A mysterious group called the Buckhead Exploratory Committee is preparing to study possible cityhood for the neighborhood or annexation into the cities of Sandy Springs or Brookhaven — an idea the Atlanta Mayor’s Office says “clearly loses sight of the need for inclusion and equity.”

In an unsigned email, the committee declined to identify its members or answer questions, including about its claim to have behind-the-scenes support from some local elected officials, which several of them have denied. However, the committee has posted a privately organized webinar about the idea on YouTube, where a moderator named Jack Montgomery outlined the concept and answered some audience questions.

A screenshot from the Buckhead Exploratory Committee webinar video, showing host Jack Montgomery.

In the video, Montgomery said the organizers are concerned about city government’s approach to crime, “cronyism” and “corruption,” and about Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ policy interest in redevelopment in Southwest Atlanta. The committee also addressed that its separatist idea comes during a time of protests about racism — including many held in Buckhead due to the neighborhood’s reputation as majority-White, wealthy and conservative. Montgomery began the presentation by saying “we do not tolerate racism” and acknowledging that Buckhead’s 1952 annexation into Atlanta — which he called “unconstitutional” — was partly motivated by the desire to keep voting rolls majority-White.

“Our whole reason for forming this committee is to right the wrongs of a racist and non-democratic past while ensuring the happiness, safety and security of all of the residents and business owners here,” Montgomery said.

The Mayor’s Office sees the Buckhead secession idea differently, according to a lengthy written statement.

“This very moment in our nation’s history is being defined by how we as a people finally address the systemic social and economic injustices facing long-neglected communities,” the Mayor’s Office said.

“These injustices are one of the many reasons Mayor Bottoms ran on a platform of equity for all Atlanta residents, including Buckhead,” the statement continues. “However, for too long, communities on the Southside and Westside have been deprived of basic opportunity — a sentiment shared by private and nonprofit partners like [Atlanta Falcons/Atlanta United owner] Arthur Blank and [Chick-fil-A chairman and CEO] Dan Cathy, who have been stalwart allies in ensuring legacy residents can remain and thrive in the communities they helped build.

“The presentation in question clearly loses sight of the need for inclusion and equity. Further, it works against Mayor Bottoms’ vision of One Atlanta — a safe and welcoming city where all neighborhoods, communities, businesses and residents are equipped for success.”

Early rumors of the committee’s work on a cityhood concept in July drew condemnation from former Mayor Sam Massell, the Buckhead Coalition, the Buckhead Community Improvement District, the Buckhead Business Association and Livable Buckhead.

Presentation

The committee’s webinar was posted on YouTube July 30 and by Aug. 26 garnered 1,185 views. (See the end of this story for the full video.) Montgomery is the only person who appears in the video, presenting himself as a neutral host selected because he is a political independent and not directly involved in the committee’s organizing, though he often spoke in terms of advocacy. According to his social media accounts, he is a technology consultant and a part-time lecturer at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. The only organizer named in the video is someone called Randy Farmer.

“We feel like we aren’t being heard by the administration in Atlanta,” Montgomery said of the committee’s motives, particularly citing crime. He mentioned the Atlanta Police Department’s failure to stop looters during rioting in May; his own experience seeing a drive-by shooting and friends who were carjacked; bad APD morale; and Bottoms’ policy against holding federal immigration detainees in the city jail.

Besides the ideas of Buckhead becoming its own city or joining another one, Montgomery said, the committee might also decide to simply send a list of demands to Bottoms. The current plan, he said, is to form a nonprofit organization and conduct a survey and a feasibility study. He said the study would answer such questions as whether cityhood would bankrupt Atlanta, as some critics complain.

Montgomery made some factual missteps, such as saying that Buckhead is with the Fulton County School System rather than Atlanta Public Schools. Asked by an audience member whether Sandy Springs’ crime went down after its 2005 incorporation, he said he didn’t know, but cited its appearance on “safe cities” lists. As the Reporter previously revealed, those lists are compiled by amateurs hired by security system marketing companies and have little or no value as crime analysis.

Montgomery said committee members have spoken to “representatives” of Brookhaven and Sandy Springs about the idea, but spokespersons for city governments there said they are unaware of such conversations. Oliver Porter, a key founder of Sandy Springs who frequently advises cityhood movements, said he has not heard from anyone in Buckhead recently. “If they are serious, they should talk with me,” he said.

Elected officials respond

In response to another audience question, Montgomery claimed that some local elected officials have privately said the would support Buckhead cityhood if it proved feasible. He said those officials “don’t want their name to be shared at this time… We have received a lot of support behind closed doors.”

Key local elected officials say they have had no such discussions or made such promises, including Atlanta City Councilmembers J.P. Matzigkeit and Howard Shook; Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris; state Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta); and state Reps. Erick Allen (D-Smyrna), Betsy Holland (D-Atlanta) and Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs).

Allen and Silcox said they were unaware of the committee’s proposals and have no position on them. Holland and Jordan said they oppose the effort.

“If we, as a community, have concerns about issues facing this city, we should be working together to address them,” Holland said in an email. “Frankly, I worry that separating the two entities could lead to instability for both and have unintended negative consequences for our business community and our schools. We are stronger together.”

Matzigkeit and Shook have said they are open to hearing out the idea but that it has enormous political and practical difficulties. Morris, who previously served on Atlanta City Council, echoed that sentiment.

“I understand folks’ frustration with the city government and the burden of the city’s high property taxes and low services, all of which led me to run for City Council and which I tried to address when I served on the City Council,” Morris said in an email. “But the fact is that it is probably easier to fix those issues by involvement with the city political process than by getting a new city through the hoops necessary for that to happen.”

The committee declined interview requests and would not answer questions about the elected officials’ responses, the claim of conversations with other cities, or member identities.

“Unfortunately, we cannot address all your questions as we are hard at work, defining the next steps. We will share the information with you as soon as it becomes available and as long as you represent us fairly,” the committee’s email said. “We can share at this time that there is a diverse group of individuals working diligently to identify the best path forward for the citizens of Buckhead. We have also made an active choice to remain politically agnostic as much as possible to represent the diversity of opinions that live on our streets.”

In the video, the group openly circulated its contact information as buckheadexploratorycommittee@gmail.com.