Buckhead cityhood legislation challenged by political chess moves in first week of General Assembly session

Buckhead cityhood legislation faced its first political challenges in the first week of the General Assembly’s session with two chess moves aimed at a rapid checkmate.

Forthcoming legislation will seek to make any cityhood referendum a citywide vote rather than Buckhead-only. And the Senate version of the cityhood legislation, which is exclusively sponsored by Republicans, has been assigned to a committee with all Democratic members, though its chair says it will get a fair hearing.

Both appear to be chess moves against cityhood, for which backers must get General Assembly approval to place on the November ballot.

A peculiarity of the cityhood legislation is that it is sponsored exclusively by Republicans who do not represent Buckhead or Atlanta, while all-Democrat local lawmakers oppose it. Two of those legislators, Rep. Shea Roberts and Sen. Jen Jordan (who is also running for the Georgia attorney general position), are poised to file legislation requiring that any such referendum be conducted citywide and need a 57.5% supermajority to win. Roberts said she expects her version to get a first reading on Jan. 14.

The idea of such legislation was pitched in a Jan. 12 joint meeting of Atlanta’s House and Senate delegations by Edward Lindsey, a former state representative who is now co-chair of the anti-cityhood group the Committee for a United Atlanta. Lindsey noted that cityhood supporters have claimed that secession would be good for both Buckhead and Atlanta. He asked, “why then do only the folks in Buckhead have the right to vote?”

State Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) chairs the Urban Affairs Committee, which will consider the Senate version of Buckhead cityhood legislation.

The pro-cityhood Buckhead City Committee did not respond to a comment request about the referendum-altering legislation.

The next move came Jan. 13 from Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican who has expressed skepticism about cityhood. Duncan assigned S.B. 324, the Senate version of the cityhood legislation, to the Urban Affairs Committee for consideration. The committee’s all-Democrat membership includes Sen. Nan Orrock, an Atlanta delegation member and vocal opponent of cityhood.

Some early political reaction was that the bill is likely to die in that committee, killing the cityhood effort for at least this year. However, the committee chair, Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), said in a phone interview that the bill will get a fair consideration.

“I have not taken a position one way or another on the bill,” said Jackson. He added that he personally does not think of it in a partisan way and that he is familiar with traditional cityhood efforts, including the failed 2019 proposal for Skidaway Island, an island near Savannah, to incorporate. He said he is not aware of any movements in the Savannah area for a Buckhead-like secession version of cityhood.

“I know I’ve had similar bills like this in my own community … and I really think the lieutenant governor is doing the right thing [with the committee assignment], because it truly is an urban affairs issue,” Jackson said.

“Our committee will be transparent and it will be fair, and it will take time out to listen to all of the concerns of the general public on this issue,” Jackson said. “So everyone’s voice will be considered.”

He indicated that, after a hearing, the committee will “see where we should go with this legislation.” He said he did not want to make any “predetermination” of what that result would be.