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Chamblee asks to put annexation of Mercer and Embry Hills on November ballot

Annexation and new cities Brookhaven Chamblee DeKalb County Trending

Chamblee asks to put annexation of Mercer and Embry Hills on November ballot

L to R City Clerk Cherron Bouie, City Council members Jimmy Furst, John Mesa, and Leslie Robson, Mayor Brian Mock, City Council members Paul Stovall and Elmer Veith. Photo by Sara Amis

Chamblee, GA — At a special called meeting on Feb. 26 the Chamblee city council voted unanimously to support a resolution requesting that the Georgia General Assembly place a referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot that would allow residents of the Mercer and Embry Hills area to vote on annexation into the city of Chamblee.

However, legislators in attendance told the mayor, council, and members of the public that it was unlikely that the necessary legislation could pass this year even with very strong support.

Both State Sen. Sally Harrell and Rep. Scott Holcomb said that legislation to change the borders of a city takes time to get right and will require the support of the entire DeKalb legislative delegation.

Holcomb and Rep. Long Tran added that it was not clear to them how strong support for the annexation plan is in the community. After a meeting that Holcomb and Tran attended on Feb. 12, both legislators said that the communications they received from residents did not demonstrate strong community support.

“I need to see a resounding clear voice,” Tran said.

This most recent effort follows a failed attempt to annex the area via petition using the “60% method,” meaning that it requires the signatures of 60% of the registered voters in the proposed annexation area and 60% of the property owners by acreage.

The city of Chamblee contracted with Rosetta Stone Consulting to gather signatures for that petition. Rosetta Stone is the same company hired by the City of Brookhaven to gather signatures for a petition to annex the Toco Hills neighborhood into Brookhaven.

That petition was withdrawn in July after several people stated that their signatures had been falsified. An investigation revealed “irregularities” in seven of the affidavits included in the Brookhaven petition.

Mayor Brian Mock acknowledged problems with Chamblee’s previous attempt to annex Embry Hills and Mercer, but objected to comparisons to the Brookhaven petition. Mock said that no one came forward to say that their signatures had been falsified on affidavits related to the Chamblee petition.

“As far as I know, there was no fraud. It was sheer sloppiness,” Mock said.

As reported in Decaturish, four affidavits included in the Chamblee petition were altered to say that the property owners of the four addresses no longer owned their respective properties. Public tax records revealed that that was not the case.

The city council held an hour of public comment before they voted to support the resolution, and continued to hear public comments afterward. 

Most of the speakers were from the proposed annexation area, and those in support of annexation pointed to perceived neglect of the area by DeKalb County.

Jenna Teston, a resident of Embry Hills, said that she saw a lack of police protection, code enforcement, adequate services, and investment in the community. Teston noted vacant buildings, unpermitted late-night establishments, massage parlors, and abandoned cars on blocks, among other problems.

Bill Blumberg said that he was speaking as a resident and not as president of the Embry Hills Civic Association. Blumberg said he saw the neighborhood as in decline and didn’t want to see that continue.

“DeKalb is not the answer. These folks are the answer,” Blumberg said.

However, some residents of the neighborhood had reservations.

Russell Spornberger said he appreciated Mock’s acknowledgment that the numbers hadn’t been sufficient for the petition to succeed, but added that he would like to see what the official count actually was.

“Please count the votes. Please publish an official count,” Spornberger said. 

Jeanne Mielke said that she wasn’t opposed to annexation, but also didn’t see the need for it.

“I’m actually very happy with my unincorporated DeKalb services,” Mielke said.

She said that she was concerned about gentrification and alarmed by previous statements regarding the homeless population.

“What do you intend to do with the homeless? Push them out?” Mielke asked.

Mock said that simply moving homeless people around was not a solution.

“You have to offer them a way out of homelessness,” Mock said, adding that Chamblee has hired two full-time social workers to do outreach for the city’s homeless population.

Van Pappas, a resident of Chamblee, said that the annexation didn’t make sense to him from a geographical standpoint and that he also didn’t understand how the city was going to make it work financially.

“How is this going to affect police presence?…How are we going to cover an additional area when we’re already short to begin with?” Pappas asked.

Pappas pointed out that under the current plan, the current residents of Chamblee would not get a say.

“We don’t get to vote,” Pappas said. 

DeKalb County resident Laurie Tynor said that her neighborhood would not be included in the annexation, but that a flood plain that affects her entire neighborhood would be.

“We’ve been working with the county and Mercer on potential development, but if it’s taken over by the city, we probably won’t get much input,” Tynor said.

“I don’t think the borders on this make much sense,”  Tynor added.

Harrell told the attendees that some of the problems mentioned could be worked out in time, but that it would take more time than is available in this year’s legislative session.

Harrell acknowledged some of the residents’ frustrations with the county government.

“I live very close…I can relate to a lot of where you’re coming from,” Harrell said.

However, Harrell also pointed out that any referendum would have to be approved by the rest of the DeKalb legislative delegation. Harrell said that research by the Carl Vinson Institute showed that annexations by cities do have detrimental effects on the rest of the county, especially south DeKalb.

To garner the support necessary to pass a referendum through the legislature, the concerns of everyone affected will have to be taken into consideration. That includes not only the residents of Embry Hills and the area surrounding Mercer, but also other nearby neighborhoods, the current residents of Chamblee, and the residents of the rest of DeKalb County as well.

“It’s our job to make sure that that map works out for everyone,” Harrell said.

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