Chamblee contracted with company responsible for troubled Brookhaven petitionChamblee city Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Chamblee, GA — The Chamblee city council accepted a petition to annex the Mercer University area, Embry Hills, and Belaire Circle at a special called meeting on Oct. 31.
The petition uses a “60% method” allowed by state law, which means that if the petitioners can gather the signatures of 60% of registered voters and 60% of property owners within a proposed annexation area, a municipality can annex the area with a city council vote rather than a ballot measure.
The city of Chamblee hired Rosetta Stone Communications in October 2022 to gather signatures in support of the annexation petition. Rosetta Stone is the same company responsible for gathering signatures in support of a recent failed attempt to annex the Toco Hills area into Brookhaven.
The Brookhaven annexation was plagued by questions about the validity of the affidavits presented as part of the petition. Seven people, including two pastors from St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church and the principal of the Torah Day School, signed affidavits stating that the signatures presented as being theirs in the application were not in fact their signatures. All the affidavits in question were submitted by the same notary.
The Brookhaven petition was withdrawn, and the city council called on the county to include an annexation ballot measure in the Nov. 7 election. The county responded that it will only consider a ballot measure after Brookhaven investigates allegations of fraud associated with the petition.
John Garst of Rosetta Stone described the notary as an independent contractor whom the company frequently hires, and said that he did not notarize any petitions that were submitted to Chamblee.
“Every effort was made to ensure that there were no errors or fraudulent signatures,” Garst said.
Chamblee city council members Jimmy Furst and Elmer Veith said that Chamblee hired Rosetta Stone last year before any of the questions about the Brookhaven annexation petition arose, and that in any case their options were extremely limited.
“There was no one else to hire,” Veith said.
“From a political consultant standpoint, [Rosetta Stone] are the only people who specialize in annexation,” Furst said.
However, Furst said that Chamblee has learned from Brookhaven’s experience. Among other things, Furst said that all the affidavits were double-checked to make sure there were no questions about validity.
“We will not have the same trials and tribulations that they went through,” Furst said.
A frequent criticism of previous annexations in DeKalb has been that cities seek to include only commercial and higher-income residential areas, while leaving lower-income areas that bring in less revenue and require more services to the county.
Veith said that it’s not that municipalities don’t want those areas, but that the complex rules about how boundaries for annexation must be drawn and the fact that lower income areas often have a higher number of relatively transient residents makes it harder to meet the 60% threshold in those areas.
As far as services go, Furst said that part of the original motivation to annex the area came from a desire to provide more police presence along the I-85 corridor near Mercer.
At the meeting on Oct. 31, Chamblee City Manager Jon Walker stated that city staff had cross-checked the signatures in the application packet with county voter and property records.
“Our review of the application has found that it meets the requirements under state law for an application for annexation under the 60% method and can be considered by the city council,” Walker said.
Civil rights attorney Gerald Griggs spoke at the meeting to ask the city to delay the annexation. Griggs said that the city’s at-large method of choosing city council members serves to dilute minority votes, and that the proposed annexation would dilute them further.
He also submitted a letter to the council and cc’d the DeKalb County Commission outlining his objections. To read that letter, click here.
Griggs said that while Asian, Hispanic, and Black people make up 67% of Chamblee’s population, none of those groups are represented on the city council. Griggs urged the council to delay annexation until the city evaluates why, against the stated wishes of current city council members, the lack of representation continues to be a problem.
The Chamblee city council voted unanimously to accept the petition, but has not yet approved the annexation.
Mayor Brian Mock noted at the Oct. 31 meeting that annexation by this method is a 45-day process. Notices will be mailed to all addresses in the proposed annexation area by Nov. 24, and a public hearing will be held at the city council’s work session on Dec. 14. The city council will hold a vote on the annexation at their regular meeting on Dec.19, and if approved, it will go into effect on Jan. 1.
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