Proponents of Buckhead leaving Atlanta to become its own city or join another existing one have organized as a nonprofit and will debut with a Jan. 20 virtual town hall.
The group, called the Buckhead Exploratory Committee, aims to study the costs and benefits of various forms of local government. When the committee first began forming last year, it was blasted by the Mayor’s Office — which operates on a unity slogan of “One Atlanta” — and several major local organizations as divisive and impractical.
Now the committee has launched a website at becnow.com, where it is seeking donations and volunteers. The website includes registration information for the Jan. 20 town hall, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. The organization is also operating a private Facebook group.
“Together we can save Buckhead,” is one slogan on the website; “#TheBuckStopsHere” is another.
“The Buckhead Exploratory Committee is a diverse group of residents with a broad range of expertise who have united to improve the quality of life in our community,” reads a statement on the website. “Our goal is to improve the safety in our streets, ensure that our city services align with our tax dollars, build infrastructure and preserve our parklike setting through keeping tree canopy and zoning.”
The organization did not respond to questions. According to its filing with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, the organization’s CEO is Sam Lenaeus, a Buckhead real estate agent. Lenaeus has served as the housing chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, an umbrella organization of neighborhood associations. In that BCN role, he worked on an inventory of multifamily housing and a proposal to encourage employers to subsidize middle-income housing for employees living in Buckhead.
Talk of Buckhead leaving Atlanta has rumbled from time to time since the neighborhood was annexed in 1952, a political move made in part to keep the city’s voting rolls majority-White. Buckhead remains a majority-White neighborhood in a majority-Black city; is much wealthier than Atlanta as a whole; and is a bastion of Republican votes in a majority-Democrat city.
Those differences have led to repeated cityhood talk over the years, largely cast as concerns that taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth. This time, crime concerns are a major driver. Buckhead has seen some of the most organized criticism of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ policy responses to crime and Black Lives Matter protests, including the creation of a “Buckhead Security Plan” late last year.
But cityhood is an idea that has come and gone before. The most recent serious discussions followed the landmark 2005 incorporation of the neighboring city of Sandy Springs. In 2008, the now-defunct Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation hosted a Buckhead cityhood meeting that drew more than 200 attendees — including state legislators who poured cold water on the idea.
The idea revived in 2018, as residents of a country club neighborhood in the Henry County city of Stockbridge attempted to secede as a new city called Eagle’s Landing. The Eagle’s Landing move triggered a debate about race, class and economic impacts that drew national media attention before the cityhood proposal failed at the polls. Following that talk, as well as the bruising 2017 mayoral election where Bottoms beat Buckhead political figure Mary Norwood, the local nonprofit Buckhead Coalition emphasized an “Atlanta Together” unity message through prayer services and speeches.