A legal process for Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood to separate into its own city has begun with the filing of state legislation under the name “Buckhead City.”

The Buckhead Exploratory Committee (BEC), the private organization advocating for cityhood, said papers were filed by two North Fulton state legislators, neither of whom represent Buckhead: Rep. Todd Jones (R-Cumming) and Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta). Jones filed the legislation on Sine Die, the last day of General Assembly session, on March 31, putting it onto the 2022 session agenda, the group said. And Beach filed legislation with the Georgia Secretary of State, which could trigger hearing as soon as this summer, the group said.

A page of the legislation seeking to create the city of Buckhead City, as shown in a photograph provided by the Buckhead Exploratory Committee, the group advocating for cityhood.

“Since our decision to pursue cityhood, the BEC executive team has been racing against the clock to make this legislative year count,” said a written statement BEC sent to supporters. “Thanks to all of your efforts, a major step forward in our quest to establish Buckhead cityhood was achieved yesterday. Encouragingly, over the many years that an independent Buckhead City has been discussed, this is the first time that such a movement takes a step towards the Georgia’s [sic] legislature.”

Neither legislator responded to comment requests. But state Rep. Betsy Holland (D-Atlanta), whose district includes part of Buckhead, confirmed that Jones filed legislation. Holland, who has opposed the concept of cityhood, said she was not aware of the legislation beforehand.

“Todd Jones definitely dropped legislation on Sine Die,” Holland said in an email. “He made a motion to suspend the rules to have the bill read for the first time and assigned to committee around midnight on Wednesday. Several folks (including me) objected to the motion and a vote to suspend the rules did not pass, so he was not able to have it immediately read and assigned. However, it will be in the hopper for the start of the 2022 session.”

“I was not approached about the legislation, nor was [state Rep.] Shea Roberts (who represents the second biggest chunk of Buckhead after me),” Holland added. “Seems strange to have someone who represents Forsyth County dropping a bill about a community in Atlanta, doesn’t it?”

Sam Lenaeus, BEC’s president and CEO, provided the Reporter with the statement sent to supporters and a photograph of the first page of the legislation, but did not immediately respond to questions, including whether any Buckhead-area legislators are in support and how the “Buckhead City” name would work with an existing city in Morgan County called Buckhead.

BEC emerged last year among concern about crime and uneven city services. While advocating for cityhood, the group has said it was also open to annexation into such adjacent cities as Brookhaven and Sandy Springs, or simply issuing complaints to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. 

In a virtual meeting in January, BEC members asked the public for $10,000 to $15,000 in donations so they could conduct opinion polling to see if people agreed with the cityhood advocacy. Lenaeus previously said that polling was conducted, but did not respond to questions about its results. The group also hired lobbyists, saying they were merely consulting experts.

BEC’s effort has been strongly criticized by Bottoms and Buckhead’s major business community organizations as divisive at a time when they are working on social, economic and racial unity. Jim Durrett, who heads the Buckhead Coalition and the Buckhead Community Improvement District, has likened the effort to a child ceasing to share toys with others and warned that separate cityhood could bankrupt Atlanta.

The cityhood process would be legally complex, as it would involve de-annexing the neighborhood from Atlanta and then incorporating it as a city.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.