ATLANTA (AP) — Top Georgia lawmakers have signaled that proposals to allow the wealthy, predominately white Buckhead neighborhood to secede from Atlanta are dead, at least for this year.
Republican House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge told reporters on Friday that while he still believes crime in Atlanta needs to be addressed, he intends to give new Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens at least a year to demonstrate that he can make progress on the issue across the city.
“I’m hopeful that Mayor Dickens recognizes the importance of the problem, and I’m inclined to believe that he does,” Ralston told reporters. “But you know, we’ll be back next year if if things haven’t changed a lot. So I’m looking for some forceful, vigorous action on the part of the city to tackle that problem.”
Supporters of Buckhead City have backed legislation allowing voters in the area to decide a referendum on cityhood this November, pointing to the need to address a crime surge that they believe has disproportionately affected their neighborhood. Buckhead City organizers said Friday that they would hold a news conference next week to discuss plans moving forward.
Business leaders have been working to tamp down the possibility that Georgia’s largest city would fracture, an event likely to carry ugly racial overtones and make bondholders nervous about the ability of Georgia cities to repay their debts.
Ralston’s comments follow interviews given Thursday by Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan making clear his opposition to the affluent neighborhood north of downtown leaving the city. Duncan had already kneecapped the chances of a referendum this year by assigning the proposal to a committee made up entirely of Democrats.
“We’re in a pause mode,” Duncan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday. “I and others have put out some important questions that have not yet been answered.”
Dickens, who has sought meetings with state leaders since being elected on Nov. 30, expressed gratitude to Duncan, Ralston and others.
“They have given me and my administration the runway we need to take off, and we will continue in our work to move Atlanta forward,” Dickens said in a statement.
A group of 32 landlords sent a letter to lawmakers on Feb. 1 saying they opposed having their properties removed from the city of Atlanta and demanding that the commercial district around Peachtree Road be removed from any Buckhead City if lawmakers went ahead. The group said it collectively owned or managed $4.7 billion worth of real estate in the area, paying $57 million in yearly property taxes to the city of Atlanta.
Atlanta’s all-Democratic legislative delegation, including all the lawmakers who represent the Buckhead neighborhood, had opposed the plan from the start. That led supporters to rely on Republicans from other parts of the state.