We started Neighbors for a United Atlanta, an organization that I co-founded and chair, to keep Atlanta united and counter the Buckhead City Committee’s (BCC) false claim that the “majority of Buckhead residents” wanted to deannex from Atlanta. That was not true then and, thankfully, it is even less accurate today.

Our movement is fueled by individuals from all walks of life who have a variety of concerns including safety, zoning, schools, and finances. We share a common belief that breaking up Atlanta would cause irreparable damage to our neighborhoods, our city, and even our state, while doing little to address our challenges. In fact, it may even compound them.

As a Buckhead resident, and someone married into a family that has lived in Buckhead over six decades, I admit that Buckhead faces real issues. We all want and deserve to feel safe in our homes, while eating and shopping at local businesses, and while navigating our streets. We wish to protect and enhance the character of our neighborhoods and our property values. And we aspire for children to receive a quality education regardless of their zip code.

As we look at each issue in context, it’s inevitable to see the absurdity, and peril, of the BCC’s proposed “solutions.”

Let’s start with public safety. Thankfully, Buckhead is a safe place to live. That doesn’t mean there is no crime. I challenge BCC supporters to show me a single major metropolitan area that doesn’t have crime. Furthermore, violent crime in APD’s Zone Two, which accounts for most of Buckhead,has decreased in each of the last two years. And, thankfully, Buckhead has the lowest murder rate of any zone in the city.

Nevertheless, a single murder, carjacking, or home invasion, is one too many. We need to continue to work with elected officials and APD and to demand continued improvement. Each of us must also do our part, taking simple steps like locking doors, using our home alarm, registering our doorbell cameras with APD, not leaving guns in cars, etc. Buckhead is not an island, and we cannot put a wall around Buckhead to keep people safe after seceding.

A fear of rezoning is often mentioned as another reason for creating our own city in Buckhead. Mayor Andre Dickens has repeatedly, and publicly, stated “it’s never been my intention to get rid of single-family zoning.”

Then there is the issue of Atlanta Public Schools. 5,000 APS students live in Buckhead and attend school here. Another 3,000 students who live outside of the proposed city boundaries but attend schools in North Atlanta could be displaced. Importantly, Atlanta Attorney Robbie Ashe, who specializes in constitutional law, testified before Georgia Senate’s State and Local Government Committee (SLOGO) last week, stating that, among other issues, “Buckhead City cannot constitutionally levy school taxes.” And, although control is a driving reason behind BCC, Mr. Ashe pointed out the likely loss of control, stating that parents would “want to be able to elect the school board members who actually govern their kids, who decide issues of funding and staffing. Assume that Buckhead City happens, they are no longer in APS, they don’t get to vote for the school board members who make those decisions.” BCC leaders have no agreement with APS. This is a risk far too damaging to contemplate. 

And, of course, we cannot escape the issue of money. Senate Bill 114 requires the City of Atlanta to give Buckhead City a pro rata share (20%-40%) of all its cash and investments as well as sell assets like the city’s water and sewage system, fire stations, and parks for pennies on the dollar ($100 per acre and $1,000 per building). If Buckhead were to secede, Atlanta risks being destabilized. The city’s tax basis could drop by 40%, bond holders on Wall Street could call back bonds. Billions of dollars of court-approved debt tied to water and sewer revenue, tax allocation districts, and MARTA would be at risk of default. How does Buckhead benefit from, or isolate itself from, destabilizing Atlanta? Neither Buckhead nor greater Atlanta wins with a financial collapse.

The final, and perhaps most infuriating fact is that this movement is being steered through Georgia’s state legislature by out-of-towners. Not a single bill sponsor resides in Atlanta. Is this how our state government should work?

As Kenyatta Mitchell, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the city of Atlanta, suggested during the hearings, What stops a different general assembly from agitating to help Columbus’ Riverwalk secede from the rest of the city, or to assist Northwest Norcross in separating from Northeast Norcross, or central Moultrie from splitting from the western regions? Why would anyone want to open this Pandora’s box?

Deannexation of a major city in Georgia has never happened. What bill sponsor Senator Robertson (who hails from Cataula, just outside Columbus) is proposing is different from creating a new city where there was none. Chattahoochee Hills, Johns Creek, Milton, Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Stonecrest, and Mableton were created by establishing new cities, not pulling out of one.

I have heard Mayor Andre Dickens say, “You can’t unscramble an egg.” That is an apt analogy for our reality. Yet, I would take it a step further and say that Atlanta is too big to fail and, therefore, that we cannot afford to let this happen. Proponents of these bills are playing with fire. If they succeed, the shockwaves will be felt for years across our state. 

Humberto García-Sjögrim

Humberto García-Sjögrim, the Co-Founder and Chair of Neighbors for a United Atlanta, is an executive with The Coca-Cola Company.