The Atlanta City Council voted 14-1 on Tuesday to establish a Buckhead Public Safety Task Force, but legislation that would expand the city’s dormant Public Safety Commission got sent back to committee after contentious debate.

Newly-seated Councilmember Mary Norwood and Councilmember Michael Julian Bond introduced the Buckhead legislation in what is widely seen as an effort to counter the Buckhead cityhood movement, whose proponents have listed crime as their main reason for secession.

Norwood said the task force would operate for 90 days and include law enforcement, business, and community leaders to formulate recommendations to solve Buckhead’s increase in crime.

Councilman Antonio Lewis, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said he believed the creation of the Buckhead task force was unnecessary and that a citywide response to the surge in violent crime would be better addressed by standing up the city’s Public Safety Commission.

“Despite the media frenzy, crime is actually down in Buckhead,” Lewis said, citing a recent report from the Atlanta Police Department. “The Buckhead legislation should not pass by itself because it’s telling the rest of the city they don’t matter.”

Councilmember Keisha Sean Waites introduced legislation last week at the council’s public safety committee meeting to resurrect and expand the Public Safety Commission. The body was created last spring, but “never got off the ground,” Waites said.

Waites’ legislation would amend the Public Safety Commission’s membership to include business leaders and neighborhood associations to collectively address many of the public safety related issues impacting all of Atlanta.

But the discussion devolved after more suggestions were made on adding additional members to the commission beyond those listed in Waites’ legislation. Councilmember Alex Wan likened it to “making sausage” and made a motion to send the legislation back to the public safety committee.

“We need to be thoughtful about this and do the work in the committee,” Wan said, who also suggested that different communities could benefit from “hyperlocal” task forces like the one approved for Buckhead to address specific crime prevention needs.

Councilmember Howard Shook said he found Councilmember Lewis’ comments about the Buckhead Task Force dividing the city “offensive” and “divisive.”

“Separating one neighborhood from the rest of the city is offensive to me,” Lewis shot back.

Waites said she supported the Buckhead legislation, and Norwood urged the council to pass Waites’ legislation.

“The Public Safety Commission is already law,” Norwood said. “I’d like to see us pass this legislation today and we can modify the composition of the task force going forward. I think the city needs to see that we are addressing their concerns.”

Waites echoed those sentiments. “The surge in crime is affecting us citywide. We don’t want to send a message that we’re putting the needs of one community over another.”

The council ultimately voted 8-7 to return Waites’ legislation to committee.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.