DeKalb to Brookhaven: You investigate petition fraud allegations and then we’ll discuss annexation vote(L to R) DeKalb Director of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs Chuck Ellis, DeKalb Public Works Director Rick Lemke, DeKalb Chief of Police Mirtha Ramos, DeKalb Chief Operating Officer Zach Williams, District 2 Commissioner Michelle Long Spears, DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry answered questions about a Brookhaven annexation petition during a town hall on June 27, 2023. Photo by Sara Amis.
Brookhaven, GA — Brookhaven wants DeKalb County to hold a referendum on annexing Merry Hills and Toco Hills into the city.
But the county says that’s not happening until Brookhaven investigates fraud allegations surrounding an annexation petition. On July 19, Brookhaven announced the petition had been withdrawn, but renewed its call for the county to allow a public vote.
Given that Brookhaven annexing these neighborhoods would deprive the county of tax revenue, the county has little incentive to get behind a public referendum.
Still, the county did not reject Brookhaven’s request out of hand. It did, however, tie that request to Brookhaven investigating allegations that the petition contained forged signatures.
“DeKalb County is carefully reviewing Brookhaven’s request that the county call for a referendum on the proposed annexation,” a spokesperson for the county said. “No final decision will be made until Brookhaven completes its investigation of the allegations of forgery and fraud associated with Mr. Howard Ginsburg’s Brookhaven annexation application.”
Annexation in Georgia can occur either via referendum or via a petition. If Brookhaven had approved the annexation petition, it would’ve brought 606 acres into Brookhaven, making it the largest annexation using the 60% petition method in state history.
A day before Brookhaven announced the withdrawal of the petition, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an authorization for the county attorney’s office to file an objection. During that county commission meeting, county officials listed other problems with the petition.
County Attorney Viviane Ernstes said that the county must bring accountability and transparency to the petition process to protect the rights of DeKalb County residents.
“There is forgery, there is fraud, [and] electors were excluded from the process,” Ernstes said.
Deputy County Attorney Matthew Welch stated that the annexation petition asserts there are 1,394 active voters in the annexation area, and 896 purported signers, resulting in 64.3% claimed signatories to the petition.
However, Welch stated that according to information that the county received from the DeKalb Department of Registration and Elections, there are actually 2,200 total electors in the area to be annexed, including 1,946 active voters and 254 inactive voters. This means that the signatures represent only 46% of active voters, and 40.7% of all electors, well below the required threshold.
In response to a question from Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, Welch said that state law expressly requires the city of Brookhaven to investigate and validate the signatures and to affirm whether the petition complies with the law.
In addition, out of 462 acres of privately owned land, the owners of 288 acres were purported to have consented to annexation, including St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church and Torah Day School.
At least 20.68 acres have been withdrawn from the proposal by the property owners, dropping the percentage of land to 57.86%.
Welch said some withdrawals may have been presented to Brookhaven that the county is not aware of. However, Welch said, “In no world is 57.86% in excess of the 60% threshold required by law.”
In addition, according to county documents, seven people have signed affidavits stating that the signatures presented on affidavits as theirs which were included in the petition were not in fact their signatures. Those people include Revs. Robert Sherrill and Shirley Porter of St. Bartholomew’s, Jonathan and Sharon Sadinoff, Chava Kerzner, Ellyn Rubin, and Mindy Haller.
“What you have in front of you lays out in very strong terms that we do not believe that this petition meets the statutory threshold for consideration by the city of Brookhaven, and in fact should be withdrawn,” Welch said.
Welch added that in addition to insufficient signatures, the county attorney’s office also included deficiencies related to rezoning requirements and other matters.
Following the county commission’s vote, District 2 County Commissioner Michelle Long Spears released a statement to her constituents explaining her opposition to the annexation proposal.
“My goal all along has been to bring transparency and accountability to this annexation process and to give voice to all electors in this potentially impacted area, as well as current City of Brookhaven residents,” Spears said. “Out of concern over forged consents of property owners and electors, I supported the resolution objecting to this annexation after learning from our County Attorney that the annexation application does not contain the required 60% consent of electors or landowners rendering this annexation application null and void.”
Spears’ email included an FAQ with links to additional information about this topic. To see her full email, click here.
Sara Amis contributed reporting to this story.
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