Buckhead Weighs Secession from Atlanta
(APN) BUCKHEAD — The Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation (FCTF), formed in 1992 with 3000 members, has as its agenda the secession from the City of Atlanta and formation of an independent City of Buckhead.
The group feels the residents of Buckhead pay too much in taxes for too few services and could do a better job with their own city. Opponents of the plan denounce it as impractical at best, racist at worst.
About 200 people attended a luncheon on the topic on September 11, 2008, according to the Buckhead Reporter newspaper.
Unlike the new independent cities of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Johns Creek, and Milton–which had to incorporate–Buckhead must de-annex from Atlanta.
“They were in the unincorporated area of Fulton County. It was a lot easier [to get legislative approval] than having part of a city fractioned off,” John Sherman, President of FCTF, told Atlanta Progressive News.
“The cities to the north were able to incorporate because of changes in the law. There were laws saying that you could not incorporate a city within five miles of an existing city. That was specifically for Sandy Springs. When the Republicans took over the legislature they changed the law immediately,” Larry Keating, former Georgia Tech professor and author, told APN.
There is doubt as to whether the group can muster the political strength to separate.
“The Atlanta delegation has 14 members it would take 10 members from Atlanta to sign on to any bill. There is not going to be a quick and easy answer like splitting off and forming a City of Buckhead,” State Rep. Ed Lindsey of the 54th district, said in a speech to the FCTF, according to a copy of the September luncheon obtained by APN.
“There are problems in being part of Atlanta. The City of Atlanta is not working well for any citizen. We have fiscal challenges in the city as well as service delivery challenges,” City Councilwoman-at-large and Mayoral candidate, Mary Norwood, told APN.
“It is important for elected officials to understand that the discontent felt by some of my colleagues is also felt in the Buckhead part of the city,” Norwood said.
“We want to get [Mayor] Shirley Franklin’s attention; there are people who are fed up with how Franklin is running the town. She is running it to the ground with a huge deficit. Her decision-making is poor when it comes to the checkbook,” Barbara Payne, Executive Director of the FCTF, stated in an interview with Atlanta Progressive News.
“The streets are a nightmare because of curb maintenance and traffic lights. The services we have, like garbage, are overstaffed. We want the city to outsource and get better services at a cheaper price. The people in the city and county apparently really don’t know how to balance the checkbook. If it was a business it would be out of business and the staff would be in jail,” Payne continued.
However, some see a class and racist element to this movement.
“We can’t determine the boundaries [of a City of Buckhead]. That would be left up to a feasibility study. Our thing is informing the public. We would want to be inclusive rather than exclusive but the thing is there are all these iffy neighborhoods on the southeast corner,” Payne said.
“I don’t really think the issue is Shirley Franklin. I think the issue is race and class. There has always been an insular culture in Buckhead. Buckhead was annexed in the 1950s part of the thinking behind it was to preserve White hegemony,” Keating said.
Keating wrote in his book, Race, Class, and Urban Expansion, about how part of the decision to annex Buckhead and other predominantly White areas to the north, was to dilute Black voting strength in Downtown and South Atlanta. Keating noted that this strategy appeared to prevent Atlanta from electing its first Black mayor for several years.
“This was about 10 minutes before the suburban shopping centers popped up like Lenox Mall. Downtown was much more prominent. They were worried about Black population expansion on the south side,” Keating told APN.
One possibility of Buckhead de-annexing at this point is that the demographic of Atlanta voters could become much more Black and low-income, suggesting a leftward shift in the political makeup of Council and possibly the Mayor.
“They are not interested in paying for anything that is not in their own immediate area. They would like to avoid paying for anything that benefits low-income or Black people,” Keating stated.
“You will hear some people say this is about race and money. They will accuse anyone who is in favor of a city of Buckhead of being a racist,” Glen Delk, an attorney living in the Buckhead area, stated in a speech to the FCTF.
“Shirley Franklin takes 40% of her revenue from Buckhead when we represent only 15% of the population. You are subsidizing City Hall to the tune of $350,000 a year. The school system is totally out of control and takes 52% of your property taxes,” Delk said.
However, Councilwoman Felicia Moore has stated her opposition to Buckhead’s secession, pointing out that while some Buckhead residents pay higher costs in taxes, there are environmental costs which are paid by those living in poorer areas due to the location of polluting industries in those areas.
“If taxes were lower or nonexistent and of course city services were improved, there really would be no need for this to be a city of Buckhead,” Payne said.
Some believe it can be done, with some difficulty. “The legislature can pass a law saying de-annexation is not local legislation. If you do that you can force a vote on a city of Buckhead. It does not take a constitutional amendment. Of course as soon as you do that Mayor Franklin and the city council will file suit,” Delk said.
Most believe Buckhead cannot get de-annexed.
“I think it is just one group’s idea of what they would like to do. The reality of it happening is slim to none so I haven’t really expended any energy on it. I don’t see it’s worth discussing because it is not feasible,” Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9) told APN.