South Fulton Cityhood Passes Senate, House, as Sen. James Defends Vote
With additional reporting by Gloria Tatum, Senior News Writer.
(APN) ATLANTA — HB 514, a voter referendum for a new City of South Fulton, in Fulton County, passed the Georgia Legislature this year, making a last-minute come back after many years of failed attempts to get the legislation through the Senate.
City of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) are among those who are opposed to the City of South Fulton.
On Tuesday, March 22, 2016, Sen. Fort criticized Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta), the sponsor of the legislation’s Senate version, on the Senate floor, before being reprimanded by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
Fort accused Sen. James of being the only Democrat to support a Republican measure related to changes to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, in exchange for Republicans backing her measure.
Sen. James responded to those accusations in an interview with Atlanta Progressive News, charging that Sen. Fort is only opposed to the City of South Fulton because he wants the City of Atlanta to be able to annex more voters in that area [majority Black voters], so it will be easier for him to get elected when he runs for Mayor in 2017.
Sen. James and others have been pushing hard for HB 514, the passage of which was made possible by heavy Republican support in the State Senate.
In previous years, Lt. Gov. Cagle had not let the legislation come to the floor for a vote, and it was believed that this was because Mayor Reed had convinced him not to allow it so Atlanta had more time to pursue annexation.
The significance of the passage of this legislation, if voters approve cityhood in November 2016, will be, first, the end of there being any such thing known as unincorporated Fulton County, because all of the land within Fulton County would be contained in cities.
In addition, the formation of the new city would block the efforts of the City of Atlanta and some south Fulton communities for annexation of several neighborhoods into the City of Atlanta.
According to the legislation, cities have until July 01, 2016, to annex any portions of unincorporated Fulton County that they wish to annex, before those areas would be unavailable for annexation if voters approve the cityhood referendum.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, while one south Fulton annexation, South Oak, went forward through the petition method, other petitions had stalled.
A bill by State Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) for Atlanta to annex an even larger area is apparently expired, with any new legislation pending the outcome of the November referendum.
A number of south Fulton cities had been whittling away at the remaining incorporated area for the last couple years.
State Sen. James told APN in an interview that, with all those cities “cherry picking” what they wanted, there was less and less of a tax base left for a City of South Fulton, such that they were running out of time to act.
HB 514 passed the House last year on March 13, 2015, by a 148 to 21 vote. For the rest of 2015 and much of 2016, it was stuck in the Senate, but started to move again in March 2016.
Rafer Johnson, a candidate for House District 62, had told Atlanta Progressive News in the final days of the Session that he believed the legislation would come out of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, even though it was not on the agenda.
Johnson said he and other cityhood advocates had convinced several legislators that other cities had had their chance, and that they, too, should have their chance.
The legislation came out of Senate Committee, and Rules Committee, then passing the Senate on March 22, 2016, in a vote of 42 to ten, adopted by substitute.
Opposed to the measure were State Sens. Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain), Fort, Steve Henson (D-Tucker), Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta), Curt Thompson (D-Tucker), and Larry Walker III (R-Perry).
“She stuck with us, now we’ll stick with her,” State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) told two reporters, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Political Insider blog.
“I had to leave the Chamber as this whole thing went down. It was that disturbing to me,” State Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) wrote on Facebook.
But Sen. James tells APN that she did not trade one vote for the other. She said that she did not see any reason to oppose the changes to the Judicial Qualifying Commission, other than that the Democratic Caucus was opposing it.
She said she had already promised the Republicans that she would support the JQC bill, before she learned that the Democratic Caucus was opposed, and that she did not see enough of a reason to change her position after pledging her support.
The JQC measure eventually passed even with two Republican defectors, because Sen. James continued to support the measure.
As for the City of South Fulton, the House agreed to the Senate Substitute on March 24, 2016, with a vote of 127 to 25.
In some ways, the unincorporated part of south Fulton County has been acting like a city for years. It has its own police and fire departments, administered through Fulton County Government.
The boundaries of the City of South Fulton shall include all unincorporated areas of Fulton County, including the Fulton County Industrial District.
If approved by voters in a referendum in November, South Fulton will be a city.