Monday afternoon, the Atlanta delegation within the Georgia Legislature held a press conference at the State Capitol as they spoke out against the proposed Buckhead cityhood measure.
“There is a move underway to remove Buckhead — the beautiful, wonderful neighborhood that we all enjoy — from the city of Atlanta,” said state Sen. Nan Orrock, who chairs Atlanta’s legislative delegation. “The senators who I’ve seen pushing this don’t live in Atlanta.”
State Representative Betsy Holland, State Senators Jen Jordan and Sonia Halpern represent districts that encompass all or portions of Buckhead, were also in attendance.
The question of whether Buckhead should incorporate as a distinct municipality may appear on the November 2022 ballot, if the Georgia Legislature votes in favor of the measure at the end of the 2022 session.
Buckhead residents and businesses have contributed $1 million in support of the initiative to create Buckhead City, according to the Buckhead City Committee since May 1st. The committee estimates another $1 million to be raised by the end of the 2022 legislative session.
Spearheading the effort is Bill White, CEO of the Buckhead City Committee. Backing White in the General Assembly are powerful Republicans who have co-opted the measure in competing forms of legislation: State Senators Clint Dixon (R-Buford) and Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), plus state Rep. Todd Jones of Forsyth, state Rep Chuck Efstration of Dacula and Senate President Pro Tem and candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Butch Miller. The aforementioned Republican sponsors of the Buckhead City proposition do not live in Atlanta or Buckhead.
“Support in the Georgia General Assembly for the creation of Buckhead City has never been stronger,” said Bill White, CEO of the Buckhead City Committee. “Not only are the good people of Buckhead fed up with the rising crime, underfunded and understaffed police force, and lack of representation in decisions by the City of Atlanta, they are rightly unconvinced that any new Atlanta mayoral administration can effectively address such issues. While candidates like Kasim Reed have yet to break a 20% support threshold, we are seeing Buckhead residents stepping up with both moral and financial support for Buckhead City. Our message is resonating.”
According to a fiscal analysis conducted by the Committee for a United Atlanta, de-annexation would cost Atlanta as much as $116 million annually, while Atlanta Public Schools could lose almost $232 million every year.
It was not lost on State Senator Jen Jordan’s mind.
“APS owns those buildings and property,” Jordan said Monday. “Those schools don’t become the property of the city of Buckhead. What happens to those properties? Who becomes eligible to lease or sell them? APS is under no obligation to service children who don’t live in the city of Atlanta. If APS decides not to teach those kids, they fall into the jurisdiction of the Fulton County school system, and that system doesn’t have the plans, capacities, finances or staff to absorb them.”
White responded to Jordan’s assertions, claiming APS will continue to serve students in the proposed Buckhead city.
“Atlanta Public Schools will continue to serve Buckhead families. The law (Ga. L. 1950, p. 458) is silent on what happens when the city limits contract; the law does not say that APS shall have the same boundaries as the city. No one believes APS will forfeit Buckhead and commensurate funds collected in taxes. We are confident APS will serve Buckhead City.”
On Tuesday, October 12th, the Buckhead Exploratory Committee sent out an email asking for more money to push for secession.
“The folks who are working to carve Buckhead from Atlanta are aggressive and will raise more than $1 million to execute a sophisticated campaign with advertising, media relations, lobbying, and grassroots advocacy,” said the email. “We are asking you to contribute whatever amount you can to the Committee for a United Atlanta to advance the work to keep our capital city whole, while insisting on reform at city hall and holding elected officials accountable to the people.”
Before this year, any campaign for cityhood needed to obtain a financial feasibility study conducted by one of three state-authorized universities. However, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, Georgia Southern and the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinston Institute of Government each turned down the Buckhead Exploratory Committee’s requests. At the time, White said “we very clearly understood people were calling these universities trying to obfuscate [the study process].” State lawmakers changed the rule at the end of the 2021 session, and now any qualified University System of Georgia school can perform the study. Valdosta State University has conducted the feasibility study of Buckhead cityhood.