhead Club.

The Buckhead cityhood push has an even smaller chance of passing this year than last year, when it was killed by Republican leaders before it even got a hearing.

Gov. Brian Kemp, House Speaker Jon Burns and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones have all praised Dickens’ leadership of the city. And Jones, who endorsed the idea last year, has pointedly said “the City of Buckhead City” is not part of his agenda.

***

LISTEN UP. The midweek edition of the Politically Georgia podcast is now in your podcast feed. We take you inside our interview with Mayor Andre Dickens at the Atlanta Press Club, look at the state of President Joe Biden’s popularity in Georgia now that the State of the Union is behind him, and look at the bipartisan backlash against a last-minute European boondoggle by outgoing state senators.

Listen and subscribe at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher.

***

The Georgia State Capitol.

Credit: Casey Sykes for the AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Casey Sykes for the AJC

UNDER THE GOLD DOME (Legislative Day 15):

  • 7:30 a.m.: Committee hearings begin;
  • 10 a.m.: The House gavels in;
  • 10 a.m.: The Senate convenes.

***

Georgia Speaker of the House Jon Burns said Tuesday that sports betting legislation may not move forward this year, though he is receptive to the measure. (Natrice Miller/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

HOLD YOUR HORSES. House Speaker Jon Burns dealt a blow to casino and horse racing’s Georgia advocates at a forum Tuesday hosted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs.

Asked about the fate of sports betting legislation, Burns indicated that he remained receptive to the measure. But then he went a step further.

“I don’t think this year that we will see casinos move forward — or horse racing,” the speaker said for the first time publicly.

He expressed concerns about “out of control” gambling eroding families and concerns that competition from casinos could threaten local entertainment venues.

It’s another signal that sports betting, alone, could gain new traction this year. Legislators seemed primed last year to allow betting on professional sports, but the effort tanked amid a fight over where the potential revenue would go.

Sport betting boosters are armed this year, too, with tacit support from Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones. And a recent AJC poll showed about 49% of those polled said they either support or strongly support sports betting. About 37% of respondents strongly oppose or somewhat oppose the idea.

Still, casino advocates aren’t giving up. They’re pushing for a constitutional amendment to include sports betting, horse racing and casinos as a single package for approval, instead of stand-alone consideration of sports betting by itself. And they’re armed with a poll of their own that shows a broad majority of voters are supportive.

***

VICE VISIT. Keep your traffic apps handy today as Vice President Kamala Harris visits Atlanta to kick off the Biden administration’s post-State of the Union road show.

Harris will fly into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport around 11, when she’ll head to Georgia Tech to press President Joe Biden’s “finish the job” message from his State of the Union address last night.

As one of your Insiders notes this morning, it’s a reminder of Georgia’s status as a key battleground state as the 2024 race heats up. While Biden visits Wisconsin and Florida, Harris plans to travel to Georgia and Minnesota to highlight key parts of the president’s agenda.

***

GEORGIA REACTS. Speaking of last night’s State of the Union, the reaction from at least one member of the Georgia congressional delegation was hard to miss as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene continued the habit of a handful of Republicans yelling “You lie!” during the president’s speech.

Biden’s off-script reaction: “I tell you what, I enjoy conversation.”

In a video posted on Twitter afterward, Greene explained her performance. “I called him a liar because that’s what Joe Biden is. Because he doesn’t know what he is talking about or he is just flat out lying.”

As our D.C. Insider writes, other members were more thoughtful in their reactions.

Georgia Democrats found plenty to praise: caps on insulin costs, new policing standards, restoring the child tax credit and infrastructure dollars coming to Atlanta’s airport.

Georgia Republicans mostly panned Biden’s speech as out-of-touch and unserious.

“The White House is only two miles away from the Capitol, but he is a world away from where we are,” U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, said.

And there were even some lines that brought bipartisan standing ovations, including Biden’s proposal to buy American-made products for federal construction projects or his pledge to ramp up prosecutions related to the misuse of COVID-19 dollars.

***

U.S. Rep. Mike Collins (left), R-Ga., has vouched for a state legislative proposal to put a statue of Justice Clarence Thomas on the grounds of the Georgia Capitol. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

THOMAS TIME? In one of his first House speeches, U.S. Rep. Mike Collins vouched for a state legislative proposal to put a statue of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the grounds of the state Capitol.

“Justice Thomas’ legacy of service and footprint on American jurisprudence is worthy of honor and commemoration,” the Republican said Tuesday.

Georgia lawmakers are divided over that a statue of Justice Clarence Thomas (above) belongs on the grounds of the state Capitol.  (Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Miguel Martinez for the AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Miguel Martinez for the AJC

He was invoking a controversial state Senate measure that failed to pass the Legislature last year — but retains support from key GOP leaders this year.

Collins represents a northeast Georgia district that does not include Thomas’ hometown of Pin Point on the state’s coast. Asked why he is championing the measure, his spokesman DJ Griffin responded:

“Rep. Collins thinks Justice Thomas is a great son of Georgia and exemplifies the American dream. State legislators had a great idea to honor him and he wanted to publicly endorse their effort.”

***

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden is headed to Madison, Wisconsin, to talk up his economic agenda.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris is traveling to Atlanta for an event at Georgia Tech focused on infrastructure spending to address the impact of climate change.
  • The U.S. House will vote on a bill to end vaccine mandates for international travelers flying into the country.
  • The House Oversight Committee will hear testimony from former Twitter executive about how the social media site handled a news article about Hunter Biden’s laptop.
  • U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath joins House Democrats for an event criticizing a recent federal court ruling on gun possession by people accused of domestic violence from possessing guns.

***

Georgia state Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur (above) was interrupted by a bell Tuesday has he was questioning Senate Republican Whip Randy Robertson about a bill instituting mandatory minimum sentencing for pimps and johns. (Alyssa Pointer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

YOU RANG? The Georgia state Senate took an unscheduled break on Tuesday when the voting bell malfunctioned and began ringing in the middle of a contentious debate.

The disturbance lasted about 10 minutes, but it was unclear why the bell began ringing.

The interruption came as state Sen. Emanuel Jones, an Ellenwood Democrat, questioned Senate Republican Whip Randy Robertson about a bill instituting mandatory minimum sentencing for prostitution solicitation and trafficking.

Before Senate staff members could silence the bell, one senator wandered over to the press area and joked to our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu, “They could have just walked (to end the debate), they didn’t have to pull the fire alarm.” For the record, it was not a fire alarm.

***

AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.