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We formed Neighbors for a United Atlanta, which I co-founded and chaired, to keep Atlanta united and counter the Buckhead City Committee’s (BCC) false claims that “the majority of Buckhead residents” want to secede from Atlanta. That wasn’t true then, and thankfully it’s even less true today.
Our movement is driven by people from all walks of life with a variety of concerns including safety, zoning, schools and finances. We share a common belief that the demise of Atlanta will irreparably damage our neighborhood, our city, and even our state, while doing little to address our problems. In fact, it may even connect them.
As a Buckhead resident and someone who married into a family that has lived in Buckhead for over six decades, I recognize that Buckhead faces real challenges. We all want and deserve to feel safe in our homes, while eating and shopping at local businesses, and while navigating our streets. We want to protect and enhance the character of our neighborhoods and the value of our properties. And we’re committed to ensuring that children receive a quality education regardless of their zip code.
If we look at each problem in context, we will inevitably see the absurdity and danger of the BCC’s proposed “solutions”.
Let’s start with public safety. Fortunately, Buckhead is a safe place to live. This does not mean that there is no crime. I challenge BCC supporters to show me one major crime-free metropolitan area. Moreover, violent crime in APD’s Second Zone, which covers most of Buckhead, has declined in each of the past two years. And luckily, Buckhead has the lowest homicide rate of any neighborhood in the city.
However, one murder, carjacking or home invasion is one too many. We need to continue to work with our elected officials and APD and demand continuous improvement. Each of us must also do our part by taking simple steps like locking doors, using home alarms, registering doorbell cameras with APD, not leaving guns in cars, etc. Buckhead is not an island, and we cannot wall off Buckhead to keep people safe after secession.
Fear of zoning is often cited as another reason for creating your own city in Buckhead. Mayor Andre Dickens has repeatedly and publicly stated that “I never had any intention of getting rid of single-family zoning.”
Then there’s the matter of Atlanta Public Schools. 5,000 APS students live in and attend school in Buckhead. Another 3,000 students who live outside the proposed city limits but attend schools in North Atlanta could be displaced. Importantly, last week, Atlanta Attorney Robbie Ash, who specializes in constitutional law, testified before the Georgia Senate State and Local Government (SLOGO) Committee, stating that, among other issues, “Buckhead City cannot constitutionally levy school taxes.” And while control is the main reason for BCC, Mr. Ash pointed to the likely loss of control, saying parents “would like to be able to elect school board members who actually govern their children, who decide on funding and staffing . Let’s say what happens in Buckhead City, they’re no longer part of APS, they can’t vote for the school board members that make these decisions.” The leaders of the BCHK do not agree with the APS. It’s too harmful a risk to think about.
And, of course, we cannot ignore the money problem. Senate Bill 114 would require the city of Atlanta to give Buckhead City a pro rata share (20%-40%) of all its cash and investments, and sell assets such as the city’s water and sewer system, fire stations and parks for a penny. dollar ($100 per acre and $1,000 per building). If Buckhead secedes, Atlanta risks being destabilized. The city’s tax base could drop by 40%, bondholders on Wall Street could call off their bonds. Billions of dollars in court-approved debt tied to revenue from water and sewer, tax distribution districts and MARTA would be at risk of default. How does Buckhead benefit from destabilizing Atlanta or isolate himself from it? Neither Buckhead nor greater Atlanta will benefit from financial collapse.
The final and perhaps most egregious fact is that this movement is being run through the Georgia state legislature by residents of another city. None of the bill sponsors reside in Atlanta. Is this how our state government is supposed to work?
As Kenyatta Mitchell, director of intergovernmental relations for the city of Atlanta, suggested during the hearing, what prevents another General Assembly from campaigning to help the Columbus River secede from the rest of the city, or to help Northwest Norcross secede from Northeast Norcross, or central Moultrie from separation from the western regions? Why would anyone open this Pandora’s box?
De-annexation of a major city in Georgia has never happened. What the bill’s sponsor, Senator Robertson (who hails from Catawla, near Columbus), is proposing is different from creating a new city where there was none. Chattahoochee Hills, Johns Creek, Milton, Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Stonecrest, and Mableton were created by creating new towns rather than leaving one.
I heard Mayor Andre Dickens say, “You can’t break an egg.” This is an apt analogy with our reality. However, I would go even further and say that Atlanta is too big to fail, and therefore we cannot allow it to happen. Proponents of these bills are playing with fire. If they succeed, the tremors will be felt throughout our country for years.