Whether half-joking or dead serious, calls for Atlanta to secede from the rest of Georgia have circulated for ages, even landing the cover of Creative Loafing’s “Secession!” issue back in 2007.
Zooming in the geographic and demographic focus, talk of Buckhead breaking free from the City of Atlanta isn’t new either, especially after well-to-do northern neighbors in the metro—Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Milton, and Johns Creek—have gone independent.
In 2008, Atlanta Progressive News reported that a powerful group of Buckhead residents were weighing secession, or de-annexing, feeling they “pay too much in taxes for too few services and could do a better job with their own city.” Mary Norwood, a city councilmember and two-time runner-up for Atlanta mayor, said at the time “service delivery challenges” had spawned widespread “discontent” throughout the upscale subdistrict.
That discontent has reached a fever pitch again. But this time, Buckhead’s cityhood efforts have gained traction like never before.
The engine driving this hypothetical "Buckhead City" bus formed last year as a nonprofit called the Buckhead Exploratory Committee. Its grassroots mission, as stated on an official website launched in January, is to “save Buckhead” by prioritizing community safety with a separate Buckhead police department, wresting control of zoning, and ensuring “proper use of tax revenues to improve education, provide city services, and fix our broken infrastructure.” The group’s “diverse” ranks include attorneys, legislators, lobbyists, and “experts in the successful creation of other cities,” per the mission statement.
So a group of local, vocal simpletons fed up with street racing on Peachtree Road this is not.
Now, as the AJC lays out, the Buckhead secession movement has made its way to the Gold Dome, where state lawmakers filed a bill that would lop off tax-rich Buckhead from the rest of Atlanta, if enough citizens would vote in favor. (Technically, the new municipality would have to be called “Buckhead City” because “Buckhead, Georgia” was taken a century ago.) Law requires legislators to mull cityhood bills for at least two sessions, so the measure wouldn’t make its way to ballots until November next year, at the earliest. Georgia’s governor would also have to sign off on the bill.
But the hurdles between here and “Welcome to Buckhead City” signs on Piedmont Road are many.
Mere rumors of the sovereignty effort drew stiff pushback last summer from influential groups including the Buckhead Business Association, Buckhead Coalition, Livable Buckhead, and the Buckhead Community Improvement District, as Reporter Newspapers relayed. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently called it “a terrible idea” and not a panacea for crime issues. Jim Durrett, head of the Buckhead Coalition and CID, told Buckhead.com last month that forming a new city would take too long to address today's pandemic-influenced crime spikes, and that the measure "has almost no likelihood of succeeding" anyway.
Still, a poll conducted by that website showed more than 75 percent of 900 voters supported Buckhead's cityhood efforts.
The next step, as Buckhead Exploratory Committee president Sam Lenaeus told the AJC, will be raising funds for a feasibility study to explore the viability and costs of breaking away from Atlanta. Exactly what would constitute Buckhead City, in terms of geographic boundaries, is still being worked out. The study alone is expected to cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Accordingly, the Buckhead Exploratory Committee is planning a private gala May 14th to lay out cityhood efforts in detail. It’s being held at an unnamed but “very special Buckhead residence.” Couples can attend for $2,500, but a “Chair” seat costs $25,000.
In the meantime, it’s clear that Buckhead City, should it secede/succeed, would need a fresh slogan. “Beverly Hills of the South,” after all, is showing its age. But what would it be? Atlanta is famously the “City Too Busy To Hate,” out east there’s “Decatur, Open for Business,” and on the flipside of town is “West End, Best End.”
Any ideas for sovereign Buckhead’s catchy new tagline?
• Recent Buckhead news, discussion (Urbanize Atlanta)