State Rep. Erica Thomas, D-Austell, has filed a bill that would incorporate the city of Mableton, moving the process of forming a city in south Cobb forward.
The bill was filed on March 7 — Crossover Day — and it hasn’t gotten a vote on the House floor yet, but the cityhood process takes two years in the Georgia Legislature. For a cityhood bill to pass, it has to have been filed the year before, Thomas explained.
“Under the rules of the House of Representatives, new cities are considered at the session of the general assembly following the session the bill is ‘dropped’ or becomes a placeholder bill,” she said.
If the bill is approved by lawmakers in 2020, the next step would be a public referendum where those who would live within the new city's boundaries would be asked to approve incorporation.
Thomas said if a study shows the city is feasible and lawmakers sign off early next year, voters could be asked to decide the issue in November 2020 or, if the timeline allows, even earlier.
“That is very likely,” she said. “If the bill were signed by the governor early enough allowing the matter to be on the ballot at the presidential preference primary, then it can be held on such date.”
The bill is co-sponsored by state reps. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, and David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs.
Tre Hutchins of the South Cobb Alliance, which is spearheading the cityhood effort, said Thomas represents about 85 percent of the proposed city in the Georgia House of Representatives with Wilkerson and Allen representing the remaining 15 percent.
Wilkerson said filing the bill “keeps the process moving” and doesn’t necessarily mean he supports cityhood.
“In past discussions, I've told people that if east Cobb wants to look at a city and south Cobb wants to look at a city then I think we should be open to seeing a feasibility study,” Wilkerson said.
Hutchins said his group is still awaiting completion of a study that will look at the feasibility of incorporating Mableton. Hutchins said the study has a $28,000 price tag, and his group has raised about $10,000 to cover its cost. The group has made a down payment with University of Georgia researchers to begin the study, Hutchins said.
“Everyone is still waiting on the feasibility study, so that’s the biggest part. The feasibility study determines whether we even move forward with the bill and having it go through committee and everything else,” he said.
Hutchins said the study could be complete in May or June.
A map to be used in the study shows that the proposed boundaries of the new city would border Austell to the west and Smyrna to the east. It’s southern boundary is the Cobb County line. The proposed city would include Pebblebrook and South Cobb high schools as well as Six Flags Over Georgia and have a population by one estimate of about 80,000.
Wilkerson said the results of the study are key to whether he will support cityhood for Mableton.
“When it comes back, then we'll have the discussion. ... We'll get more into the details next year once that comes back. For me, the big thing is: does it cause undue harm to the county? If it does, then that would be something that we'd have to look at. I wouldn't do anything to hurt the county, put it that way,” he said.
As for whether she supports cityhood, Thomas said, “I support constituents who wish to have the opportunity to vote on whether to form a new city or not so long as the new city is financially feasible.”
A group that is pushing for a new city in east Cobb has already completed a feasibility study and hired a lobbyist to lead its legislative efforts, but as of Friday, no bills to incorporate the area had been filed.
A UNIQUE FORM OF GOVERNMENT
Thomas’ bill calls for the new city’s government to be composed of an elected mayor and six-member city council. It would be the only city in the county with a six-member council: Acworth, Austell, Kennesaw and Powder Springs all have five, and Marietta and Smyrna have seven council members.
Mableton’s mayor would vote on items that come before the council, which is also unique to the new city among Cobb’s other municipalities. Cobb’s other mayors have veto power and can be called to vote to break a tie in some cases, however.
Hutchins said his organization looked at the governmental structure of several cities that have incorporated recently, including Tucker, Stonecrest, the city of South Fulton and Sandy Springs, as well as all of Cobb’s cities. The group also talked to elected officials and local stakeholders and came up with what Hutchins called a weak mayor/strong council/strong city manager form of government.
“We began to pull out the pros and cons of each one, and that is how we came to determine what would be the best way forward for the city of Mableton,” Hutchins said.
Thomas said the new mayor would be “primarily ceremonial” and that the form of government would include “members of the city council who will have legislative powers and investigative powers and a city manager who will be the executive officer of the city.”
The new city’s charter also imposes term limits for council members of three consecutive four-year terms. Hutchins said the term limits will ensure that “everyone that wants to serve, to serve our area, has that opportunity to serve.”
Even if the bill is passed next year and the feasibility study is favorable, it will still be up to the residents of the new city to decide whether to incorporate.
“At the end of the day, I believe everyone is of the mindset of ‘Let’s allow the people of south Cobb to decide if this is the best option for them by way of having a vote to say yes or no,’” Hutchins said.
The South Cobb Alliance has its next meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the South Cobb Regional Library, Hutchins said. For more information, visit southcobballiance.org.