“I was very surprised and troubled to hear that Gov. Deal had vetoed this legislation,” said Mayor Eric Clarkson in a statement. “It was my hope that through the actions of the general assembly, we could get resolution to this issue, saving the city of Chamblee taxpayers unnecessary expense, and getting back to working closely with the city of Brookhaven to move our county and our region forward.”
Local Act 205 called for a referendum on whether “certain land” should be annexed into the city of Chamblee effective Dec. 30, 2013. The property owners of Century Center along with the city of Brookhaven allegedly decided to try and circumvent the general assembly’s intent and alter the makeup of the “certain land” specifically described in the act, according to Clarkson.
“They did so by trying to annex the Century Center office park into the city of Brookhaven after the act was signed into law by Deal, but before the referendum was held.”
Chamblee filed suit to stop this action and won in DeKalb Superior Court. That ruling is now being appealed by Highwoods Properties, the owners of roughly 10 percent of the Century Center property.
The city of Chamblee did not initiate nor advocate on behalf of the annexation — this time or in 2012 when the first attempt failed by 34 votes. The citizens in that area approached their legislators and asked for the opportunity to vote for annexation into Chamblee. The boundaries were drawn to ensure the financial viability of the annexation. Annexations should never impose a hardship on the current citizens and businesses by way of increased taxes or decreased service levels, according to the news release.
The area being considered for annexation should be able to pay its way. The Century Center property was a significant factor in that financial viability and the general assembly saw fit to include it in the definition of the ‘certain property’ described in Act 205.
The news release stated Brookhaven “has had plenty of time and opportunities to end the dispute.” The city “could have turned down Highwoods Properties’ request for annexation rather than assisting them and rushing it through the process,” it said. “After all, the residents in the annexed area began to pursue annexation into Chamblee only after Brookhaven previously tried to include the commercial properties around them but would not include the residents as well.”
The initial borders for Brookhaven were changed to leave those commercial properties out so that they could be included with the surrounding residential property should a different jurisdiction choose to annex the entire area.
On Nov. 12, 2013, the Brookhaven City Council passed a resolution titled “a resolution discontinuing the city of Brookhaven’s participation in any appeal to the Supreme Court.” That resolution contains the statement “whereas the city of Brookhaven recognizes the will of the citizens of Chamblee, respects their decision and is desirous of discontinuing its participation in the current appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.”
In order to be certain Brookhaven meant what it said, Chamblee asked Brookhaven to rescind its vote accepting the annexation officially of Century Center. Brookhaven refused, according to the news release.
“Chamblee officials felt had the city done as requested, the dispute would have been over. The city of Chamblee is now left to continue wasting tax dollars defending the general assembly’s intent in court,” the news release stated.
At the same time, Chamblee must also find a way to fund the increased municipal services due to the annexation now that a substantial portion of tax revenue was eliminated by the governor’s veto. On a larger scale, legal arguments have been put forth contending that if the entire “certain property” described in Act 205 is not annexed into Chamblee, the entire annexation could be rendered invalid.
District 81 State Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, said he was extremely disappointed with the governor’s decision to veto the bills.
“And I am troubled by the purported reason provided by his office,” said Holcomb in a statement. “His office said that it favored allowing the litigation involving the Highwoods property owner to continue instead of affirming the will of the people. Curiously, the governor’s office also said that it would entertain legislation similar to these bills next year if the property owner wins in court. That makes no sense since the only purpose of this legislation was to end the litigation now, enforce the people’s vote and allow Chamblee and Brookhaven to move forward with planning their futures.”
Holcomb added the pending litigation involves a private property owner who would prefer to be in Brookhaven rather than Chamblee. The private property owner never made its position known while the legislation authorizing the referendum was being considered. Instead, the private property owner sued Chamblee, said Holcomb.
“This lawsuit has wasted taxpayer dollars, and it also leaves unresolved the borders of Chamblee — despite the will of the people as reflected in the referendum,” he said. “Both House Bill 905 and 906 passed unanimously in the House and Senate and these measures included language stating that it was and is the will of the general assembly that the entire territory approved by the voters in the referendum be a part of the city of Chamblee. I wrote to Gov. Deal weeks ago to urged him to sign House Bills 905 and 906 to prevent any further waste of taxpayer money. Gov. Deal ignored this request.”
Holcomb added … “the role of the legislature is to make the law and the role of the judiciary is to interpret it. This legislation made the will of the general assembly perfectly clear for the courts and would have ended the litigation. In the end, the governor opted to favor the lawsuit over the will of the people who live in the area. These vetoes are a triumph of frivolous litigation over sound policy.”