Opponents of the proposal to incorporate Brookhaven displayed one of the strongest public oppositions since the start of cityhood talks in the General Assembly during Monday's hearing of the Senate State and Local Governmental Operations Committee at the Capitol.
The committee allowed the opposition to speak first during the hearing following the presentation by the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Jacbos. They argued that working together to advocate for a stronger DeKalb county versus creating a new government, would be more beneficial over the long term. Some neighbors were not so adverse to the idea of cityhood, but pleaded with the committee to allow more time to study the concept's overall affect on DeKalb County for another year. Some asked that the referendum be pushed back to the November general election where more people would turn out to vote, rather than sanction a July referendum.
Among the most prolific arguments opposing cityhood came from DeKalb County lobbyist Bruce Bowers who argued the inequity in representation of proponents of cityhood and those who spearheaded the study, to those who oppose it. Bowers pointed out that most of the Board Members of the group to fund the study and those who serve on the advocacy board come from the northern portion of the study area and were among the 227 of registered voters polled. Residents in the southern half of the study area were never polled, he said. Additionally, he said, while proponents tout lower taxes, franchise fees for residents both inside and outside the boundaries of the proposed city, would be higher.
Other officials present who spoke to oppose cityhood included:
- Commissioners Kathie Gannon
- Jeff Rader
- Lawrence Schall, President of Oglethorpe University
Historic Brookhaven resident Bob Hill said he never wanted to live in a city and purposely chose his area.
"I do not want to live in a city of Brookhaven or Ashford or whatever you call it. I do not believe that if you have a problem with your local government, than forming two local governments will solve the problem," Hill said.
Additionally, Lynwood Park resident Kathy Wells said her community is still adjusting to gentrification and many of her African-American neighbors were left in the dark about the cityhood discussion.
"Somehow, and I don't know why, but our mailboxes were skipped," Wells said. "We are the last to be informed."
J. Max Davis, president of the cityhood advocacy group Brookhaven YES, said the process was as transparent as possible and noted that he posted signs at all the local schools and spoke at homeowners association meetings, but never stuffed any mailboxes with notices due to budget constraints.
"It seems like there is a fear that we might have a city and [elected officials] don't want to let go of that control," Davis said. "To me, if you look at this map, three-quarters of the population are from the southern area, that's the way the population is. You're not going to create a city by passing this bill out of committee, you're just going to give us a chance to vote. I think that's what democracy is about."
Rep. Tom Taylor, the bill's co-sponsor said the opponents of the bill are operating on fear, uncertainty and doubt. He reiterated the figures highlighted in the Carl Vinson Institute study, which highlights a more than $3 million surplus, lower millage rates and more more control over parks and zoning. Also speaking favorably for the bill was State Sen. Fran Millar.
In addition to public testimony, Jacobs announced the that he submitted a proposal to change the name back from Ashford to Brookhaven, and that the map now is representative of four councilmatic districts.
Monday's meeting was the only day scheduled for public testimony on the measure. The committee could decide on whether to pass the bill as early as next week.