Georgia Senators Reject Buckhead’s Efforts to Leave Atlanta – HONEYCOMB

Georgia senators on Thursday torpedoed an attempt to secede the wealthy Buckhead neighborhood from Atlanta. Ten Republicans broke ranks and voted with Democrats to quash the measure after Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration questioned its legality and viability.

“If we rip the heart out of the city of Atlanta, which is Buckhead, I know our capital is going to die,” said Senator Frank Ginn, a Danielsville Republican who chairs the committee that sent the bill to the full Senate.

The 33-23 vote to reject Senate Bill 114 could end the multi-year movement to create proposed Buckhead City, which has been pushed by conservative residents who have claimed the Democratic-run city is not doing enough to fight crime and provide services, particularly given that Buckhead accounts for less than 20% of the city’s 500,000 residents but about 40% of tax revenue.

“These people are being ignored,” said Senator Randy Robertson, a Republican from Cataula who supported the bill shortly before the bill was voted down.

“And I think the reaction that we saw was just enough and then they hope it goes away.”

If the bill had been successful, it would have launched a referendum on creating a new city that could shine a spotlight on a wealthier, majority-white neighborhood’s efforts to separate itself from the poorer, blacker city at the heart of the Deep Das largest metropolitan area in the South.

“We cannot lightly decide when we are united and when we let our divisions break us,” said Sen. Sonya Halpern, an Atlanta Democrat who represents portions of Buckhead.

Atlanta’s mostly Democratic legislative delegation and city’s business leaders had long opposed the measure, arguing that it was not only a bad idea but also legally unworkable. The practical arguments revolved around whether a new town in Buckhead could still send its students to the Atlanta Freestanding School District, whether Buckhead would bear a fair share of Atlanta’s debt, and whether it was legally possible to unravel all of the city’s obligations .

“There is no constitutional way to divide the city of Atlanta, its schools and its debt,” said Senator Jason Esteves, an Atlanta Democrat who represents part of Buckhead.

Kemp, a Republican who has developed a close working relationship with Democratic Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, added his voice Tuesday to those questioning the legality and practicality of Buckhead City.

Kemp’s chief attorney sent out a scathing memo attacking the plans. Executive Counsel David Dove, along with many others, said the split could destroy the ability of all Georgia cities to borrow money. That’s because bond markets would worry that cities would default on their debts if they broke up.

“Have proponents of Senate bills 113 and 114 considered the larger impact this precedent might have on municipal bond ratings, underwriting considerations, further city de-listing and incorporation, and the widespread default that may occur?” Dove wrote.

Democrats say Buckhead City supporters represent a vocal minority of area residents. No Atlanta legislature supports the bills.

As legislation stalled last year, incoming Republican Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones sponsored it as state senator and enabled the bills to pass. He and other Senate Republican leaders put the bill to a vote Thursday, although it was clear after Kemp’s comment that Republican support would not be uniform.

Several senators praised Jones for fulfilling a campaign promise, although the defeat could allow Jones, a potential gubernatorial candidate, to go beyond advocating an issue that puts him at odds with many business leaders.
Several supporters of the vote urged city leaders to listen to the concerns of Buckhead City supporters.

“This problem isn’t going to go away until they first listen and then start looking for solutions,” said Matt Brass, a Newnan Republican and a close Jones ally.

“City of Atlanta, if you’re listening, listen to them.”