Creating a Buckhead City would hurt Atlanta on so many levels
By Maria Saporta
The proposal to carve a City of Buckhead out of the City of Atlanta would be detrimental – financially, politically and psychologically.
In essence, it would create a majority white Buckhead City and majority Black Atlanta – going against everything our city has represented historically as a place where races can come together to work on solutions.
It also would divide our city into two cities – one of the haves and the other of the have-nots.
That’s what Dave Stockert, chairman of the Buckhead Coalition, told the Rotary Club of Atlanta earlier this month.
“According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the median income in a new Buckhead City would be about $140,000; and the median household income in the rest of Atlanta would drop by 17 percent to about $50,000 painting in a very stark light the difference between the regional haves and have nots,” Stockert said.
That is only one of many problems a City of Buckhead would create. The last thing the Atlanta region needs is yet another local government with its own bureaucracy. Already, the City of Atlanta represents only 11 percent of the Atlanta region’s residents. Removing up to 110,000 residents from Atlanta’s population of 520,000 would dilute the city’s relative standing even more – making it even harder to build regional relationships to address the issues most vital to our region.
Even Bill White, president and CEO of the Buckhead City Committee, acknowledged that creating a City of Buckhead would have a psychological effect on Atlanta’s national image.
“What we are doing is embarrassing the city of Atlanta, and that’s a factor for me because we don’t want to hurt Atlanta,” White said in an interview with SaportaReport. “But Buckhead is dying on the vine.”
Without a doubt, problems do exist in Buckhead (as they do throughout the city). Stockert said the best way to address those issues is for people to go vote in the Nov. 2 election.
“Then we have an opportunity to engage with a new city government,” Stockert said. Atlantans will be electing a new mayor, a new city council president and all but one of the City Council seats are being contested.
Edward Lindsey, head of Denton’s Georgia Public Policy Team and co-chair of the Committee for a United Atlanta, agreed.
“A lot of things are motivating people to want a Buckhead City,” Lindsey said. “Their concerns are based on real problems. We don’t dispute that. But creating a City of Buckhead would exacerbate the problems.”
When asked why not spend his energies fixing the City of Atlanta from within, White responded: “The current candidates [for mayor], they are not offering solutions.” White expressed frustration that none of the leading candidates have met with the Buckhead City Committee to address his group’s concerns.
Creating a Buckhead City will not be a simple feat. First, the area will have to be unbuckled from the City of Atlanta – a process that would involve countless legal, financial and governance issues.
“Making an unincorporated area a city is fundamentally different that de-annexing a part of the city,” Lindsey said. “Essentially, it is the difference between scrambling and unscrambling an egg.”
In recent times, only one community has tried to do that. Two years ago, there was an attempt to carve out the City of Eagles Landing out of the City of Stockbridge.
In that case, most state legislators representing Stockbridge were in favor of the new city. But the voters turned it down.
So far, the state legislators who represent the City of Atlanta and the Buckhead community are against creating a Buckhead City.
“No city has been created without strong support from representatives of that area,” Lindsey said. “No representative in any part of Buckhead or the City of Atlanta is supporting it. It would create a dangerous precedent to do otherwise with our capital city.”
White said he believes those state legislators will change their minds According to polls by his organization, most of the people who live in Buckhead support the creation of a new city.
But creating a new Buckhead City would have such a devastating impact on the City of Atlanta, people throughout the city should have a voice and not just voters who live in Buckhead.
“That would be up to the Legislature to decide but unlike creating a city in an unincorporated area, this is a divorce,” Lindsey said. “In a divorce, both parties usually have a say-so in what takes place.”
Given the detrimental impact a Buckhead City would have on Atlanta’s brand, it’s surprising to me that the Atlanta business community has not been more outspoken against the effort.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber issued a statement against Buckhead City saying “it would set a very dangerous precedent statewide and deal a crippling blow to the tremendous economic momentum we have achieved.”
But the statement came from Marshall Guest, the Chamber’s senior vice president of public policy, rather than President Katie Kirkpatrick or 2021 Chairman Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines.
Wouldn’t it have been more impactful if the Metro Atlanta Chamber had held a press conference with a host of business leaders strongly advocating against Buckhead City –sending the message to state legislators that future financial contributions to their campaigns would depend on how they voted?
And where is the Atlanta Committee for Progress?
The influential group of business, academic and civic leaders has been almost silent. At the September ACP board meeting, the Committee for a United Atlanta made a presentation. But because the group talked about the real problems in Buckhead, it made Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms visibly uncomfortable, so the conversation came to an end.
Shan Cooper, ACP’s executive director, when asked whether the group had a position, responded in a text: “As for the separation of Buckhead from Atlanta, we stand behind the Mayor and believe that Atlanta and Buckhead are stronger together.”
Back in the day, one would expect a much more vocal response from Atlanta’s top business and civic leaders.
Lindsey, however, is hopeful the “United Atlanta” movement is gaining traction.
“I’m pleased with the Metro Chamber for coming out,” Lindsey said about the recent statement from Guest. “I do expect to see more business and civic leaders to step up forcefully going forward. We have 250 pre-eminent residents in Buckhead who have gone on the record in a full-page ad. We certainly could use more help and expect we will get it. What we are trying to do right now, through the art of persuasion, is show that it is both bad policy and bad politics.”
Atlanta needs to live up to its highest ideals and its historic integrity by working on solutions that unify the races and the city by stopping efforts that are racially or economically divisive. In other words, let’s find ways to solve the problems in Buckhead and throughout the City of Atlanta by working together rather than at cross purposes.
“Buckhead is clearly a vibrant part of the tapestry of neighborhoods that makes Atlanta special, and Buckhead residents and businesses deserve to be heard on the deeply felt heartfelt concerns that they have about how things are run,” Stockert said. “But those concerns are not unique to any one part of Atlanta. They are common to all the parts of Atlanta. And to that extent, we’re all in the same boat.”