No New Cities in DeKalb This Year? Don’t Gloat.

800px-Tucker,_Georgia.Lee May stood at the back of the House Governmental Affairs committee room at the capitol yesterday, watching the DeKalb municipalization movement’s efforts unravel, in a state of rapt disbelief and wonder with the rest of us, I may only assume.

The meeting was quick. State Rep. Mike Jacobs told the committee that the last-minute maps and the last-minute deal between the proponents of a new city of Tucker and a new city of Lakeside depended on legislation for both moving forward this year. But the legislature had already effectively killed Tucker’s bid this year.

State Sen. Fran Millar, the stalwart champion of Lakeside through this mess, grumpily withdrew the legislation while vowing never again to introduce a Lakeside incorporation bill.  South Fulton can get a vote in a week, he grumbled at the hearing. “When Republicans don’t let people vote for self-determination, shame on us.”

May, CEO of DeKalb County, had been calling for a pause in the cityhood movement; first for three years, then when that was laughed off the table, for one year.

Thus, the accidental CEO received an accidental pause.

It may be easy enough after this for Democrats in DeKalb to claim some squalid political victory over the municipalization movement, and over the idea of white Republican-dominated cities in majority-black, majority-Democratic counties. I think that would be a grave error.  

None of the problems cited by people pushing for new cities in DeKalb have gone away yet – the unreturned phone calls and emails to county commissioners, a former CEO facing corruption charges, grand jury reports describing a culture of corruption in the county’s executive offices, a horror show in the county permitting process, a police force hemorrhaging officers for years under budget constraints and politicized management.

And, questions of equity and social justice aside, the relatively affluent dwellers of the area formerly known as Lakeside are still covering more of the county tab per household than the relatively poor residents of south DeKalb.

One problem appears to be solving itself – the school system no longer faces an immediate threat of losing accreditation, although that’s predicated on returning a school board to office that doesn’t suck.

But Tucker’s cityhood supporters will probably have to push forward again with an incorporation bill next year. Tucker’s efforts arose as self-defense to prevent Briarcliff and Lakeside incorporations from splitting their historic community. The political antecedents for creating cities remain in place. Tucker may have to incorporate to be certain it will remain a contiguous community.

An economic development draft report released last week cited the increasing municipalization of DeKalb and the erosion of the county’s tax base as the chief threat to county development. “Infrastructure in the unincorporated areas of the county is older and in need of repair and replacement, but the drastic reduction in revenues leaves the government unable to reinvest in roads and other infrastructure,” the report notes.

The report does not mention the catastrophe the incorporations pose to the county pension fund, which is underfunded by about $640 million. New cities don’t contribute to the pension of the police officers and fire fighters and other county workers who had been serving those communities before incorporation, allowing them to lower their taxes by ditching that debt. The county today pays five percent of its taxes into the pensions.

Nor does it mention the distribution of HOST tax money, which disproportionately benefits cities.

So, all of the legislative rigmarole misses the point. The political gods have given Lee May until the end of the year to get DeKalb’s house in order before this starts all over again.

May has pressed for more money for police, including take-home cruisers that started to be farmed out to line officers last week. He’s establishing an office of accountability and an office of constituent services to address the neighborhood issues that metastasize into blanket opposition to county government.  The ethics board has been fully funded and is preparing to staff for investigations. The county is – supposedly – revamping its construction permit and business license process.

I’m not sure that’s going to be enough. Neither does May.

Last week, May announced the creation of a task force for DeKalb County Operations to address municipalization in DeKalb and the county’s form of government. The task force, as described to me, will look closely at the way incorporations work in DeKalb, potentially to present a plan for carving up the county in a way that doesn’t leave islands of unincorporated and economically un-viable territory behind and without leaving a rump county holding the bag on pensions.

It’s an unenviable task, given the conflicting interests of stakeholders. That’s why I’m saying no one should gloat. The failed Lakeside bill didn’t make things easier for anyone.


  1. South Fulton Guy says:

    A few thoughts about 2014 City-hood Efforts:

    1) Incorporation is not the one size fits all cure all for what challenges unincorporated areas face – ask Peachtree Corners, Johns Creek or Chattahoochee Hills.

    2) The irony in Senator Millar’s observation that “South Fulton can get a vote in a week” is that South Fulton does not want a redo of the referendum that 85% of voters rejected in 2007. This is an effort by a hand full of south Fulton democrats pushing their own self interests for a jobs program. Rep Roger Bruce wants to find a home for Fulton Commissioner Bill Edwards who with the new commission lines has to run against and will lose to Emma Darnell; They want Edwards to be the Mayor of the City of South Fulton, GA and republicans in the legislature may end up being complicit in keeping him in power.

    3) Word is Tucker did not really want a city either their effort was a preemptive move to kill Lakeside to preserve unincorporated Greater Tucker.

    • griftdrift says:

      Agreed. I’m fairly close to someone involved with Lakeside and I offered him a piece of advice many many moons ago, “don’t get Tucker riled”. Lesson learned, I suppose.

  2. South Fulton Guy says:

    From Andre Walker of GA Unfiltered reporting on today’s Fulton county Board of Commissioner’s Meeting:

    Proposed City of South Fulton Loses $7.9 Million in Revenue without Fulton Industrial District

    Moments ago, Fulton County legislative liaison Christopher Boyd told commissioners that the proposed city of South Fulton would lose $7.9 million in tax revenues with the Fulton Industrial District not included in the municipality’s borders.

    Boyd’s statement came during a Q-&-A session with county commissioners over the status of House Bill 704; the city of South Fulton bill.

    This new revelation from a county employee directly contradicts a study commissioned by pro-city group South Fulton United, which said the omission of the Fulton Industrial District would only cost the proposed city $1.4 million in property tax revenue.

    Earlier in March, the Georgia House did not even vote on House Bill 991; a bill that would have repealed the constitutional amendment prohibiting Fulton Industrial from being taxed by any governing authority, including the proposed city of South Fulton.

    The new borders of the proposed municipality no longer include the Fulton Industrial District.

  3. northside101 says:

    Contrary to popular belief, neither Tucker nor Lakeside would be Republican-dominated—as Senator Fran Millar pointed out in a hearing. Obama would have won both Lakeside and Tucker. Most of the GOP-heavy precincts in DeKalb are north of Interstate 85, in Brookhaven or Dunwoody. In the 2012 presidential election, of the 12 DeKalb precincts that gave Romney over 60 percent of the vote, just one—Midvale Elementary (60.6%)—was located south of I-85. The top 6 (Romney 65%+) were all in the Dunwoody area—Austin, Mt. Vernon East, Dunwoody Library, Kingsley Elementary, Dunwoody Elementary and Tilly Mill Road. Romney did not clear 55 percent in any DeKalb precinct located south of I-85 and inside (west of ) 285. Some PP viewers must be thinking we’re in the DeKalb of a generation ago, when you had Republican legislators like Betty Jo Williams and Joe Burton in the Lakeside/Tucker area. Those days are long gone…even the traditionally GOP Hugh Howell and Smoke Rise precincts in Tucker (just above Stone Mountain Freeway) are trending Democratic.

    • South Fulton Guy says:

      northside101: nor would a city of South Fulton, GA be Republican dominated or King City as HB704 co-sponsor Ed Lindsey suggested. Can someone remind us why the GOP is/was carrying the water for city-hood democrats? Anyone???

  4. South Fulton Guy says:

    Sometime there are unintended consequences for throwing democrats a bone for HB704. It would be ironic and tragic if passing the bill for a referendum for a city of South Fulton resulted in a huge opposition turnout that threatened the success of GOP candidates for the Fulton County Commission races or worse yet a statewide race for a constitutional officer.

  5. northside101 says:

    To South Fulton Guy:
    (1) Why is GOP carrying water for cityhood Democrats? Well, the General Assembly is about 2-1 Republican, so anything getting through has to have some GOP backing. Furthermore, once Fulton Industrial area gets included in South Fulton, then all of Fulton County will be “municipalized”, which would make it easier for GOP delegation to push for further reduction in size of the county government.
    (2) As for Fulton County politics—isn’t likely a South Fulton vote would really be the icing on the cake for a Democrat running in this county, or statewide. Fulton is a reliably Democratic county, or almost so, going Republican only in rare instances (Mike Kenn and Karen Handel were among those, though Kenn had ties to black community from his days on the Falcons, and Handel won the chairman’s race in low-turnout special election). How reliably Democratic is Fulton? Well, the last time Fulton voted Republican for president, you’d have to go back to the era of the Partridge Family, the Brady Bunch, Governor (not President) Jimmy Carter, and the Vietnam War—yes, mere 42 years ago, to the 1972 Nixon landslide of 49 states. Even liberals Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis won the county in their 1984 and 1988 presidential bids, by over a dozen points in each instance. John Kerry, who got just 41 percent in Georgia in 2004, won nearly 60 in Fulton that cycle. In fact, 1972 was the only time since the era of FDR that Fulton has voted GOP for president. Last time it went Republican for governor? Just 44 years ago, when Hal Suit carried it over Jimmy Carter. But, Fulton GOP may have slightly—emphasize, slightly—improved chances by not mounting suicide political challenges this year to John Lewis in CD 5 and David Scott in CD 13, both of whom take in large portions of Fulton and neither of whom have ever had a remote worry about losing to a Republican. (In the case of Lewis, not that you lose much sleep over re-election in an 83 percent Obama congressional district.)

    • South Fulton Guy says:


      1) I know of Fulton GOP’s desire to get out on the municipal business and their desire to create Milton County, but making it so is not so easy.

      Inside baseball speculation aside even if the HB704 referendum passes that is not a slam dunk on Fulton getting out of the municipal services business. The rest of the story is the community continues to reject the cityhood and there are a number of active annexations, but most want to remain unincorporated and will vote NO like they did in 2007.

      As the land mass continues to shrink as residents join other city, what remains will not be definitely not be viable. Regarding Fulton Industrial HB991 failed to make crossover to another referendum is at least a year from now at the soonest AND it is contingent on the other referendum for a city of South Fulton to get affirmed by voters IF it passes by midnight tomorrow. If the GOP was really committed to get all of Fulton incorporated why did they let HB991 die on the vine???

      2) You make my point on south Fulton turnout implications. A huge democrat turnout by South Fulton in November in widespread opposition to city-hood, means that the Republican candidates for the Fulton Commission in districts 1 Earl Cooper (R) and 6 Abe Watson (R) that South Fulton votes for are less likely to get elected. That is not in the best interests of the GOP seeking to fix Fulton from within via the commission.

  6. northside101 says:

    To Mr. South Fulton:
    On point #2, South Fulton (that is, the southern part of the county that is unincorporated) makes up less than 10 percent of the county’s total population. Even if it were excised from the county, Obama still would have handily won Fulton County. Furthermore, you may not realize how Democratic Commission District 6 is. Would you be surprised that it is even more Democratic than John Lewis’s 5th CD? Yes, incredible as it is, tis the truth (Lewis’s district voted 83 percent for Obama in 2012—and that was down from the 2008 total of 84). The new Commission District 6 voted 92 percent for Obama—yes, 92 percent. Romney got a mere 7 percent in the district (yes, 7 percent, as in the number of days of the week, or the number of the so-called deadly sins). 7 percent. Do you think with such percentages, even in a so-called “low turnout” year, that District 6 will really be competitive in November? I mean, how many 90 percent+ districts (local, state legislative, congressional) do you know of that vote Republican? If you find one, let me know.

    • South Fulton Guy says:

      I don’t think you are understanding what I am saying. Yes I know District is overwhelmingly Democratic.

      These people will vote democratic for Emma Darnell/Bill Edwards (D) and John Eaves/Rob Pitts (D) instead of Earl Cooper (R) and Abe Watson (R).

      Karen Handel lost the governor’s primary to Nathan Deal by 2,500 votes. There are 80,000 residents in unincorporated Fulton County.

  7. northside101 says:

    OK, think this will be my last round with South Fulton guy on this issue. Personally, I have nothing invested in whether ABC or DEF or GHI becomes a city. You obviously do, which is fine. But I’ll leave it to you to explain “these people will vote Democratic…instead of Earl Cooper and Abe Watson.” Who are “these people?” Is there some secret, massive GOP vote in south Fulton (whether we mean the unincorporated areas of Fulton or Fulton overall south of I-20, including College Park, East Point and down 85 to Palmetto at the Coweta County line)? South Fulton (here I mean the potential city) votes little different in percentage in the off-year versus a presidential year. 2012, Obama 95 percent, 2010 (for governor), Barnes 93 percent. Some hidden vote that will allow a Republican to even come close to winning a 92 percent Obama commission district? Some hidden vote that will undoubtedly back Jason Carter for governor, Michelle Nunn for Senate and then turnaround and vote Republican for commission?

    The dynamics are somewhat different for Earl Cooper (who is running countywide in District 7, not District 1 as you mention). District 1 is in north Fulton. Certainly he would have better odds running countywide than a GOP candidate in District 6. But even there, countywide, it is remarkable when a Republican breaks into the mid 40s in the county (Sonny Perdue did in 2006, but against the inept Democrat Mark Taylor, who was badly bruised from his primary battle with Cathy Cox). Even when Sonny Perdue was getting 58 percent statewide, Fulton though still voted for Taylor. Fulton backed Lyndon Johnson in 1964 when most of the state’s counties went for Barry Goldwater. Fulton went for Hubert Humphrey in 1968 when most of Georgia backed Alabama’s George Wallace. Fulton backed Obama handily in both 2008 and 2012. So I just can’t buy the theory that a cityhood vote in South Fulton will spur such a larger than usual turnout to nix the chances of Cooper winning countywide and the GOPer winning in District 6.

  8. South Fulton Guy says:

    Thank for for the correction on the chair district. You have an impressive recollection of national federal elections. The Goldwater reference tells me you must be an OG 🙂 However all politics are local and there is often great disparity between federal/state races and county commission races. There is only one federal candidate on the ballot and that is for Saxby’s US Senate seat.

  9. South Fulton Guy says:

    City of South Fulton Dies on Last Day of 2014 Legislative Session
    by Andre Walker

    As the clock struck midnight, Thursday, House Bill 704 –the proposal to create a city of South Fulton– became a casualty of the fast paced 2014 legislative session.

    With the failure of the city of South Fulton bill to pass, the future is unknown for unincorporated south Fulton County and how its nearly 90,000 residents will be governed.

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