Opponents of cityhood in east Cobb say the language of a proposed referendum on the issue, should it come before voters, is tilted in favor of cityhood.
To create a new city, the Georgia General Assembly has to pass a bill establishing a referendum that would go before voters within the proposed city’s boundaries. All such bills have the language that will appear on voters’ ballots.
State Rep. Matt Dollar, R-east Cobb, filed a bill for east Cobb cityhood on the second to last day of the 2019 legislative session. It reads:
“Shall the Act incorporating the City of East Cobb in Cobb County, imposing term limits and prohibiting conflicts of interest be approved?”
Is the first part of that pretty clear? Yes,” said Mindy Seger, an opponent of cityhood and one of the leaders of anti-cityhood group East Cobb Alliance. But she found the latter half confusing and full of buzzwords nobody would oppose.
“To the lay person that’s looking at this on a ballot, they see buzzwords like ‘term limits,’” Seger said. “The language is written in such a way that it’s biased, in my opinion, to the pro (cityhood) side.”
“The people who are against it, this is a tactic they’ve taken to try to confuse people,” he said.
At least 10 cities have incorporated since Sandy Springs residents voted to do so in 2005. Most have had language similar to, but slightly different from, the language on the east Cobb bill.
Dollar said he did not write the bill.
“My legislative counsel at the Capitol wrote it and they wrote it for all the new cities,” he said. “I think the counsel just wanted it to be clear that anyone forming the city wouldn’t be involved in the leadership of it once it was formed. That’s a pretty simple concept I think, and one that I think people should appreciate instead of rallying against.”
The 2005 ballot question for Sandy Springs voters asked, “Shall the Act incorporating the City of Sandy Springs in Fulton County according to the charter contained in the Act be approved?”
Voters who approved incorporation of Johns Creek found this at the ballot booth: “Do you approve the creation of the City of Johns Creek and the property tax rate cap and the granting of the homestead exemptions described in the Act creating the City of Johns Creek?”
And in Mableton, which also has a cityhood bill waiting to be considered by the General Assembly, the ballot question reads, “Shall the Act incorporating the City of Mableton in Cobb County, imposing term limits, prohibiting conflicts of interest, and creating community improvement districts be approved?”
“It’s not necessarily that the legalese language is something that’s unique to this bill,” Seger said. “I would like to see them write these things where the average voter can understand them.”
At the earliest, voters could decide the matter in the general primary on May 19, 2020, with the approval of cityhood triggering a vote to fill municipal offices in that year’s November general election. But cityhood advocate David Birdwell said earlier this month that a referendum, if approved by the General Assembly, would likely come before voters in November 2020.