Kathryn Rice speaks in favor of creating the city of Greenhaven as supporters hold signs during a press conference at the State Capitol on Feb. 15, 2018.

DeKalb: Bill creating city of Greenhaven moves forward in House

A bill that would allow a referendum on the creation of the city of Greenhaven received a favorable committee vote for the first time in four years.

The House Governmental Affairs Committee approved House Bill 644 on Tuesday in an 11-6 vote. In order for the measure to stay alive, it needs to be approved on the House floor on Wednesday, the last day for bills to move from one chamber to the other — that is, to cross over — and still have a clear path to becoming law this year.

Those who spoke in support of the bill said it’s time to allow south DeKalb County voters to decide whether they want to create the state’s second largest city, after Atlanta, with a population of about 300,000.

“We have worked at this for four years,” said Kathryn Rice, the most visible advocate for Greenhaven. “We are the only people in DeKalb County that have not had once chance to vote on cityhood.”

Members of Neighbors Against Greenhaven listen during a pro-cityhood press conference at the State Capitol on Feb. 15, 2018. (TIA MITCHELL/TIA.MITCHELL@AJC.COM)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Nearly 30 people spoke on the bill, most of them opposed. Some complained that a feasibility study used to justify the new city is outdated.

“It’s not a civil rights issue,” said Claudette Leak, a member of Concerned Citizens in Opposition to Greenhaven. “It’s a fiscal issue about the pocketbooks and taxes and taxpayers who are going to be living in this newly created city.”

Before the vote, the committee signed off on an amendment filed by Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody, that restricted any current members of the General Assembly from running for office in Greenhaven for 10 years. Taylor’s amendment also reduced the salaries for Greenhaven’s six council members from $25,000 a year to $12,000 and the mayor would earn $16,000 annually instead of $35,000.

“This should be public service; it should not be a job,” Taylor said, noting that the amounts were in line with other DeKalb cities like Brookhaven and Dunwoody.

A separate amendment filed by Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, failed. It would have raised the threshold for voter approval for Greenhaven from a simple majority to 57.5 percent. Nguyen said part of her district would fall in the new city and every email she has received is against the proposal.

She noted that the House signed off on the same higher threshold for a bill related to creating the city of Sharon Springs in Forsyth County. That measure is pending with the Senate.

Rep. Ed Rynders, the Albany Republican who chairs the Governmental Affairs Committee, said Nguyen’s amendment had the end result of making it harder for Greenhaven to be approved. He was among those who voted it down. Rynders said Greenhaven advocates had met all the requirements for their issue to be put on the ballot.

-- Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this report.

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In other DeKalb news:

What is DeKalb County House Bill 961? DeKalb House Bill 961 is a piece of legislation that would eliminate the county's unique CEO form of government. It would make it illegal for the county to have an elected CEO and would eliminate the job of DeKalb County CEO Mike Thurmond. Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven) said she sponsored the bill with Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) over constituent concerns she beleived stemmed from having one elected official who oversees all operations. HB 961 was introduced with

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