Background on South Fulton Cityhood
The quest for Cityhood in Fulton County began over thirty years ago, led by the late Dr. Eva Galambos, “founding mother” of Sandy Springs, who served as the new city’s first mayor. The journey of the Lazarus Bill for a City of South Fulton began in 2003 when the push for cityhood for Sandy Springs seemed closer to becoming a reality. Dr. Galambos along with Camilla Moore and other Republicans from South and North Fulton County worked on lobbying the Georgia General Assembly for Cityhood for Sandy Springs, a City of South Fulton, and other unincorporated areas of the county. Both areas north and south of Atlanta would seek to incorporate into municipal governments, bringing local choices and self-governance to its people. Republicans understood that the best form of government is one that is closest to its people.
With the passage of time, the reality of Cityhood became possible when in 2002, Sonny Perdue was elected as the first Republican governor of Georgia since Reconstruction, and Republicans gained control of both chambers of the state legislature in 2002 and 2004. With a new set of legislators who were more favorable to citizen’s requests for local self-determination, the Georgia General Assembly agreed to allow Sandy Springs to have its Referendum on Cityhood. With their success of Cityhood in 2005, northern and southern unincorporated suburbs of Fulton County demanded the same opportunity with threats of secession from Fulton County if they were denied the opportunity to vote on Cityhood. Northern unincorporated suburbs threatened to reestablish Milton County. Southern unincorporated South Fulton threatened to reestablish Campbell County.
To stave off a breakup of Fulton County, the Georgia General Assembly gave the green light on allowing the “total” municipalization of Fulton County, led by no other than State Senator Kasim Reed who at the time was a member of the Georgia State Senate and who wanted to protect the interest of the City of Atlanta. Fulton County, Georgia would be the only county in Georgia to be made up entirely of municipalities. Thus, after the creation of the City of Sandy Springs in 2005; Johns Creek and Milton created Cityhood in 2006; and Chattahoochee Hill Country (now Chattahoochee Hills, located in extreme southwest Fulton County), voted for Cityhood in June 2007, the only remaining area of Fulton County not incorporated was Unincorporated South Fulton.
Benny Crane a South Fulton business leader, plus the group he headed in 2007 called the Citizens for South Fulton along with State Senator Kasim Reed, and State Representative Roger Bruce campaigned for the Voters to Vote YES after the Bill for a City Referendum passed both houses of the General Assembly and was signed by the Governor.
Yet, when the opportunity for Cityhood was placed before the voters of Unincorporated South Fulton, the few citizens that did vote, overwhelmingly voted No. Since its failure, proponents and opponents of Cityhood have given reasons as to why the Referendum failed. Nevertheless, from where many of those involved were sitting, it was due to (1) a lack of information to citizens and the electorate, (2) misinformation, and (3) timing.
Having fought so diligently for the right of citizens of Unincorporated South Fulton to choose self-determination in 2007, Camilla Moore and other proponents of Cityhood were heartbroken at the results. Having been involved in the political process, Moore and others understood the politics of what was to come. Immediately, following its failure, mass annexations by surrounding cities began to occur. The “cherry picking” of commercial districts to increase their revenue stream, along with the annexation of high-income residential communities that could increase the tax base of the existing cities, was afoot.
Even residents of other Fulton County cities expressed amazement at the Referendum’s failure and weighed in on why Cityhood would benefit all citizens of Fulton County. Why citizens of Unincorporated South Fulton did not understand the importance of Cityhood and self-determination was the question of the day. There were those who felt that citizens who voted against the Referendum had a “take care of me” mentality–that is people who just wanted County Government to govern their lives forever. Others claimed that citizens, who lived in Unincorporated South Fulton, in their opinion, would be “living” off the dole of the taxes paid by citizens in other cities.
Therefore, Fulton County Government created a “Special Services Tax District” to provide municipal services to the last remaining areas of Fulton County not located in a municipality. These citizens would pay for their services: Fire, Police, Planning & Community Development, etc. Unlike any other unincorporated area in the state of Georgia, Unincorporated South Fulton would over a ten year period operate like a “City,” only without a “Charter,” and elected leadership to dictate its future.
In 2012, after more than five years from the failure of the 2007 Referendum; the creation of new Cities across the metropolitan area with a tripling of the number of residents living in Unincorporated South Fulton plus the desire of citizens for better municipal services; citizens in Unincorporated South Fulton coalesced to begin the fight for another opportunity for self-determination and self-governance.
Old opponents became new proponents of Cityhood. The list and names of grassroots activist grew larger each day, (i.e. business owners, church leaders, community leaders, parents, homeowner associations, etc.). New Groups emerged with brilliant leaders and committed members (South Fulton Now, South Fulton United, Protecting Our Schools and Community, HOA Alliance, etc.). The time seemed right for Cityhood. House Representative Roger Bruce took up the mantel of Cityhood and garnered the support of other Democrat legislators who represented South Fulton (State Representatives LaDawn Blacket-Jones, Virgil Fludd, Ronnie Mabra, and others). Senator Donzella James worked on the Senate side of the isles for the passage of the “Bill” once it crossed over.
The battle for self-determination by citizens of Unincorporated South Fulton would intensify. During the Legislative sessions 2014 and 2015, South Fulton Citizens led by Benny Crane, Felker Ward, Helen Zenobia -Willis, Harold Reid, Jaceey Sebastian, Naeema Gilyard, Louis Bell, Rafer Johnson, Kevin Grimes, Tommie Stegal, Alvin Reynolds, Storm Mitchell, Gail Lesser, Aaron Johnson and Debra Jones-Bazemore worked the halls of the Capitol educating members to support the Bill for a South Fulton City Referendum.
In 2015, South Fulton residents Tony Phillips, Catherine Rowell, Kimberly Hartwell, and Monica Manning led a group of concerned parents and teachers to fight the Sandtown annexation effort by the City of Atlanta and the Sandtown Association. Linda Bryant of the Fulton County School Board used her influence to save Fulton County students from being annexed into Atlanta Public Schools and millions of dollars of tax money paid by South Fulton to build new schools from being annexed too. Thus, Protecting Our Schools & Community was born.
However, Atlanta’s political establishment, being the Goliath of Metro-Atlanta, would stand firm
in blocking any effort by citizens of Unincorporated South Fulton of obtaining Cityhood. Therefore, all efforts for self-determination and self-governance by citizens who lived in Unincorporated South Fulton were denied during the 2013, 2014, and 2015 legislative sessions of the Georgia General Assembly. A basic right of citizens to vote on self-determination was denied, even in the 21st Century, a right many of us believed to have been given to citizens over a decade ago. Only time would tell if the right of self-determination and self-governance by citizens of Unincorporated South Fulton would ever prevail.
With only fifteen (15) days left before the end of the 2016 Legislative Session, HB514 granting a Referendum on Cityhood for a city of South Fulton seemed dead. Stalled in Committee. No movement, no action had taken place on its passage. All hope of a 2016 Referendum seemed lost. But was it?
Camilla Moore, after discovering that HB514 was stalled in the State and Local Government Operations Committee (SLGO), decided to weigh in once again on Cityhood. Understanding that the Republican Party controlled both chambers of the state legislature, she appealed to the Fulton County Republican Party to assist her in lobbying the Senate and House Republican Delegation on the passage of HB514.
Letters were drafted, calls were made by Republicans from across the state, and Moore met with over 150 Republican Members of both houses over fifteen days (15), spending more than 250 hours, lobbying for the passage of the HB514l. Central to the passage of HB514, was making the case that citizens of Unincorporated South Fulton deserved the same opportunity for self-determination and self-governance as other communities in Fulton County that were given this opportunity (Sandy Springs in 2005; Johns Creek and Milton in 2006; and Chattahoochee Hill Country in 2007).
But, the race to “beat the clock” on a Referendum for a potential South Fulton incorporation, was challenged by bordering cities, primarily Atlanta who sought annexations, since they would no longer be able to do so with another city up to their own city limits. Atlanta and other cities also understood that a denial of Cityhood would allow their cities to benefit at the expense of citizens of a new City of South Fulton—a group of people–which currently generates over $20 million dollars in sales tax.
Taking on Goliath (Atlanta), Representative Roger Bruce, Sponsor of HB514 and Rodney Littles, “long time Legislative Aide to State Representative Roger Bruce” assisted Ms. Moore in a bi-partisan effort in developing messaging and providing additional materials to Republican Senate Members. Senator Donzella James and Rep. Bruce joined Ms. Moore in making the case for Cityhood with Republican Legislators. Moore asked Republicans to hold off on taking action on any annexation plans submitted by the City of Atlanta and other cities for 2016 until citizens of Unincorporated South Fulton had an opportunity to vote on Cityhood. Moore’s request was
With time ticking down, with eight (8) days left in the Legislative Session, HB514 was resurrected from its “Failed To Pass” out of Committee on March 8, 2016, by SLGO Chairman, John Albers. The Senate Substitute Bill of HB514 (The Senate Bill added back important elements removed in prior bills) passed out of SLGO with a unanimous vote by Republican Members: Senators Michael Williams, Marty Harbin, P.K. Martin, and Chairman John Albers on March 15, 2016.
Four (4) days before the end of the Legislative Session, Rules Chairman, Jeff Mullins and David Shafer, President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, sponsored HB514 from among the 190 Bills submitted for consideration and moved it out of Rule Committee to the Senate floor for a full Senate vote.
One (1) day before the end of the Legislative Session, Lieutenant Governor, Casey Cagle, agreed to call HB514 up for a full Senate vote and placed it at the top of the Agenda of Bills for consideration (number 22 of 90) by the Senate. Senator Donzella James worked with Senate Republicans on the passage of a number of important Bills that were beneficial to her constituents with HB514 being the second bill heard after dinner, passing Yea-42 (Republican majority -2); Nay 10; Not Voting-4, on March 22, 2016.
Last day of the Legislative Session, David Ralston, Speaker of the House, agreed to call HB514 up for “Consent.” Moore and Rep. Roger Bruce diligently worked Members of the House in support of the Bill’s passage. Moore lobbied Republicans while Rep. Bruce worked in a bi-partisan effort to ensure the passage of HB514. State Representatives LaDawn Blacket-Jones and Virgil Fludd also assisted in lobbying Democrats for support. On March 25, 2016, at 12:15 a.m. HB 514 passed the Georgia House of Representatives with bi-partisan support from Republicans and Democrats: Yea-127; Nay-25.
A Referendum for Cityhood for Unincorporated South Fulton took over eight (8) years to occur. Men and women, black and white, young and old, Republicans and Democrats, all worked tirelessly for the opportunity of citizens of Unincorporated South Fulton to receive a right to vote for self-determination and self-governance. Never wavering in their belief in Cityhood, they stayed the course and saw the “Hand of God” do the miraculous in not only resurrecting HB514 but, also ensuring its passage, which was signed by Governor Nathan Deal in 2016.
On November 8, 2016, the citizens of South Fulton approved the referendum for the creation of their city. Alas, their goal of local determination had been achieved.
South Fulton is a land mass covering over 107 acres of beautiful forest with undeveloped land, varying income neighborhoods, a future industrial park, and potential commercial sites, once developed, will rival even “Buckhead” and other affluent communities across the country. Citizens will have a once in a life opportunity to create a community that becomes a place of destination for “all” Americans who desire a quality of life that meets all of their family needs, offering superb schools, better jobs, and better living standards.