The idea of Buckhead, one of Atlanta’s most prominent and popular neighborhoods, breaking away from the City of Atlanta and becoming an independent entity is something that’s been discussed for years. Bill White, the chairman, and CEO of the Buckhead City Committee is spearheading the effort to secede from Georgia’s state capital. White stated, “We filed for divorce and our divorce is final . . . we’re forming our own city.”
While several reasons have surfaced during the discussion, one of the main reasons that have come to the forefront over the past year and a half is crime. According to Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the city has been dealing with what she calls a “Covid crime wave.” Bill White said, “we’re establishing our own police force and we will eradicate crime.” Residents of Atlanta, as well as its suburbs, have gotten used to the crime being part and parcel of Atlanta’s current events. There are stories of murders and robberies nearly every day in the local news.
The Atlanta Police Department reports that crime rates have risen sharply over the past twelve months. Homicides in the city have increased by nearly 63% compared to the same time last year and 43% compared to the same period in 2019. Atlanta-based CNN state,
“the city has seen more than 300 shooting incidents since the beginning of the year , up 45% from what it recorded this time last year, and up 55% from 2019.”
Bill White, along with many residents of the affluent area of Buckhead, feel like the time for a major change is now.
Atlanta Mayor to Blame?
It’s been said that everything rises and falls upon leadership, and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has received sharp criticism for her handling of the increase in Atlanta’s crime rate. Bottoms announced last month that she will not be seeking re-election.
She previously stated that the spike in crime was the result of a “perfect storm” of frustration stemming from the Covid pandemic and recent police brutality incidents across the nation. Some of Atlanta’s residents, including many from Buckhead, feel that the mayor’s policies contributed to the surge in violent crime.
In 2018 she signed an ordinance into law that eliminated cash bond requirements for certain low-level criminals who the mayor said previously would have been held in jail simply because they couldn’t afford to pay bail. Furthermore, when racial tensions reached a boiling point in the wake of George Floyd’s death in 2020, Bottoms quickly became one of the country’s most outspoken voices against police brutality.
Then, in the wake of Rayshard Brooks being shot by a City of Atlanta Police officer in a Wendy’s parking lot, the mayor even publicly called for the officer’s firing. Consequently, in the days following the shooting roughly 170 police officers called out sick in protest of what they perceived to be a lack of support from their leadership. To say that morale in the city’s police force is suffering, and tensions between city officials and residents are growing would be an understatement.
Is crime the only factor?
Crime is just one of several factors motivating residents in Buckhead to secede. Many are concerned that they’re not getting much of a return on their local tax dollars. It’s an area that’s occupied by relatively wealthy property owners, and they’re not pleased with their public schools, a perpetually broken infrastructure, and public services that don’t meet their standards.
One resident told local reporters “We’re too far gone for the city of Atlanta to help us at this point . . . we’ve lost all faith in them.”
When could this happen?
Legislation was introduced earlier this year that could lead to a vote on the matter as early as November of 2022. White feels confident that if the issue is placed on the ballot that there’s enough support for Buckhead to officially secede. The Buckhead area was annexed into the city limits of Atlanta around 70 years ago.
Historically, it seems that every time there’s been a spike in crime rates the idea has gained momentum, and then support waned when things improved. In light of the severity of this latest Covid crime wave, it could very well be prime time to see this new municipality become a reality.
The movement is gaining real support
The support is tangible, it’s not just lip service. The Buckhead City Committee has raised upwards of $550,000 in financial support for the effort. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution “White is confident his group will be able to reach its goal of raising $1.5 to $1.6 million by next April.” The CEO and Chairman went on to state “I’ve been told many times by a lot of our significant donors who are 100% behind us that no matter what, we’re gonna have all the money we need.”
It’s no secret that deep pockets improve the odds in terms of political action, and the Buckhead City Committee’s war chest seems to be growing quickly.
While there’s certainly meaningful support for secession, there are also opponents of the change who are making a strong stand against it. The Committee for a United Atlanta is a newly formed group opposing Buckhead cityhood. Opponents of the change, like this committee, feel that it could be dangerous for the state’s capital to lose tax revenue from property owners and businesses in Buckhead.
They also believe that such a move might exacerbate racial tensions. Buckhead is a predominantly white area, and redrawing city limits in a way that separates a wealthy white neighborhood from a major city in the South like Atlanta which is known as a “Black Mecca” could cause friction to say the least.
According to the US Census Bureau, the area has 89,000 residents, and 74% of them are white.
There’s also division along traditional party lines
The AJC wrote, “When the General Assembly returns for its 2022 session, both sides are likely to flex their political connections to push for or against Buckhead cityhood.” White is a self-proclaimed independent who has excelled in the area of fundraising for various causes with mostly Republican support. The voting population of Atlanta is predominantly Democrat, so it’s reasonable to see how the battle lines might be drawn along traditional party lines in this area.
Currently, feasibility studies are being conducted on both sides of the cause to find out just how viable an independent Buckhead would be.
Where Does it Stand?
Legislation on the matter appears to have support in Georgia’s Senate, but it’s unclear whether or not there’s enough support to pass the House. House speaker, David Ralston, has yet to take an official position on the matter. It’s also notable that no state lawmakers who represent Buckhead have taken a public stand in support of the proposal to become a separate city. It could be a lengthy process . . . only time will tell.
Josh is a faith and culture writer with ThinkCivics. He attended seminary through Rock of Ages Baptist Bible Institute out of Cleveland, TN. He has held about every position one could hold in a local church: Sunday school teacher, Children’s Church Preacher, Bus Ministry Director/Worker, Missions Director, Choir Director, Song Leader, Janitor, etc. In October of 2005, he was ordained as an Assistant Pastor at Rest Haven Baptist Church, and that’s where he served until God called him into the Pastorate at Enon Baptist Church in Alto, GA at the age of 32. He stepped out by faith in obedience to God’s instructions and quickly received a call from Blessed Hope Baptist Church in Free Home, GA where he now serves as Pastor. In his free time, Josh enjoys spending quality time with his wife (who is his high school sweetheart) and three children: Zoey, Ava, and Jack, as well as reading, writing, hunting, cooking, weight lifting, and martial arts.