A group of state legislators came together to announce their stance against the Buckhead cityhood movement, citing education and economic impacts as major factors.
“We’re here to speak today against the preposterous notion that the city of Atlanta – our capital city – should be split up,” said State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) at an Oct. 18 press conference at the Georgia Capitol. “Making a weaker Atlanta does not make a strong Buckhead. It does the opposite.”
State Sen. Sonya Halpern (D-Atlanta), State Sen. Jennifer Jordan (D-Atlanta), and State Rep. Betsy Holland (D-Atlanta) joined Orrock at the press conference to respond to the movement to split Buckhead from the city of Atlanta.
The Buckhead City Committee – the group spearheading the cityhood effort – held a press conference in September where some state senators announced they would support legislation that, if passed, would place a referendum on the November 2022 ballot allowing Buckhead residents to vote on whether to form a city. All of the senators cited crime as a major factor.
Each of the four legislators who attended the press conference represent the city of Atlanta, while none of the 12 state senators who have announced their support for the Buckhead cityhood movement represent the city. Holland announced that the legislators would be sending a letter to Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston to ask that they “follow the precedent” and allow local delegations to make decisions on issues of annexation.
“It is unprecedented for elected representatives and senators who do not live in a jurisdiction … to be the ones trying to pass legislation to incorporate the city,” Holland said. “Leave this in the hands of the people who actually represent Atlanta.”
In an emailed statement sent after the press conference, the Buckhead City Committee stated that in an October 2021 poll they ran, 64% of Buckhead voters wanted to create a Buckhead City. That survey collected responses from 579 registered Buckhead voters, according to the committee’s website. According to the committee’s feasibility study, the Buckhead area has around 100,000 residents, meaning the survey accounts for under 1% of the neighborhood’s population.
Holland discussed the effect a Buckhead separation would have on the education system. Holland, who lives in the Buckhead area, said that Atlanta Public Schools would be under no obligation to continue to educate children who do not live in the city of Atlanta if Buckhead were to separate.
“You rip the community of Buckhead out of the city, well now that applies to our children too,” Holland said. “If that happens, the burden to educate our children falls to Fulton County public schools, who have no infrastructure and no buildings anywhere in the community of Buckhead.”
In an emailed statement, Bill White – CEO of the Buckhead City Committee – said the committee “is confident” that APS would continue to serve a Buckhead City. However, in a September statement, APS Board Chairman Jason Esteves said a Buckhead separation would be “extremely disruptive” to APS families.
“We continue to analyze the potential impacts of the proposal, but believe that the best solution to crime in the City is for all of us to work together to tackle root causes,” Esteves said at that time.
An APS spokesperson said the school system has no new update to share.
The four legislators at the Monday press conference were Democrats, and the 12 senators who have announced their support for Buckhead cityhood have all been Republicans. But, Orrock said she would not expect a vote on this legislation to fall down party lines and would expect legislators to do what is best for business in the city. According to a report distributed by the anti-cityhood group Committee for a United Atlanta, the net fiscal loss to Atlanta would range from $80 million to $116 million per year if Buckhead were to break off.
“People down here – Republicans and Democrats – listen to the concerns when the business community brings them,” Orrock said. “I don’t expect that we will see a party-line vote.”
The Buckhead City Committee has said it believes new leadership will not solve rising crime. But Halpern urged Atlanta residents to vote for a new mayor and Atlanta City Council members in November’s election, and said she hopes Buckhead cityhood supporters can give new leadership a chance.
“This is our opportunity to bring in new leadership, which is focused on solving the problems and the challenges that we all face,” Halpern said. “I would like to see us have the opportunity for the folks in Buckhead who are leading this movement to work with the new leadership, with us right alongside of them, to solve the grievances.”