Art Freeman
Art Freeman, executive director of the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce, presents Brookhaven City Manager Marie Garrett with an award at the chamber’s inaugural reception March 14. Watching is Todd Lantier, chamber chairman.
Garrett was honored for her work getting the city started. Freeman said he envisions that the business organization will help restore a sense of community following the divisive cityhood referendum in July.

More than half a year has passed since the people of Brookhaven voted to incorporate a city. Though the referendum is in the rearview mirror, some say the divisiveness of the close vote still lingers in the community.

The city of Brookhaven was approved by 55 percent of voters on July 31 – the thinnest margin of any of the new cities created since Sandy Springs incorporated in 2005.

One of the main concerns from opponents of creating a new city was higher taxes. Those concerns resurfaced as Brookhaven prepared its first budget. The city is scheduled to approve the budget March 26.

At the city council’s first public budget hearing Feb. 26, several people urged officials not to raise their taxes and some pointed out that they were against creating a city.

“I voted against Brookhaven. A gut feeling told me this would be nothing but increasing taxes,” said Bill Simpson.

“I guess I’m in Brookhaven now, which I shudder to even say,” Denise Bailey said. “I moved to an unincorporated area.”

An anonymous prerecorded call to Brookhaven homes earlier this month claimed Mayor J. Max Davis planned to increase property taxes.

Davis, who rejected the claim with a follow-up call of his own, said he feels most people have put the election behind them.

But he said that a small group of opponents still exists and that he believes the call likely came from someone who is still bitter about the outcome of the city election.

“It was a tactic to confuse people,” he said. “Using that same argument from six, seven months ago shows me it’s still there.”

He said he believes the contentiousness of the cityhood referendum has diminished as time goes on.

“We’re all one city now,” Davis said. “A lot of people have told me the city’s a reality now and they want it to be the best it can be.”

But he said he’s glad that people are closely watching the new city council.

“I appreciate people who want to hold the city’s feet to the fire. I think that’s good for all of us to be vigilant,” Davis said.

Arthur Freeman, executive director of the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce, said he envisions the chamber as a neutral organization that can help heal some of the division caused by the campaigns for and against the city.

“There’s still a very sharp divide between ‘Yes Brookhaven’ and ‘No City’ folks. There’s still a lot of festering going on,” Freeman said. “I felt that the chamber was uniquely positioned to add a voice of cohesiveness since our membership is from both sides of the fence. From our organization, we are mending fences and working side by side because, whether we like it or not, we are living in same city. It exists.”

Councilman Jim Eyre, who was initially against creating a city, said he doesn’t believe the community is caught up in the rhetoric of the campaigns.

“For the most part, Aug. 1 the voters had spoken and we were moving on to create the best city we could,” Eyre said.

He said the people he talks to are no longer looking at Brookhaven through a “yes” or “no” lens.

“We’re off and running,” Eyre said.