A yard sign supporting the Buckhead City initiative adorns a yard along East Wood Valley Road on Tuesday, October 12, 2021. (Photo by: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

Nearly twenty days after the legislation was introduced in the Georgia State Senate, two bills that would create ‘Buckhead City’ are now destined to the Senate floor. The Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee’s Republican majority pushed Senate Bills 113 and 114 through on 4-3 votes Monday morning, sending them to the full Senate for what will be a more rigorous, spirited and potentially divisive debate.

The two bills describe some details of how a potential ‘Buckhead City’ would operate. However, some additional logistics remain unclear. Both bills are sponsored by Republican lawmakers representing cities and towns outside of the City of Atlanta, including State Sens. Randy Robertson (Cataula), Brandon Beach (Alpharetta), Greg Dolezal (Cumming), Matt Brass (Newnan), Lee Anderson (Grovetown) and Marty Harbin (Tyrone).

If these bills are passed in the Senate, receive final passage in the House, and receive a signature from Governor Brian Kemp, Buckhead residents would vote on whether to secede from the City of Atlanta. 

“Too many times inside this building and especially outside this building in local communities, elected officials forget who they work for. So when movements happen that remind elected officials who the real bosses are, then I have to support that,” Robertson said.

The legislation is currently long on wishes from the larger Georgia Republican Party to score political points against the larger Democratically-held City of Atlanta and short on tactics regarding governance. For example, supporters of ‘Buckhead City’ want a system where the new city would collect taxes and send them to Atlanta Public Schools, and the school system would continue to serve Buckhead. But, the legislation does not describe the roadmap for both sides to reach an agreement. 

Moreover, the Buckhead City Committee believes incorporation will enable better crime prevention through the creation of a Buckhead police force, prevent increased density and improve the local return on taxes paid.

“A vote against Buckhead city is a vote FOR crime,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene’s district includes Powder Springs. 

“A vote for Buckhead city is a vote FOR freedom,” she added. “Should be an easy one for a Republican-controlled legislature. Can they stand against the Democrats who want to keep all the taxes taken from Buckhead (which is a lot) in the city of Atlanta or will they vote to free Buckhead and their hard-earned tax dollars to be able to run their city safer and better than the city of Atlanta? It’s so simple and obvious to everyone outside the Gold Dome.”

Current Georgia Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones promises to allow the conversation to continue.

“I’ve been down here 10 years and we’ve voted on referendums to create new cities around the state,” Jones said in a statement. “I’m not going to shut down the conversation.”

Governor Kemp has long opposed the Buckhead secession movement. Former House Speaker David Ralston also opposed the measure. Former Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan blocked a bill last year that proposed ‘Buckhead City.’ In a 2022 interview, Duncan said, ‘the details matter.’

“The details matter here. The financing issues. The education issues. The governance issues. These are all issues that must be fixed before — and not after — a referendum is passed,” Duncan said. “My hope is that we’re able to figure out a way to help all of Atlanta significantly cut crime.”

To that end, the Buckhead secession movement could potentially damage the state’s bond rating, which could severely make capital improvement projects more expensive for both proposed cities, siginificantly tighten each city’s budgets, and causing taxpayers to fork over more money for city-provided services.

The Democratic Senators representing Buckhead – Senator Sonya Halpern (SD-39), Senator Jason Esteves (SD-6), and Senator Josh McLaurin (SD-14) – each have denounced the bill.

“My Buckhead constituents, like all residents of Atlanta, have legitimate concerns about safety and public services,” said State Sen. Jason Esteves, D-Atlanta after Monday’s hearing. “They elected me to address these issues in the General Assembly, which is why I voted against the ‘Buckhead City’ bills, which the majority of my constituents oppose and which threaten the stability of our education, public safety, transportation, and financial systems statewide. It’s incredibly insulting that out-of-town legislators are using my constituents as pawns to appease a small handful of high-dollar campaign donors.”

At many instances, Governor Kemp has commended Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens regarding his willingness to tackle crime in Buckhead during the first year of his tenure as Atlanta’s preeminent leader. Crime was the central factor in the first push for Buckhead cityhood last year and is part of the reprisal this year. Dickens has vehemently opposed Buckhead cityhood.

The Committee for a United Atlanta announced June 9, 2022 that 61% of likely Buckhead voters said they want to remain in the city of Atlanta, according to their polling data. Additionally, 30% of voters would vote in favor of Buckhead becoming its own city. 

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...