Now what? Proposals for cities of Tucker, LaVista Hills will travel well-worn paths
Editor’s note: This analysis is based on my own observations working as editor of Decaturish and working at Reporter Newspapers in Sandy Springs.
New cities are not new in Georgia.
Bills for two new cities await Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature, and it’s expected that he will sign off on both of them.
As supporters of the proposed cities of Tucker and LaVista Hills gear up for a November vote on whether or not to incorporate, they will have several examples of new cities to guide them.
Sandy Springs started the trend by incorporating in 2005, becoming the state’s first new city in half a century. Soon, Dunwoody would begin the trend toward new cities in DeKalb, voting successfully to incorporate in 2008. They were followed by Brookhaven in 2012.
Sandy Springs and Dunwoody won by overwhelming margins, with 94 percent of Sandy Springs voters supporting the idea, and 81 percent of Dunwoody voters doing the same. When it was Brookhaven’s turn in 2012, the idea of new government had lost some of its luster. Brookhaven was approved with 55 percent of the vote. About 1,000 votes determined the outcome of that election, and 1,376 of those votes came from one precinct: Montgomery Elementary School.
Were it not for that precinct, Brookhaven may not be a city today.
The two proposed cities up for consideration have things in common with their predecessors. Tucker, like Sandy Springs in 2008, already has its own community identity. A question on the Tucker 2015 FAQ says, “I thought Tucker was already a city.” That sense of community could resonate with voters as it did in Sandy Springs.
LaVista Hills does not have this advantage. Like Brookhaven, it is a conglomeration of communities united under a map. When the Legislature took up the Brookhaven bill in 2012 it briefly considered changing the name of the proposed city to Ashford to avoid confusion with the Historic Brookhaven neighborhood which was not included in the map for the city of the same name. LaVista Hills actually combines two prior cityhood movements: Briarcliff and Lakeside. They’ve only been one city for about five months.
Both cityhood proposals are emerging from the swamp of the broader debate over annexation and new cities in DeKalb County. LaVista Hills was particularly beset with conflicting annexation proposals, like Atlanta and Brookhaven. Both LaVista Hills and Tucker quarreled over maps until the very last day of the Legislative session. That was after a special House panel “settled” the maps in December.
That fight left both sides with bruises and sowed doubt among potential voters. Both cityhood movements will have to repair the damage, if possible, while making their case for incorporation. The upshot is that they will have to convince voters that their proposed cities would be a safer bet than DeKalb County. Given the recent turmoil in county government, that won’t be a hard sell.
Assuming voters approve the new cities in November, what would the process of starting a new city look like?
As in Brookhaven, the governor will appoint a commission to oversee the community’s transition from unincorporated DeKalb County to a city. The commission in Brookhaven included representation from each of the city’s proposed council districts.
Allen Venet, with LaVista Hills Yes, said this commission will oversee city operations until the first city council elections are over. LaVista Hills has six proposed council districts, and Tucker has three. LaVista Hills would elect one council member from each district, plus a mayor. Tucker would elect two council members from each of its three districts, plus a mayor. Both cities will hold nonpartisan races for elected office.
“After that the new city council hires a city manager and negotiates agreements with the county” for taking over county services, Venet said.
LaVista Hills’ first official day in business would be July 1, 2016, Venet said.
Tucker’s transitional period is slightly more open-ended, according to the bill passed by the Legislature. Unlike LaVista Hills, Tucker’s first day in business will begin on “first day of the second month immediately following the 2016 presidential preference primary.” The date for the primary has not been determined.