A feasibility study required for the Buckhead cityhood movement to move forward is underway at a university that the local advocacy committee declined to publicly name, claiming that other schools were politically pressured not to conduct the study.
A prominent program at the University of Georgia that conducts such studies says it indeed declined to take on the Buckhead project, but not due to political pressure, and an anti-cityhood group dismissed the claim as “conspiracy theories.” The chair of a Georgia House committee overseeing the study process says there may just be confusion about limits on which schools to use and that the Buckhead group is proceeding at its own risk.
The Buckhead Exploratory Committee (BEC) is at the start of a two-year quest to have the neighborhood leave Atlanta and become an independent “Buckhead City.” State law requires the completion of a feasibility study detailing local impacts of cityhood, which may be conducted by public research universities. Bill White, BEC’s chairman and CEO, said this week that “we’re deep into the feasibility study and it should be done in six to eight weeks.”
But, he said, that is happening only after a rejection from one school and “writing on the wall” from three others that they would not perform the study. Citing Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, Georgia Southern and UGA’s Carl Vinston Institute of Government, White said “we very clearly understood people were calling these universities trying to obfuscate [the study process].”
White said the BEC then got a “waiver” from the Georgia House Committee on Governmental Affairs to have the study conducted at a different institution, “which I’m not going to be telling who it is … [because] the more information out there, the more the city of Atlanta organized opposition tries to obfuscate the government business. … It’s being done by a wonderful group of professionals at a great university here in Georgia.”
White said his suspicions of meddling began at a Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods forum in May, where he and cityhood opponent Linda Klein gave pro and con statements. Klein, who shortly afterward co-founded the anti-cityhood group Committee for a United Atlanta (CUA), said in that forum that she understood that four universities known for conducting cityhood studies “all are unwilling to do this study.”
“I nearly fell off my chair and I said to myself, ‘How does this woman know before I know or before the Georgia state Legislature chair knows that the four universities … don’t want to do the feasibility study for Buckhead City?’” said White.
Klein did not respond to a comment request, but fellow CUA co-founder Edward Lindsey said White had made similar statements to him. “I said, I didn’t do a damn thing,’” said Lindsey. “If he wants to play conspiracy theories, so be it.”
Lindsey did allow that some universities might decline due to feeling they have conflicts due to existing work they might be performing for the city of Atlanta. He also criticized BEC for not naming the entity that is conducting the study.
“There is no reason for not telling folks who it is. That’s silly,” said Lindsey. “If he wants to create a new city, it needs to be transparent. And I hope they get somebody good. Whatever the economic impact may be on Buckhead or the city of Atlanta or wherever else, I want the best and the brightest to be given accurate answers.”
State Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) chairs the Governmental Affairs committee. She said she thinks BEC is confused about an issue of artificial limitations on which schools can conduct cityhood studies and that she thinks White “doesn’t understand the rules.” Taylor indicated the Buckhead group ran into a lack of supply because the committee formally allowed studies to be performed by two schools — she could not immediately recall which — though several others were already requesting the ability to be authorized. That supply issue remains unresolved for now. Taylor said she had heard that the Buckhead group was moving ahead with a study, but that she was not involved and did not know which school is doing it. “I have not issued a, quote, ‘waiver,’” she said, adding that the committee will have to decide whether the quality of the Buckhead study is good enough to accept or whether it will have to be redone.
UGA’s Vinson Institute indeed declined to perform the Buckhead cityhood study, but political pressure did not play a role in the decision, according to spokesperson Courtney Alford-Pomeroy.
“The Institute did not have the capacity to take on another city feasibility study when approached,” said Alford-Pomeroy. “We had already committed to two such studies and an update for a third was under discussion. As I’m sure you can understand, this is just one small portion of the work the Institute of Government conducts with local governments across the state of Georgia.”
The other schools and another that frequently performs such studies, Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, did not immediately respond to comment requests.
White also said that some state legislators are displeased with the schools declining to perform the study and that “I’ve heard there may be some hearings into that.” He suggested House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) as one who might know of the concerns. But Kaleb McMichen, a spokesperson for the Speaker, said the office is unaware of such issues.
“The Speaker’s Office is aware of the Buckhead City feasibility study process, and we await the findings of that study like everyone else,” said McMichen. “I have no idea what the basis is for the remainder of what you were told, but that is the extent of what I can confirm is accurate.”
Taylor said her committee will meet this summer, but largely for member education and not for any type of cityhood hearings.
The feasibility study comes as the cityhood movement continues to gain momentum from its main concern, a spike in violent crime. The BEC was spotlighted positively this week on the Fox News program “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” White says he believes the feasibility study will be educational for everyone, but that he is already planning such details as how to boost a local police force.
“I ain’t waiting for it. I’m working on how we’re setting up a city. This thing is going forward,” said White, adding that he hopes Buckhead will become an “example for the rest of the county that you can take your city back from the zombies.”