Window closing on annexation, cityhood legislation
This story has been updated.
DeKalb County residents spent a great deal of time during the fall trying to make sense of proposals that would expand and create new cities.
Whether those proposals move forward or not is up to the state Legislature. As of today, which is Day 18 of the 40 day legislative session, there are no bills under consideration that would advance any of them. There’s no bill for Decatur’s annexation proposal, or Avondale Estates. There’s no bill for an annexation proposal that would bring Druid Hills, including Emory and the Centers for Disease Control, into the city of Atlanta.
There are no bills for LaVista Hills, or Tucker, or Stonecrest, or Greenhaven. Day 30 of the Legislative session is crossover day, meaning bills that haven’t been introduced in both chambers are dead for the year.
It’s worth noting that annexation actually has a slightly longer legislative shelf life, because it is considered local legislation. Cityhood bills are general legislation, meaning they have to advance by day 30 of the session. The Legislature can pass local bills after crossover day, meaning annexation could move forward even if the cityhood bills do not.
A legislative aide for state Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, spoke to the Kirkwood Neighbors’ Organization on Feb. 10 but couldn’t answer a question about where the cityhood and annexation proposals stand.
“It’s way above my pay grade,” the aide said. “From my own personal reading there is a lot of dialogue happening. It has not fallen off the table. It is under consideration. I have not seen anything even drafted yet.”
State Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, has been asked to sponsor the LaVista Hills bill, but is still weighing his options. With crossover day around the corner, something will need to happen soon, he said.
“If you don’t have decisions made within a week or two time will just run out before this Legislative session,” Holcomb said. “If we’re going to see anything, it will be within the next two weeks.”
There’s still some speculation about who the sponsors for the various proposals will be.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver has said she would be introducing Decatur’s proposal, assuming it will be introduced. There’s no word on who Avondale Estates sponsor might be, and no sponsor confirmed for the Together In Atlanta proposal. The most likely candidate for Avondale Estates annexation legislation would be state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, but she has not made a firm commitment to doing so. Her reluctance is understandable. It did kind of blow up in her face the last time she introduced a bill on Avondale’s behalf.
Greenhaven’s sponsor is expected to be state Rep. Pam Stephenson, D-Decatur. Jason Lary, with the city of Stonecrest, said state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick, D-Lithonia, and state Rep. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, will be the cosponsors of that cityhood bill. State Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, previously sponsored a placeholder bill for Tucker and is expected to sponsor it again.
Negotiations around LaVista Hills appear to be the key sticking point at the moment.
LaVista Hills map overlaps with the Together in Atlanta annexation proposal. Currently there are negotiations going on behind the scenes to resolve those boundary disputes. Decaturish has also learned that legislators are carefully considering whether to move ahead with annexation bills this year and introduce cityhood bills next year, or try to resolve the border disputes this year.
Holcomb said the conflict with the TIA map might be easier to resolve.
“If both are going to move forward then that will need to be resolved,” he said. “I feel a little more encouraged about that possibility than the issues related to what I’ll roughly describe as the southeast border. The southwest border may be a little bit easier to solve than the southeast border.”
He said organized opposition from groups like DeKalb Strong have made him reconsider whether to include residents in the map who have said they don’t want to join a new city. Holcomb said it’s hard to get a good read on what people actually want.
“There have been surveys throughout all those areas. Even the surveys are in flux. Some (people) are saying the surveys took place before they received information about LaVista Hills,” he said. “Some have criticized the methodologies for the surveys. One thing that I can tell you is one of the greatest challenges of all this is to try and get a sense of what the pulse of the people is without there having been any systematic or structured method for acquiring this data through polling or what have you.”
There’s also another little-discussed twist in all of this. While previous cityhood proposals have been driven by Republican politics – State Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, introduced the Brookhaven cityhood bill and former Sen. Dan Weber, introduced the Dunwoody bill – the legislators attached to the current DeKalb bills are all Democrats.
Holcomb said in the past cityhood “was very much a partisan issue.”
“I don’t think ultimately the decisions are going to rest on partisanship,” he said, adding, “In the end it likely will be Democrats who will move these areas proposals forward, or if not directly being lead sponsors or indirectly or being secondary sponsors. I think the ground has really shifted from where we were a few years ago.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story provided incorrect information about the bills affected by crossover day. A reader who is much better acquainted with the rules has informed us that local legislation, like annexation, can be passed after crossover day. So in addition to correcting us, they also helped us better illuminate the issue. Thanks.