Chamblee, Embry Hills seek to resurrect annexation proposalState Rep.Scott Holcomb, Chamblee city council member Jimmy Furst, State Rep. Karen Lupton, Chamblee Mayor Brian Mock, State Rep. Long Tran, and Chamblee city council members John Mesa, Paul Stovall. Leslie Robson, Elmer Veith. Standing: Embry Hills Civic Association president Bill Blumberg. Photo by Sara Amis
Chamblee, GA — The Embry Hills Civic Association and Chamblee Mayor Brian Mock hosted a town hall on Feb. 12 to listen to what residents have to say about a new plan for Chamblee to annex Embry Hills via ballot. This follows last year’s failed attempt to annex the area via petition.
State representatives Scott Holcomb, Karen Lupton, and Long Tran participated in the listening session, along with Mock and Chamblee city council members Jimmy Furst, John Mesa, Paul Stovall, Leslie Robson, and Elmer Veith.
Also in attendance were County Commissioner Robert Patrick, Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman, and Tucker city Councilmember Alexis Weaver.
Embry Hills Civic Association president Bill Blumberg began the meeting by saying that it was just for Embry Hills residents and complaining about “unauthorized sharing of today’s meeting across social media sites.”
However, the meeting was publicized by the City of Chamblee via a press release, following the requirements of Georgia law when a quorum of members of a governing body is present. The press release stated that all area residents were welcome both at the Feb. 12 meeting and another planned for Feb. 26.
The proposed referendum comes after the failure of an annexation petition using the 60% method, which was presented by Blumberg and accepted by the city on October 31. The petition was withdrawn in December after it was determined that it did not reach the threshold of 60% of registered voters and 60% of landowners by acreage.
Some of the affidavits included in the Chamblee petition appear to have been altered. Another petition to annex Toco Hills into Brookhaven faced questions about the validity of some signatures and was also withdrawn. In both cases, Rosetta Stone Consulting was hired by the cities to gather signatures for their respective petitions.
Mock began by acknowledging the problems with last fall’s petition.
“We messed up. I’m sitting here and telling you that we messed up,” Mock said, adding that the city accepted the petition thinking it was correct.
“There were mistakes made,” Mock said. However, he does not see that as an impediment to seeking a referendum because he believes that there’s a strong connection between the city of Chamblee and the neighborhood.
“At the last meeting hosted by Commissioner Patrick, [CEO Michael Thurmond] got up and said, ‘In a democracy, people get to vote.’ Well, let’s let people vote,” Mock said.
Response from residents ranged from unbridled enthusiasm to categorical rejection.
Russell Spornberger, who pointed out the deficiencies in the October petition at the time, said the issue had become divisive and that it was too soon to reconsider.
“I oppose this referendum because I feel that the city of Chamblee did not act in good faith on the last one,” Spornberger said.
Resident Paul Manor views the failures of previous attempts to form a city in the area or annex it into an existing city as an indication of public sentiment against being part of any city.
“This area has told you no three times. That dawg don’t hunt here,” Manor said.
Some were concerned that adding another layer of government would inevitably lead to higher taxes and more fees. Others were more concerned with what they saw as a lack of communication about annexation efforts.
Resident Rebecca Perkins said that the attempt to incorporate LaVista Hills was relatively open and informative, but she hasn’t seen the same amount of transparency with recent efforts.
Perkins said that the only information she received about the petition was an unsigned flyer that looked like a ransom note.
“We want the Chamblee pitch, not just a bunch of random questions,” Perkins said.
Mock said that the city wanted to hear from residents first but could certainly provide information.
“We didn’t want to do a sales pitch. We can go back and put together a fact sheet and send that out to the neighborhoods,” Mock said.
When another resident complained later about lack of communication, Blumberg bristled.
“We’ve sent out the newsletters. It’s not our fault if people throw them away and don’t read them,” Blumberg said.
Some saw the benefits as outweighing any downsides. Jill Hackett said that she favors the annexation and that having lived in the city before, her taxes were not that different.
Sherry Adams, a realtor and a member of the Embry Hills Civic Association said that she saw improvements in neighborhoods that became part of a city.
“I love Embry Hills. I’m very eager to support our merger with the city of Chamblee,” Adams said.
Uma Sridharan, a resident of Embry Hills who is a professor of accounting at Columbus State University, said that she did not see annexation as a partisan issue and that it need not be divisive.
“I’ve never felt that Chamblee was trying to acquire us. I’ve always felt that we want to join Chamblee,” Sridharan said.
Other residents had more mixed feelings, but were generally in favor of putting the question to a vote.
Resident Aaron Quinn said that he strongly preferred a referendum to last year’s petition.
“I’m in support of a vote for annexation. I was not in any way shape or form in favor of that last game you tried to play,” Quinn said.
Resident Brian Wheeler said that he shared some of his neighbors’ concerns about taxes and fees, but also shared the concerns of other neighbors about the long term trajectory of the neighborhood.
“I would like to see a ballot. I would like to see an informed ballot,” Wheeler said.
Among the legislators present, only Lupton, who is a former Chamblee city council member, expressed specific support for a referendum. Lupton pointed out that being part of Chamblee meant having representation on the city council, but that ultimately it was up to the residents to decide.
“I’m all in favor of you guys choosing. I’m always excited when people get to vote,” Lupton said.
Tran and Holcomb were more neutral, though neither expressed opposition to the idea. Holcomb did say that he thinks about what legislation he wants to support all year and that he is currently focused on Medicaid expansion.
“At the beginning of the legislative session, this was not on my radar,” Holcomb said. Holcomb added that he had spoken to State Sen. Sally Harrell, who did not attend due to another obligation, and that she had said that a May referendum was untenable. That does not preclude placing a referendum on the ballot in a later election.
Holcomb cautioned against assuming what the results would be before weighing the costs and benefits in an informed way, and said that he would do his best to provide information from a neutral stance.
“These decisions shouldn’t be made anecdotally,” Holcomb said.
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