For perhaps the first time in Georgia history, land and property could be snatched – de-annexed, if you will – from one city to create a totally new one. If created, the city of Eagles Landing would take approximately a third of Stockbridge’s residents, cut its tax revenue in half, and reduce African-American voters from a majority voting alliance in Stockbridge to a minority position in the new city.
Lawyers for the city of Stockbridge are alleging in a federal lawsuit that taking portions of the city to form the new wealthier–and whiter–city of Eagles Landing violates voting and civil rights laws. The lawsuit charges that the legislation to create the new city (Acts 548 and 559) defies the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Georgia Constitution. It also demands a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction be put in force to prevent the defendants – the state of Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, and county Elections and Registration Director Tina Lunsford – from moving forward with the formation of Eagles Landing.
Stockbridge, a city about 20 miles southeast of Atlanta, is predominantly black, but that 53% voting majority would suddenly drop to a minority with the formation of the new city. The Eagles Landing Educational Research Committee (ELERC), a group promoting the plan, denies that the new city will marginalize black citizens, arguing that all four districts of the proposed city are “intentionally culturally, racially and politically diverse . . . approximately 47 percent black, 39 percent white and 14 percent other ethnicities,” according to the group’s website.
The lawsuit also addresses financial concerns that the new city would allegedly create for Stockbridge as well as cities across the state. If Eagles Landing is formed, detractors say its creation would harm Stockbridge’s ability to pay municipal bond obligations regarding debts taken out in 2005 and 2006, jeopardizing an existing contract between the city and lenders. A lawsuit filed by Capital One Public Funding charges that the formation of Eagles Landing would potentially cut Stockbridge’s tax revenue by 50 percent, significantly decreasing the collateral that was contractually guaranteed to Capital One, according to the lawsuit’s complaint. Capital One Public Funding currently holds $11.75 million of bonds from Stockbridge set to mature in 2031.
A recent Moody’s Investor Service report found that Stockbridge would lose some of its wealthiest neighborhoods if the new city became a reality, and the legislation would be “credit negative” for local governments throughout Georgia because it would create a practice where the state is free to split local tax bases, potentially reducing the credit quality of one city in favor of another. But the ELERC is questioning the accuracy of Moody’s analysis, saying that the “continued dissemination of inaccurate and misleading financial information” regarding the financial viability of Stockbridge “has created public hysteria,” according to a letter sent to Moody’s by ELERC board member Allison Halron. According to Halron, Stockbridge would not be “materially impacted” by the creation of the new city, since loan collateral stays with the loans, although in her opinion, Stockbridge should retain responsibility for the debt, since it was incurred for projects that benefit the city.
Although Governor Deal signed legislation allowing for the formation of Eagles Landing in May, local voters must first approve the plan through a referendum in November’s midterm elections for the initiative to move forward. But, according to Georgia law, only registered voters within the new city’s proposed boundaries are allowed to vote for or against it. The ELERC insists that the legislation was introduced to give citizens the right to vote on whether or not they are in favor of the new city, but apparently they didn’t mean all the citizens of Stockbridge.