Mindy Seger at debate

Mindy Seger, of the anti-cityhood East Cobb Alliance, speaks at a cityhood debate in November.

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.”

Dollar disagrees.

“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.

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(5) comments

Emmanuel Kipreos

May we propose to Mr Matt Dollar to simplify the language from :

"Shall the Act incorporating the City of East Cobb in Cobb County, imposing term limits and prohibiting conflicts of interest be approved” to “Do you support incorporating East Cobb into a City?” Or is that language too simple and it may not trick the East Cobb voter? Where is the home grown support for this bill Matt Dollar?

Jan Barton

This ballot language is unacceptable and must be changed. I agree with the simple language of “Do you support incorporating East Cobb into a City?” Does anyone want to run for this office? Perhaps Matt is out of touch with his constituents.

Kelly Makara

I agree, the wording is purposefully misleading. He said it is like the others but clearly it is not. He does not respond to his constituents nor does he have town halls. Who is he representing anyway?!

Scott Killebrew

A few observations. He sponsored a bill in the last hours of the last day of the session. He says he did not write the bill. He had no input except from the Cityhood Committee. He won’t answer emails or phone calls from his constituents. And we are all supposed to believe misleadingly language is unintentional. Exactly why should we believe that?

Sylvia Rogers

The way the question is phrased is misleading, intentionally trying to focus the voter on the last part (who would vote against term limits?) instead of the main question. This is how many things are passed that otherwise wouldn't be. "Shall the Act incorporating the City of East Cobb in Cobb County, imposing term limits and prohibiting conflicts of interest be approved” is the way it's phrased and, if people don't know that the charter can be changed without voter input or even making it public by city officials which, for the first two years, won't even be elected by the citizens of that city. Whether you're for or against the city, that should bother you - but if they're playing these games now, consider what will they be doing when they're in power.

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