Atlanta mayoral candidates on Thursday discussed ways to halt an effort for Buckhead to break off and form a new city.
Livable Buckhead and the Buckhead Business Association hosted the forum at the Chastain Horse Park.
Former Mayor Kasim Reed, City Council President Felicia Moore, City Councilmember Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay and Buckhead businesswoman Rebecca King participated in the event.
None of the candidates supported the idea of Buckhead leaving the city of Atlanta.
The discussion came the same day the Buckhead City Committee announced it has raised more than $1 million in its effort to get the cityhood legislation through the Georgia General Assembly. The group hopes to get a referendum on the November 2022 ballot for Buckhead voters to decide whether to form a new city.
“As you all know there is an initiative well underway to divorce Buckhead from the city of Atlanta,” moderator Craig Lucie said, asking the candidates what specific actions they would take to ensure Buckhead remains part of Atlanta.
“This proposed divorce is going to be an unnecessarily expensive one for both spouses, and the children will be who will suffer the most,” said Dickens, referencing a $230 million annual loss for Atlanta Public Schools if Buckhead were to split off. That stat came from a recent study paid for by the Buckhead Coalition, which is opposing the cityhood effort.
Dickens said crime and communication efforts were key. He’d immediately start hiring police officers. He said he would be a hands-on mayor who was visible in the Buckhead community. “I’ll be very present … we’ll make sure that Buckhead feels heard.”
Gay echoed that sentiment, saying “I hear you. Your concerns are valid. They are serious. They deserve to be taken seriously, and you deserve action.”
She said she would move swiftly to turn around the violent crime wave, as well as focus on improving the delivery of city services, such as trash collection.
“I would do an absolute top-to-bottom analysis with the help of the private sector of those operations and get the city government operating again,” Gay said.
King talked about the high costs to set up a new city of Buckhead, including buying and building schools, setting up elections and establishing a police department.
“Buckhead, if you think your taxes are high now, just wait,” King said. “Can you afford it? Do you want to afford it? Do you want to live in Buckhead City, or have the world-class name of Atlanta? As business owners, you need to think about that and what that brings.”
King discussed adding a city services hub in the north part of Atlanta, as well as working with the police department and mentoring youth.
“I actually think folks in Buckhead are sick of talking,” Reed said. “What I would do is, in 180 days, I would reduce crime and violence. Until you reduce crime and violence, I don’t think we’re going to have meaningful conversations about the rest.”
Reed said he wouldn’t raise taxes. He also said he’s the candidate that has the support of the police officers and firefighters. He’d hire a “first-rate” police chief and rebuild the command staff.
“When we do all of those things, we will put our city back like it was,” Reed said.
Moore said she wouldn’t wait for Day One to start taking steps.
“I would ask that we go into marriage therapy,” she said, referring to the Buckhead cityhood supporters. “I will have conversations with them about their real issues they have brought out and explained. These are the same issues everyone is concerned about.”
Moore said she would talk to the leadership of the state legislature. She would also address crime, delivery of city services and ethics.
Bill White, CEO of the Buckhead City Committee, said in a press release Thursday that the cityhood message is “resonating,” noting growing support in the Georgia General Assembly. In late September, more state senators announced support for the proposed Buckhead City. And, on Tuesday, the Buckhead City Committee released a poll that claims 64% of Buckhead voters want to form a new city.
“Not only are the good people of Buckhead fed up with the rising crime, underfunded and understaffed police force, and lack of representation in decisions by the City of Atlanta, they are rightly unconvinced that any new Atlanta mayoral administration can effectively address such issues,” White said.
Opponents of the proposed “Buckhead City” have said it would be detrimental to the city of Atlanta, releasing a study in September detailing the financial impacts.
An anti-cityhood group, the Committee for a United Atlanta, on Tuesday sent out an email asking for money to fight the effort.
“The folks who are working to carve Buckhead from Atlanta are aggressive and will raise more than $1 million to execute a sophisticated campaign with advertising, media relations, lobbying, and grassroots advocacy,” said the email. “We are asking you to contribute whatever amount you can to the Committee for a United Atlanta to advance the work to keep our capital city whole, while insisting on reform at city hall and holding elected officials accountable to the people.”