DeKalb delegation adopts rules that could affect Atlanta annexation

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt February 24, 2015
Members of the DeKalb County legislative delegation had lunch together on Monday, Feb. 23. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Members of the DeKalb County legislative delegation had lunch together on Monday, Feb. 23. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The DeKalb County legislative delegation had lunch together Monday and adopted rules for introducing local bills that could put an end to an effort to expand the borders of Atlanta.

Under the rules adopted by the delegation, one representative could hold up an annexation proposal, like the one being promoted by Together in Atlanta. That proposal would grow Atlanta’s municipal boundaries to include Druid Hills, including Emory and the Centers for Disease Control.

The delegation members who voted for the rules on Monday said nothing has changed. They said rules have always stipulated that any annexation bill needs the signatures of all representatives of the areas affected by the annexation proposal.

But state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, who was the lone “no” vote said those rules have been applied inconsistently in the past.

“This weakens cities and increases county interests,” Oliver said, explaining why she voted against the rules in committee.

Here’s how this arcane bit of procedure could scuttle the Atlanta annexation plan:

Together in Atlanta’s map is drawn around attendance zones for Briar Vista and Fernbank Elementary Schools. Both are in House District 83, represented by Rep. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta. However, Emory University and the CDC, as well as Druid Hills High School, are in District 82, represented by Oliver.

This wasn’t talked about much during the luncheon, but it was clear the Atlanta annexation was the subtext behind the debate over delegation rules, based on interviews with legislators after the meeting.

Mosby asked for clarification about the rules being adopted during the luncheon at the Capitol.

“I was assuming that was already in there,” he told Oliver during the meeting. “You say in the past we handled that inconsistently.”

After the meeting, Mosby reiterated that nothing had changed.

“There were a couple of instances in the past … where we didn’t actually follow that process,” Mosby said. “Every city, had some representative’s district in it. So the way our rules read, if that city had some legislation they wanted to pass, only the representatives who represented the district that went through that city had to vote on it. The rest of the delegation would pass it ceremoniously.

“But if it were annexation of unincorporated parts of the county, then it would require a majority of the representatives of the delegation to vote for it because it’s not in the city. And so what we were doing is we were trying to make sure what we understood. If it’s unincorporated, it requires the majority of the delegation to vote on it.”

But a copy of the rules Decaturish saw at the meeting says that in addition to a simple majority, meaning the signatures of nine of 16 house members, annexation bills “shall include the signatures of all members who represent the areas concerned.”

A copy of the rules handed out during Monday's luncheon. Click to enlarge.

A copy of the rules handed out during Monday’s luncheon. Click to enlarge.

Even the members who voted for the rules weren’t quite sure there was a difference.

State Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, said, “I compared, while we were sitting there, 2013 rules to 2015 rules, and they were the same. They were the exact same. Mary Margaret was saying the interpretation of the rules would be changed. I was a little confused, quite frankly.”

The annexation discussion is occurring at the same time that the legislature is being asked to introduce legislation to create new cities. The discussion that happened Monday is an echo of a conversation that happened regarding two of those proposed cities: Tucker and LaVista Hills.

Whereas annexation would take areas that currently are unincorporated, meaning they aren’t in any city, and add them to existing cities like Atlanta and Decatur, the cityhood bills would create new cities out of unincorporated areas.

Last year, the maps for Tucker and LaVista Hills were in conflict. Both Rep. Oliver and Rep. Mosby sat on a special panel created to settle the boundary dispute. Mosby was the only member of that committee who voted “no,” saying the panel’s work set a “dangerous precedent.”

As it so happened, Betty Willis, Senior Associate Vice President for Government & Community Affairs for Emory, gave a presentation at Monday’s luncheon. Representatives asked her where Emory stood on the issue of annexation and new cities. She said Emory is officially neutral.

“We have employees who want every option you can think of,” she said. “Our problem is we want our campus to remain intact.”

Currently, the LaVista Hills map is in conflict with a portion of the Together in Atlanta map. Emory is only in the TIA proposal, however.

State Rep. Michele Henson, D-Stone Mountain, pointed out that Emory currently has an Atlanta address. She asked Willis if Emory thinks it’s important to keep that address.

Willis said that it is.

“We really don’t want to be a part of a new city,” she said.

About Dan Whisenhunt

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  • jumbled

    To Emory: Officially neutral or “really don’t want to be in a new city”?

    • RAJ

      Translate: Don’t want to be in LaVista Hills!!

      • DTSB

        Yep… DON’T WANT TO BE IN LAVISTA HILLS! Hence, Make that go away… This would all be a simple issue if LAVISTA HILLS would GO AWAY!…

        • RAJ

          Buzz said yesterday that bill will probably be entered next week!

    • DHH

      It was clear from the video that Emory will not be part of a new city and will take measures to prevent that from happening if such a potential emerges. They appear to have the ability to come to Atlanta via the 100% method (non-legislative annexation). If nothing changes, they seem fine with the status quo. I’ve always felt that Emory was basically in good shape despite the chaos around it; If needed to, it could exert some muscle. I’m still not clear what would happen to Druid Hills High if Emory went to Atlanta. The building itself is owned by the school district (or is it a 99 year lease?), but the land underneath, and including parcels along N. Decatur Rd, are Emory property.

  • Mary Margaret Oliver

    Dan—The new or not new rules for the DeKalb delegation will not stop any possible annexation by Atlanta of additional neighborhoods in unincorporated DeKalb, but it does cause more confusion. And, the attempt to create more barriers to what citizens might want demonstrates again the the DeKalb delegation is against new forms of governance. Against change that citizens may want.

    • RAJ

      MMO’s staff met in the reapportionment office at the Capitol this morning with TIA for a little creative map drawing session! We could be in for a major financial disaster for DCSS if MMO pulls this off and we lose 200M-300M in school assets and the State forces DCSS into a Beltline like deal on the GM redevelopment. DeKalb would be a great test bed for Gov Deal’s school takeover plan if the County’s finances go South. A note on the above is that a VERY small group of people inside and outside DeKalb County are having an out sized influence on 700,000 DeKalb citizens educational and quality of life future.

      • Dixie Firefly

        Exactly RAJ! An even smaller group of people from the City of Decatur want to annex part of unincorporated Dekalb. They want to increase the city population from around 20,000 to 25,000 and I have not heard the first statement that they would increase the police and fire departments, much less be able to accommodate the students. All the City of Decatur wants is extra money that should stay in Dekalb County, and some residential property in the newly annexed area to take by eminent domain.

        I think Dekalb County has some absolutely wonderful employees and we can make Dekalb as great as it ever was. My encounters with tag and tax people have been very professional. The police and fire departments are great. The health department and the water department personnel have been first rate. Frankly, i see the exposed corruption in Dekalb as a positive step. The problems weren’t positive, but the ethics investigations have been fruitful. Dekalb is moving in the right direction under Lee Mays and we can fix the schools too!

        • RAJ

          DF…You are correct, good players, poor coaching…most seasons are a crap shoot!

          • Guest

            Raj clearly you have never tried to work with the DeKalb school district central office or kept up with their shenanigans. Bad coaches worse players. It’s budget is bigger that many federal agencies and doggonit they ar going to make sure friends and family benefit.

        • DH

          Just last week a majority of Dekalb county commissioners voted to block the appointment of an independent auditor. Its all great and well that prosecutors have gone after corruption in Dekalb, but the real problem is the resistance to reform at the top.

          • Dixie Firefly

            Is the yea/nay vote by each commissioner public knowledge?

          • DH

            I suppose. Google it.

      • travelingfool

        Mary Mary, quite contrary how will the rest of DeKalb County grow? Shouldn’t the effects of annexation be answered BEFORE there is a vote? Let’s say in the unfortunate event you receive your 9 votes to allow annexation. Shouldn’t the question be answered whether or not is it legal (didn’t ask about ethical or moral) for you to take Druid Hills High and Fernbank?

        • RAJ

          Sorry TF don’t have three years for a legal fight…only three days till Monday’s DeKalb delegation meeting. Besides, remember that they MAKE the law at the Capitol don’t follow it! Bills will be introduced next week…a rabbit may pop out of the hat! I am working on a NEW Briarcliff map!

  • Tom Doolittle

    MMO’s comment here can be applied to what appears to be wacky legislation to allow existing city voters the opportunity to “vote” (read: veto) an annexation. Why the heck is a Republican legislator authoring something that allows Atlanta voters a chance to veto Druid Hills? The only thing I can think of is just one more thing that confuses the issue or makes it less likely that a referendum would pass.

    • RAJ

      Tom …this bill got a cool reception in front of the HGAC this afternoon……don’t know it’s future. Makes some sense in urban areas when special interests sitting on city councils try to annex adjacent areas for narrow political or economic reasons without voter approval. How important is State Government? Since this was a general bill affecting all 500+ cities the GMA rep pointed out today the burden of a small rural city’s referendum expense in having a resident’s catfish pond or tool shed annexed into a city.

      • JEM

        I personally am thrilled about blocking the annexation of Druid Hills into Atlanta. It affects too many people who live in other parts of Dekalb in negative ways. Students in my neighborhood will have a wonderful high school taken away from them for no good reason at all as far as I am concerned. Fernbank Science Center will not be available to DeKalb students. The new Fernbank Elementary will become a part of Atlanta with Dekalb paying the bill. I was all for the DH Cluster and attended neighborhood meetings. But, this Atlanta annexation is wrong on so many levels. I strongly support the Dekalb Delegation.

        • RAJ

          I think they got it right in Monday’s DeKalb Delegation meeting but deal cutting by MMO could still get her the nine votes she needs on the delegation for Atlanta annexation bill to pass to the House floor. Stay tuned!

        • Guest

          JEM point to one – just one – piece of evidence. No the Fernbank science center will not be taken by annexation. No Dekalb taxpayers will not pay for Fernbank it is already funded through SPLOST penny sales tax. Yes annexing kids need a high school and TIA is looking for a way to keep the high school together but DeKalb County School District must cooperate (good luck they never have with our community) but would rather ramp up the anxiety by having NO PLAN even though they have Briarcliff High (empty) Avondale High (half empty) Avondale Middle (will be empty when Fernbank is finished). That’s 2500’empty seats. See while CSD and APS are attracting students DeKalb is the only school system in the area that isn’t actually attracting students. That’s a problem.

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