Proposed city of Greenhaven approved by House committee, improving its chances
This story has been updated.
A proposed south DeKalb city of Greenhaven was considered a long shot in this year’s Legislative session by most observers of cityhood politics.
But the bill passed the House Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday in an 11 to 6 vote. The bill might be approved by the House before “crossover day” on Wednesday, meaning it would then move to the Senate. It’s next stop is the Rules Committee, which determines what bills will debated and voted on in the House floor.
The bill was approved in a party line vote by committee members, with all Democrats voting against it.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, said she voted against it, “Because it was not good for my constituents. It leaves my constituents more and more an island in DeKalb County.”
The population of the city would be about 300,000 people. That would make it the second-largest city in Georgia behind Atlanta. The city would take over economic development functions, courts and parks. There are not any current plans for the city to provide police services, though the website indicates that could change at some point.
To see an interactive map of the proposed city, click here.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, was reportedly not present when the vote occurred. Decaturish left a message with Mitchell seeking comment.
State Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, said Mitchell’s absence was unusual.
“I’ve never seen that happen,” she said.
Other local politicians were there to ask the committee to hold off on moving the bill forward. One of them was Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett.
She said DeKalb cities and the county government have been working with the Carl Vinson Institute of Georgia on a study that would take a broader look at annexations and cityhood in DeKalb County. The goal of the study would be to develop a plan for annexations and cityhood moving forward, she said.
“I said I would like to see that study done first, before the vote on Greenhaven,” Garrett said.
Stone Mountain Mayor Patricia Wheeler also objected, noting the proposed Greenhaven map surrounds Stone Mountain and would prevent any future annexations.
The objections of the mayor and other residents, like members of Neighbors Against Greenhaven and Citizen Against Cityhood in DeKalb, were not enough to stop the bill’s progress.
Oliver speculated that Republicans are using the bill as leverage on matters that require the approval of 2/3 of legislators. She said she doesn’t know if the bill will pass a House vote. Traditionally cityhood bills have been approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
“It’s still alive,” Oliver said.
Greenhaven supporters have insisted they have done everything the Legislature requires them to do in order to meet the standard for approving a cityhood bill. They’ve obtained a feasibility study showing Greenhaven can generate enough tax revenue to provide services and they’ve waited four years, far longer than other recent cityhood proposals.
“If we have done all the things that are required by this legislative body, the same things … You know, I was born and reared in Birmingham, Ala. in the 50s, so I understand that the word ‘fair’ in this country is not always applied,” Johnson said. “But I also learned that if you have a strong feeling about the way you’re being treated, about your self-determination, about your right to vote, that you should stand up and continue to speak loudly for that.”
It’s a similar argument made by the DeKalb NAACP, which has not endorsed the idea of Greenhaven, but believes the issue should be put before voters.
State Rep. Oliver acknowledged that Greenhaven supporters have a fair argument there.
“But it’s also true that every proposal is different and this one would make Greenhaven the second largest city in Georgia,” she said. “You’ve got to have a level of support and a level of financial stability to create the second largest city in Georgia.”
She added, “I don’t think that just because they’ve met the rules and checked the boxes that every city should be allowed a vote.”
If the bill for Greenhaven passes the Legislature this year, it would be voted on in a November referendum.