Ever since GOP Representative Todd Jones of Cumming dropped a bill in the Georgia House to incorporate the neighborhood of Buckhead as its own city, discussion of the merits and challenges of a new Buckhead City have popped up wherever I go. I have and will continue to express serious concerns about the ramifications of this legislation.

First, I’d like to explain the process of passing this legislation in the Georgia General Assembly. The legislation must be filed, and formally introduced in the chamber. In this case, the bill is sponsored by a legislator who does not live in the impacted community nor the surrounding city, which is highly unusual. 

Then, a feasibility study is completed by an approved entity to determine whether the newly formed city can financially support itself. Prior to this year, feasibility studies were only completed by the Carl Vinson School of Government at the University of Georgia, the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, and the Enterprise Innovation Institute at Georgia Institute of Technology. The feasibility study for this bill was conducted by the Center for South Georgia Regional Impact at Valdosta State University, an organization that is only three years old.  A waiver will be required for this study to be used. 

The bill is then considered and likely amended in the Government Affairs committee. If the bill passes the Government Affairs committee, it moves to the Rules committee. If it passes out of Rules, the Speaker of the House can put the bill to a vote on the floor. If the bill passes on the floor of the House, it crosses over to the State Senate to repeat the entire process. If the bill passes both chambers, it must then receive Governor Kemp’s signature. Once the bill clears those hurdles, the question of whether to incorporate the community into Buckhead City becomes a referendum on the ballot for the November 2022 election. 

An additional bill to de-annex the community from Atlanta will need to follow the same process. Both bills are required to pass in order for the referendum to be on the ballot. 

One House bill to incorporate the city of Buckhead City was filed on March 31st, 2021, the very last day of session. The bill was sponsored by Todd Jones (HD 25), of Cumming. The bill was not assigned to a committee, although it may be assigned to committee during the special session on redistricting. A separate bill in the Senate was filed on November 18th by Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta. Neither of these people represent Buckhead or the City of Atlanta.

If the dual issues of de-annexation and incorporation make it to the November 2022 ballot, only the residents of the proposed Buckhead City would be able to vote on it. This is concerning given the tremendous impact the move would have on the rest of the City of Atlanta. While it might seem fair to leave this question to the residents of the proposed Buckhead City, in reality, it would greatly disenfranchise the rest of the city of Atlanta. 

In the history of the state, Georgia has never successfully de-annexed a piece of an existing city to create a new one. In cases like the incorporation of Sandy Springs or Brookhaven, those communities were parts of unincorporated Fulton and DeKalb County respectively. The implications of carving up an existing city (not to mention, Georgia’s largest city) are much more complicated.

This unprecedented de-annexation and incorporation raises lots of questions:

  • What happens to the Buckhead students who attend Atlanta Public Schools? If Buckhead City is incorporated, those students become the responsibility of Fulton County Public Schools (even though the buildings and infrastructure will continue to be APS property; Fulton County doesn’t own school buildings in Buckhead).
  • Who will be responsible for City of Atlanta’s bond debts and pension obligations? 
  • How will the cost and management of water and sewer be impacted? One only has to look to Sandy Springs to see that prices could skyrocket and responsibility for repairs and upkeep could be in question.
  • What will be the economic impact on the City of Atlanta, which will lose a significant amount of tax revenue?
  • What is the impact on the state’s stellar AAA bond rating? Moody’s Index has gone on record saying that allowing this sort of de-annexation could cause the entire state of Georgia to go credit negative.

Buckhead is my neighborhood, but Atlanta is my home. I believe that Atlanta is stronger with Buckhead, and Buckhead is stronger with Atlanta.

Like you, I am appalled at the rising crime, in Buckhead and the city as a whole. But seceding from the city of Atlanta will not solve this problem. You can’t build a wall around Buckhead to keep out the crime. And diverting resources from the city of Atlanta will mean that crime will get worse, in both Atlanta and in Buckhead. I want to feel safe walking in Chastain Park, but I also want to feel safe walking in Piedmont Park. I want to feel safe going to Buckhead Theater, and I also want to feel safe going to the Fox. 

As a state legislator, my jurisdiction on city matters is limited. The 2022 budget will include more funding for the Georgia State Patrol officers who can support the Atlanta Police Department, and I favor that. I’ve also supported legislation to make it easier to arrest and prosecute drag racers, including those organizing the events. 

At the end of the day, the best way to reduce crime in the long run is to provide better funding for schools, more gang diversion programs, better gun safety regulations and robust mental health services. I will continue to fight for these things under the Gold Dome, as I have always done. 

But Buckhead City is not the answer. I am confident that we can work together and elect leaders who represent our best interests, for Buckhead, the city of Atlanta, and the state of Georgia.

I joined my esteemed colleagues Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, Senator Nan Orrock, and Senator Sonya Halpern on a Georgia WIN List webinar to discuss these issues – you can watch the conversation HERE.

These are some additional resources to learn about the complicated implications of de-annexation. 

OPINION: The inconvenient truth, and unanswered questions, of ‘Buckhead City’
By Patricia Murphy

APS leader: Buckhead ‘divorce’ will leave APS students behind
By Jason Esteves

Opinion: Splitting off from Atlanta’s not a way to make Buckhead safer
By Dave Wilkinson

Buckhead cityhood threatens bond ratings, experts say; advocates have answers
By John Ruch

Creating a Buckhead City would hurt Atlanta on so many levels
By Maria Saporta