Lt. Gov. Burt Jones announces Senate Bill 114 that would have incorporated a Buckhead City failed in the Georgia Senate. (Photo by Sen. Josh McLaurin)

The Georgia Senate overwhelming voted to reject a Republican bill that would have paved the way for the Buckhead neighborhood to secede from the city of Atlanta.

The March 2 vote on Senate Bill 114 to incorporate Buckhead City was 23 in favor and 33 opposed. The vote came a day after Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration raised serious concerns about the legality of SB 114 as well as SB 113, which was tabled after 114’s defeat.

Debate over SB 114 lasted nearly two hours. Supporters of the bill — all from outside Atlanta — said they were voting in favor of allowing Buckhead to break off from Atlanta after hearing from residents who felt they were being ignored by City Hall, especially about crime.

“Georgia has a strong history of disgruntled citizens who break away from counties and formed cities in order to establish their own identity when they feel their voices are not heard, nor do their opinions matter,” said Sen. Randy Roberts, sponsor of the bill and a Republican from Cataula.

Senators who represent Buckhead, all Democrats, said the Buckhead cityhood movement was backed by a small group of people and did not represent the majority of those living in the north Atlanta neighborhood known for its commercial district and tony residential neighborhoods.

“My friends across the aisle often use the phrase, ‘We don’t live in a democracy, we live in a republic,'” said Sen. Josh McLaurin, a Democrat who represents a portion of Buckhead.

“And to me, what it means is, you don’t always sway back and forth with a change in a public poll opinion,” he said. “We have a role here. We are still representatives in a republic. And there are times when we are called to hold the line on some popular impulses that just won’t work out.”

Republican Frank Ginn of Danielsville, chair of the State and Local Government Operations committee that held two hearings on the Buckhead cityhood bills, praised Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, president of the Senate, for following through on his promise to allow the Buckhead cityhood bill get to the Senate floor for a vote.

But, Ginn said, he also wanted to praise Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and the strides he and his administration have made in the past year to address Buckhead residents’ concerns, including collaborations with the General Assembly on issues such as public safety.

But if Buckhead was allowed to incorporate as a city, it would cause serious issues across the state of Georgia, he said.

“I’m going to tell you this legislation, for me, it’s real troublesome,” Ginn said.

“I know that everybody in here has a big heart. You wouldn’t be in the position that you’re in,” he said. “But if we jerk that heart out, we’re all gonna die. If we jerk the heart out of Atlanta, which is Buckhead, the city of Atlanta will die. I don’t want to see our capital city die.”

Critics of Buckhead City decried terms outlined in the bill which would have forced Atlanta to sell its public facilities and properties at fire sale prices and left unanswered where children would go to school and repayment of bonds, among other issues.

After the vote, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens released this statement:

“Atlanta is one city, with one bright future.

I am thankful to the bipartisan majority of the Georgia Senate who voted to reject SB 114. I am grateful to the large number of Atlantans—from parents to businesses to educational leaders—who stood up and spoke with a united voice for a united city.

When I came into office, I committed to building strong bonds across Atlanta, including in Buckhead, and with our state’s leaders. We’ve delivered investments in public safety that have driven down crime, filled potholes and are moving Atlanta forward, together. But most importantly, we have listened to residents about their concerns and hopes, and we have responded.

To my fellow Atlantans: whether you support or oppose deannexation, I will continue working with you to improve our services, to invest in our communities and ensure a safe city for all. Atlanta is a group project, and we will work every day of the week with you, on your behalf, and hearing your voices.”

Source: City of Atlanta, March 2, 2023

This is the second defeat of Buckhead City in as many years.

Collin Kelley contributed to this report.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.