The city of Brookhaven has officially asked DeKalb County to let voters have a say in its planned annexation of Toco Hills neighborhoods and commercial areas.

In a special called meeting on June 30, Mayor John Ernst asked DeKalb to put a referendum on the issue November ballot.

The referendum would expand the original annexation application to include residential and commercial properties north of the city of Atlanta and west of Clairmont Road. 

However, the official ask was delayed by a week when the city neglected to send the referendum request in writing to the county.

“As of 8:30 a.m. on July 7, 2023, DeKalb County has not received any request from the City of Brookhaven ‘…to put the annexation on the ballot this fall. If and when DeKalb County receives Brookhaven’s request the Governing Authority will take it under consideration and will act in the best interests of all DeKalb’s 780,000 residents,” DeKalb County wrote in an email. 

After this was pointed out to the city by Rough Draft, Brookhaven issued a letter at 1:51 p.m. on Friday to DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond and all six DeKalb County commissioners. It was signed by Ernst. 

In the letter, Ernst calls state law on annexation “complicated and unnecessarily burdensome.”

“County and city officials have heard from the community that they want more transparency and they do not want neighborhoods split. There is nothing more transparent than putting the question to a referendum and letting voters determine their future,” the letter states. 

The full letter can be read below:

Brookhaven has been accused of a lack of transparency during the annexation process. Toco Hills neighbors presented the city with an annexation application on May 30. The application wasn’t led by residents alone; the city hired Rosetta Stone Communications to help canvass signers in unincorporated DeKalb. 

Rosetta Stone, which assisted with polling in the failed Buckhead City movement, specializes in special elections and municipal contests.

A contract between the city and Rosetta Stone is signed with the initials of Brookhaven’s City Manager Christian Sigman, dated Jan. 1, 2022. 

Brookhaven paid Rosetta Stone $237,500 for efforts to obtain support for annexation of 462 acres of commercial and residential property.

The proposal breaks down targeted areas by zip code, neighborhood, parcel type and voter status. The annexation effort focused on zip codes 30033, 30306, 30324 and 30329. Neighborhoods span from Mason Mills, Vistavia Hills, North Druid Hills, Lavista Park and Woodland Hills to Emory.

Under the description of 30329 zip code, a note on the contract states: “From N. Druid Hills south is primarily Jewish.” This is the only notation about race or religion on the proposal. 

Rosetta Stone mapped areas in unincorporated DeKalb County to be executed in three phases. Documents show the number of individual, corporate, government and church parcels in each targeted zip code. It also estimates active and inactive voters.  

The validity of signatures on the application were called into question at a Brookhaven City Council meeting on June 28 when two parties claimed their own petition signatures were forged. 

Regarding the validity of signatures, Brookhaven Communications Director Burke Brennan told Rough Draft that the city would investigate concerns.

“Part of this process includes another 30 days to review the annexation application and hear concerns from all residents in Brookhaven and the proposed annexation area,” Burke said. “In the meantime, we welcome and encourage anyone to express their concerns to us and we will look into it.” 

Brookhaven has previously discussed annexation at two Advance meetings held Saturday, Jan. 28, and Saturday, June 24. The latter meeting was held in Savannah during the Georgia Municipal Association convention. 

In an interview with WABE’s Rose Scott on July 5, Ernst said the City Council believes the extended area of unincorporated DeKalb “is the natural service delivery lines by the city of Brookhaven, once we’ve crossed I-85. That way you have an understanding of where to police for public safety.” 

“When large commercial areas [were annexed] we said that we would honor any request from residents to come in if they wish, and we keep hearing it over and over again,” said Ernst.

Logan C. Ritchie writes features and covers Brookhaven for Rough Draft Atlanta.