Nov 5, 2021 - Politics

Buckhead's proposed secession from Atlanta goes under the microscope

Illustration of the map of the city of Atlanta with the Buckhead neighborhood breaking off.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The "Buckxit" movement by Atlanta’s whitest and wealthiest neighborhood to secede from the city met pushback on Thursday from opponents at a heated three-hour state committee hearing.

Why it matters: It was arguably the first showdown between the two sides that delved into the complexities and nuances of making Buckhead City a reality.

  • Creating Buckhead City might sound good in theory — a new police force, control over zoning, government close to the people — but opponents say the long-term effects would ultimately hurt both cities and ripple throughout the state.

State of play: When the General Assembly reconvenes in January, Buckhead cityhood will dominate much of the 40-day legislative session.

  • GOP lawmakers facing elections next year — none of whom represent Atlanta — have backed the secession proposal and its tough-on-crime platform.

Flashback: Earlier this year, some Buckhead residents revived a long-discussed (but never seriously pursued) idea to secede from Atlanta.

  • Their reasons: crime, crime, crime, and decades of City Hall taking their tax dollars for granted.
  • Led by Bill White, a business consultant and Donald Trump fundraiser who moved to the community a few years ago, the initiative has raised roughly $1 million and earned national news coverage on Tucker Carlson.

Yes, but: The knife cuts both ways, say opponents of the initiative, including the Buckhead Coalition, the Committee for a United Atlanta, the Midtown Alliance, the Metro Chamber, the Georgia Municipal Association, and City Hall.

  • Without an amendment to the Georgia Constitution, Buckhead City children would not be eligible to attend Atlanta Public Schools, officials say.
  • Water bills would automatically rise as much as 36%, according to Peter Aman, a former Bain & Company partner who worked as the city’s chief operating officer and provided pro bono work for Mayor Shirley Franklin.
  • Never before has a part of an existing city created its own municipality in Georgia. Doing so could trigger a raft of lawsuits from bond investors and rattle the bond ratings for cities across the state, said Aman and Tom Gehl of GMA.

If crime is the driving force, opponents say, cityhood won't fix the problem.

  • The estimated $100 million hole that secession would create in Atlanta’s budget would make the city harder to police — a problem that would spill over into Buckhead City, Aman added.

Even with the current uptick in violent crime, the police zone that encompasses Buckhead "is the safest from violent crime of all six police zones in the city" last year and thus far in 2021, Kevin Green, CEO of the Midtown Alliance, told the committee.

  • Per APD crime statistics, Zone 2, which includes Buckhead, has the lowest share of total violent crimes in the city, followed closely by Zone 6.
  •  "Throwing this entire city into disarray is not the way to solve [crime]," Green told the committee.

Addressing the root causes of crime and voting for strong leadership in the municipal elections — not cityhood — would actually make a difference, Aman and other opponents said.

What's next: State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, told the committee that he will prefile a bill next week paving the way for a cityhood referendum, making it high on the General Assembly’s to-do list.

Editor's note: This piece was corrected and updated with further info to show that Zone 2 — even with its recent increase in violent crimes — continues its trend since 2020 to have the lowest share of total violent crimes in the city.


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