Atlanta, March 1, 2023 — Georgia senators could vote Thursday on two bills allowing the upscale Buckhead neighborhood to secede from the city of Atlanta, even as Gov. Brian Kemp cast doubt on the effort, making clear it faces an uphill political battle.
The Senate Rules Committee voted Wednesday to set the bills for debate Thursday, after Kemp’s chief lawyer sent a memo to lawmakers Tuesday questioning many of the provisions of the controversial plan to transform Atlanta’s whitest and most affluent area into Buckhead City. A Senate committee passed the bills on Monday, the first time such legislation has advanced out of committee in the Georgia General Assembly.
Executive Counsel David Dove questioned whether proposals to assign a portion of Atlanta’s bond debt to the new city would be legal and suggested that secessions could leave Atlanta and other cities unable to pay their debts. Dove said the plan could wreck the ability of Georgia cities to borrow money.
“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?” Dove wrote
He also challenged the legality of the plans of Buckhead City proponents to collect taxes for the Atlanta city school system and continue enrolling students in it even after leaving Atlanta.
“How is this action constitutional given (1) Buckhead would lie outside the jurisdictional limits of Atlanta, (2) no referendum is proposed for residents to ratify such taxation, and (3) the Georgia Constitution fails to give any power to cities and counties to engage in the education of their residents outside of independent school districts?” Dove wrote.
Supporters of the secession say Atlanta isn’t doing enough to control crime and that Buckhead residents aren’t getting their tax money’s worth from municipal services. If they succeed, residents would vote on forming a new city in a referendum.
“Those are voter rights bills,” Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican sponsoring the bills, told the Rules Committee Wednesday. He argues residents’ concerns are being ignored.
Proponents of Buckhead City didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to an email seeking comment.
Kemp, a Republican, has forged a close relationship with current Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, a Democrat. Both Dickens and the city’s business leaders are bitterly opposed to secession, along with Atlanta’s overwhelmingly Democratic legislative delegation.
Democrats say supporters of Buckhead City are a noisy minority of residents in the area. No Atlanta lawmakers are sponsoring the bills.
While the legislation was bottled up last year, new Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones supported it while serving as a state senator and has allowed the bills to move forward.
Opponents of secession hailed the governor’s position, but urged people to lobby the Senate against the bills.
“We are pleased that the governor’s office expressed many of the same concerns that our supporters have, but we also know that questions don’t equal the end of the road,” Neighbors for a United Atlanta wrote to its supporters.
The Atlanta school system also urged supporters to lobby Jones and senators against the bill.
“Formation of a City of Buckhead City would have a disastrous impact on the entire school district,” the city’s Board of Education wrote in a Wednesday statement. – AP