Let the real campaign begin.
In the final hours of the 2015 General Assembly, state lawmakers approved public votes on whether to create new DeKalb County cities called LaVista Hills and Tucker. Supporters of the new cities, who have been lobbying for their creation for years, now turn to winning public support in a Nov. 3 referendum.
“The hard part is ahead of us,” former LaVista Hills Yes co-chair Mary Kay Woodworth told a crowd gathered April 13 in a Lavista Road restaurant to celebrate the legislative win and distribute new yard signs for the coming campaign.
Allen Venet, now sole chair of the LaVista Hills Yes group, said the supporters would begin raising money, distributing their message and organizing community meetings to try to convince their neighbors to approve the new city.
The legislative effort “is behind us,” Venet said. “It’s a whole new ballgame. Now we have to work hard to get our message out.”
He said the group planned “to hold as many neighborhood meetings as people will let us in to talk.”
If voters in the area approve it, LaVista Hills would take in nearly 70,000 people and stretch from neighborhoods near Emory University to ones outside I-285. It would become the most populous city in DeKalb County and would share a border with the proposed city of Tucker. Much of the last-minute legislative bickering over the new cities’ proposals was about where to draw that line.
Venet said that if LaVista Hills wins approval at the ballot box Nov. 3, voters would return to the polls to elect members of its new city council on the day set for the 2016 Georgia presidential primary.
Venet said campaigns for the proposed new cities already face organized opposition.
“We have a difficult task,” he told the crowd. “Very few people like change. We can make the case that this is a better form of government [than DeKalb County]. We have reasons we have cities all around us that are better at spending their tax dollars and better at serving their citizens. Not perfect, but better. The opposition just says no.”
Not everyone at the gathering was convinced that the new city was needed. “I’m trying to make up my mind,” Jim Reagan said. “I think it may be a good thing because most of the people are so fed up with DeKalb County’s corruption they want something different.”
Jack Riggs said he moved into a DeKalb County neighborhood in 1994 “specifically not to have city taxes.” He said he wanted to see proponents and opponents on the same stage, arguing the same points, before he made up his mind.
And Rhea Johnson, who said he supported the concept of the new city, worried that not enough preparation had gone into it. “I am absolutely in favor of it, but there are serious issues,” he said. “There is no plan. … It has to be well-planned, well-organized and well-executed. It needs to have a plan.”
But others were eager to see the new local government created so they could join Dunwoody and Brookhaven among the “new cities” created in Georgia since Sandy Springs won legislative and voter approval nearly a decade ago.
Bill Kushner said he was so eager to live in the not-yet-created city of LaVista Hills that he moved. His house had been in a disputed area that might have ended up in the proposed city of Tucker, he said, so he bought a new home a few blocks away that was safely within the boundaries of the proposed LaVista Hills.
Nearby, Stan and Betty Mislow reviewed a map of the proposed city boundaries posted on the wall of the restaurant. They said they’d lived in their home, located in the center of what could become LaVista Hills, for 42 years.
They support the city proposal. “I think it’s wonderful, a great idea,” Stan Mislow said.
Betty Mislow said she had friends who lived in other newly created cities, such as Sandy Springs. “They seem to thrive,” she said. “Why shouldn’t we? I think it’s a great opportunity to voice our opinions when they don’t seem to be heard by anybody else.”