Georgia Senate rejects Buckhead attempt to secede from Atlanta amid crime crisis
Atlanta Democrats, business community opposed Buckhead secession effort, questioning its legality and practicality
Ten Republican state lawmakers in Georgia joined with Democrat senators to sink a proposal to let an affluent, conservative neighborhood secede from Atlanta on Thursday.
"If we jerk the heart out of the city of Atlanta, which is Buckhead, I know our capital city will die," said Sen. Frank Ginn, a Danielsville Republican who chairs the committee that sent the bill to the full Senate.
The state Senate voted 33-23 to reject Senate Bill 114, which would have set up a referendum on turning the Buckhead neighborhood into its own city. Conservative Buckhead residents have for years claimed they are not adequately represented in the Democrat-run city, arguing that Democrats don't do enough to fight crime and provide services.
Advocates for secession point out that Buckhead makes up less than 20% of the city's population of 500,000, but is the source of about 40% of its tax revenue.
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"These people are being ignored," Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican who sponsored the bill, said just before the bill was defeated. "And I think the response that we’ve seen has been just enough and then they hope it will go away."
But Atlanta Democrats and the city's business community opposed the measure, arguing it was legally unworkable to divide the city. Opponents raised practical concerns over how Atlanta public schools would operate and how the city would divide its debt obligations with the proposed City of Buckhead.
"Constitutionally, it’s not possible to divide the city of Atlanta, with its schools, with its debt obligations," said Democratic Sen. Jason Esteves, who represents part of Buckhead.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's administration was among those opposed to the secession movement, questioning whether secession is legal and how it could affect the bond and credit ratings of other Georgia cities.
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"Have proponents of Senate Bills 113 and 114 considered what greater impacts this precedent may have on municipal bond ratings, underwriting considerations, the further de-annexation and incorporation of cities, and the possible widespread default that could occur?" Kemp's Executive Counsel David Dove wrote in a memo to lawmakers ahead of the vote.
The legislation was brought up for a vote with the support of newly-elected Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, a former state senator. In Georgia, the lieutenant governor is the president of the Senate and presides over debate in the chamber, working with advocates to introduce legislation.
Jones had made a campaign promise to permit the secession bills to get a vote, even though it was not clear that they'd have enough support to pass.
"Moving forward, I intend to continue to be a strong and engaged partner with all parties — including the city of Atlanta — to ensure accountability so that all residents of Fulton County feel safe in their community," Jones said in a statement after the vote.
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Republicans who supported the secession effort urged Atlanta leaders to heed the concerns of Buckhead residents.
"This issue will not go away until they first listen, and then start to seek solutions," said state Sen. Matt Brass. "City of Atlanta, if you're listening, listen to them."
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who also questioned the legality of the proposal, thanked lawmakers for rejecting the bill and promised in a statement to address the concerns of Buckhead residents.
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"To my fellow Atlantans: whether you support or oppose deannexation, I will continue working with you to improve our services, to invest in our communities and ensure a safe city for all," Dickens said. "Atlanta is a group project, and we will work every day of the week with you, on your behalf, and hearing your voices."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.