Talk of Buckhead separating from Atlanta to become its own city is rumbling once again, with neighborhood groups said to be forming to discuss the idea. But local City Council members warn it’s a difficult path, and major business organizations are condemning the idea as divisive in a time of debates about racial and economic inequity.
City Councilmember Howard Shook of North Buckhead’s District 7 said he has heard new cityhood talk informally from residents and that it is driven by concerns about crime. But he also expressed skepticism about the complex process and the potential result.
“This crops up in direct connection with big spikes with crime,” said Shook, adding that now concern about “not just crime, but law and order, is at an unprecedented level, so it is angst and fear and anxiety, and people are curious as to whether the city of Buckhead is a viable answer.”
“Don’t think I don’t think about it,” Shook said of cityhood, but added that it’s far from simple. “People think, ‘OK, well, we’ll set up our city. There’ll be no taxes and cops will get cats out of trees.’ Well, not really.”
The Buckhead Coalition, an invitation-only group of business and civic leaders, issued a statement opposing separate cityhood that was supported by three other closely linked business organizations.
“The Buckhead Coalition has historically opposed the incorporation of Buckhead into a separate city, and the Coalition leadership would like at this time to reaffirm that stance,” the statement said. “Our partnering organizations — the Buckhead Community Improvement District, Livable Buckhead and Buckhead Business Association — share this vision. Now, as much as at any time in our history, we believe Atlantans need to come together across racial, geographic and economic differences to find common ground and build a more unified community.”
The Coalition’s new president is Jim Durrett, who also heads the Buckhead CID. He took over this month for former president and former Atlanta mayor Sam Massell, who also long opposed Buckhead cityhood, even while promoting the neighborhood with such distinctions as a local flag. Coalition spokesperson Tracy Paden said the groups heard about the cityhood talk on the private social media network Nextdoor.
“I think it’s a mistake for Atlanta, and what’s a mistake for Atlanta is a mistake for Buckhead,” Massell in a phone interview. “Less government is better government, in my opinion, and creating another one here won’t correct anything. We have one of the most successful, sought-after addresses in the United States, and why try to fix it if it ain’t broken?”
The press office of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms did not respond to a comment request. Neither did Mary Norwood, Bottoms’ former mayoral race foe, who now heads the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods. Norwood said last year that if residents raised the cityhood issue, she would neither “lead the charge” nor oppose them.
Shook and fellow Buckhead-area City Councilmember J.P. Matzigkeit said they recently met with Bottoms. They would not say much about the content of the discussion, with Matzigkeit saying it focused on “how we address crime and improve police morale.”
“I support citizens’ rights to determine how they are governed; this is fundamental to the founding of America,” said Matzigkeit in a text message about the cityhood rumblings. But, he added, the process would be “a long and difficult path” and he is focused on priorities in his district.
“I think it’s a mistake for Atlanta, and what’s a mistake for Atlanta is a mistake for Buckhead,” said Massell in a phone interview. “… Less government is better government, in my opinion, and creating another one here won’t correct anything. We have one of the most successful, sought-after addresses in the United States, and why try to fix it if it ain’t broken?”
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