Charlie Harper is the publisher of, and the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, which focuses on policy solutions in the areas of Business Climate, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation.

Voters last week soundly rejected a proposal to incorporate the residents of Chatham County’s Skidaway Island into a city. The overwhelming 62.5 percent of voters who voted no were punctuated by a high turnout, with roughly 735 of the island’s registered voters making their opinion known. The question of public support for this issue has been settled.
There are both local and statewide implications of this vote. On a statewide basis, it is now time to openly question if the industry of cityhood is, and should be, losing steam.
New city creation in Georgia became a thing after a decades long battle to incorporate Sandy Springs in Fulton County, with adjacent Dunwoody in DeKalb County quickly following suit. With the power of Fulton concentrated in cities, the county quickly incorporated most remaining land into new or existing cities. DeKalb has also seen cities such as Brookhaven, Tucker, and Stonecrest.
For a while, the battle of Republican bumper sticker slogans had “local control” winning out over “less government.” During this successful run, success bred success for many, as the same lobbyists, consultants, and vendors seemed to form a niche that has moved from one cityhood effort to another.
While casting no aspersions on those who are good at what they do for a living, it’s also time in the wake of this defeat to assess. Is the current list of areas exploring the option of incorporation really the result of a groundswell of public support, or have we now created an industry with the right connections and capital that is planting seeds of cityhood in the hopes that public support will then sprout?
New cities must currently pass a feasibility study. If passed, the General Assembly can call for a referendum. It is time state and community leaders to channel Jurassic Park’s Dr. Ian Malcom and note that our consultants are so preoccupied with whether or not they can, they don’t stop and ask if they should. Voters, increasingly, are answering with “No.”
Skidaway Island is not the first public rejection of a new city. A multi-year legislative battle to create the city of Lavista Hills in DeKalb county ended in defeat at the ballot box by 1 percent. Unlike the neighboring city of Tucker that was created on the same day as the loss, Lavista Hills had no obvious town center nor easily identified community.
Last year, voters rejected the city of Eagle’s Landing 71 percent to 29. Much political capital was used in this failed attempt, as for Eagle’s Landing to be viable it needed part of the existing city of Stockbridge.
At the core of each battle was a commercial tax base. Both were deemed necessary for long term viability with low/stable tax rates. Skidaway Island, dominated by the mega gated community The Landings, is almost exclusively residential.
This difference, combined with the political savvy of a few key residents, led to Skidaway’s defeat.
Mike Vaquer and Jean McRae are political consultants and lobbyists who live on Skidaway Island. Their connections are deep in both Chatham and Atlanta. As former lobbyists for Fulton County, they understand municipal and state politics, as well as city creation. As longtime residents of The Landings, they also know their neighbors.
They have a track record of taking on establishment forces – and winning. Locally they established this by engineering the campaign of Jolene Byrne to defeat local heavyweight Dave Simons for Savannah-Chatham School Board President in 2014.
They established a Facebook page for neighbors and began to post frequent Q&A’s on the implications of cityhood. They eventually discovered and publicized that their homeowners’ association had spent well into six figures on incorporation efforts without a vote of residents.
The loss has also given statewide leaders in Atlanta a reason to re-evaluate the rush to cityhood in many cases. We need to set a higher bar before pitting neighbor against neighbor. There needs to be a clear and consistent reason why we should.