Secession In Atlanta (End Cities!)

Suburbs in Atlanta seek to secede from the city (and/or county?). WND celebrates while NBC looks at the racial implications.

Given that we’re talking about Atlanta, and notable racial disparities, it’s hard not to consider the racial aspects of it. But there are a number of reasons why places would want to eject from the mothership, many of which have little to do with race. Such issues are pretty big back in Colosse, though in the opposite direction: Colosse is often seeking to incorporate independent places. If it’s already a city, it can’t. But if it’s within a certain area, they can’t incorporate and basically just wait for the mothership to beam them in (crying murder when they do). The cities like the tax revenue. There are rumors that moderates also like the white, conservative voters because it keeps the city from going off the deep end. It actually creates an interesting dynamic where Republicans hate it (on behalf of their constituents), but moderate and conservative Democrats like it because they will pick up these voters and Republicans aren’t a threat on the municipal scale anyway.

From a standpoint of fairness, there are arguments going in both directions. On the one hand, these places are being brought into an organization against their will and desire. And for this, they can also expect higher taxes, less autonomy, and sometimes less service. That doesn’t seem right. On the other hand, they enjoy benefits from living near the city that they do not pay for.

As an aside, one of the interesting things about moving out west is that places tended to be begged to let in. Being a part of municipality means, among other things, worrying a lot less about where your water is going to come from and whether anyone will pick up your trash.

Back to Colosse, the whole situation is somewhat ridiculous. You can skip a stone and hit three municipalities. In my view, there really isn’t much reason for it. East Oak, the township where I was raised (pop. 4k), actually shares a police department with West Oak (pop. 4k). Really, the only difference between the two is that West Oak allows apartment complexes and East Oak doesn’t. Meanwhile, both of these towns buy fire, water, and mail service from larger, neighboring townships. My town’s city hall used to be located in the fire station of a neighboring municipality.

The end result is that there is less rather than more sense of community. My brother lives two minutes away from my parents, but in a different town. The towns aren’t large enough to have their own schools or school systems. The primary justifications are laws (such as East Oak banning apartments) and economics. Invariably, the smaller a township, the less in taxes they pay. It’s a nice arrangement for those that get to be their own town. But they are often free-riding off the neighboring places they are not paying taxes to. Not so much in the way of services (East Oak pays for its fire services), but in terms of jobs, roads, and so on.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a few years ago there was an attempt to force small townships to merge. A (former?) reader of Hit Coffee commented that things out there are similarly ridiculous with all of these little towns. I don’t like forcing towns to join, though. And yet I am partial to a solution that is much, much more radical:

Let’s do away with cities. Entirely. It simply isn’t fair to cities that provide a hub that they are denied the tax revenues and such from places affluent enough to be independent. Nor is it fair, in places like Colosse, where some suburbs essentially bribe the city not to annex it (though I suppose I’m being even less fair, depriving them of that option if they are within the county). These individual towns are actually the same place from every standpoint except democratic boundaries. The boundaries should be drawn as such.

Back home, there are four (four!) police departments with jurisdiction. That excludes federal and specialty departments (university, school districts, Metro). The layers upon layers of government is good for some, but ultimately creates a lot of redundancy. And a lot of complication when it comes to what you can do where. Counties, drawn more-or-less as squares on a map, strike me as better administrative and democratic districts.

This will benefit some to the exclusion of others. It would probably hurt those on the outskirts of a county and benefit those, a county line away, who get to be their own place. Arguably, this would actually create longer commutes as people move just outside the county line. In the longer term, though, I think the counties would become more self-sufficient and become more of their own places anyway.

This all ties in to my belief that congestion will make economic centers of the suburbs as much as relocate people to urban cores. Somewhere, PD Shaw noted that almost as many Chicagoland commuters go from Cook County to DePage County as vice-versa. The suburbs are already economic centers, this would help them do more of their own thing and hopefully necessitate fewer trips to the city (East Oak is part of a chain of suburbs that very rarely require trips to the city). So it’s anti-suburb, but in a way it’s also pro-suburb (or is that pro-exurb?) insofar as we view suburbs as this distinct thing rather than anchored to the city (maybe to the point that we would stop thinking of them as suburbs generally). At least, that would be my hope. But it would at least simplify things and remove a lot of things from the local political discussion that are essentially battles in self-servitude that ultimately serve very, very few.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. I suspect that if we did organize services by county, there’d be some dumb situations as a result of that, too.

    • At least here in Colorado, the constitution (and supreme court) recognize counties as creations of the state but cities have their own independent existence. This gives the state considerable authority over counties that it doesn’t have over cities. For example, the state can create a public assistance program and require each county to fund and administer that program. Lots of court cases over the years with the counties trying to wriggle out from under things like that, all of which have failed. We do get some peculiar situations as a result. The City and County of Denver cover exactly the same area. Child Welfare is a state program, administered in Denver by Denver County under direction of the Denver County Commissioners; the City of Denver, its Mayor, and City Council have no say in how Child Welfare is operated.

  2. Hmm…interesting concept. I’ll have to think about it more.

    But, for the record, I don’t know that there was much of an effort to force towns to merge so much as it was very publicly encouraged (and still is). As a result of all of this encouragement, exactly one merger has occurred – between Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, which finally merged effective January 1 of this year after a referendum last November. And even that merger had been in the works for 35 years, always failing by a narrow margin (the Township always voted for it, the Borough – which is where the University is and is obviously more prestigious – always against it).

    Even still, we really do need more of these consolidations to take place – we’ve got so many towns that are maybe a square mile or two, five square miles tops. They’re densely populated (it is New Jersey, after all), but not exactly brimming with high rises either, so they’ve only got a couple thousand residents. The amount of savings involved in merging these towns would be staggering (last I read, IIRC, the Princetons merger was already on pace to save a net of almost two million this year alone, amounting to thousands of dollars per household).

  3. Hey, that’s my daily commute pictured!

    That WND piece is extraordinarily misleading, by the way. I’m far from an expert on the matter (as I try ever so hard to not get too into Georgia politics), but it’s a gross misstatement to say those new municipalities are seceding from Atlanta since they were never in the municipality in the first place.
    They’re also not even trying to avoid annexation -typically that’s the driving force in pre-emptive incorporation that I’ve seen elsewhere. From what I understand, Georgia’s annexation laws are some of the weakest in the nation. I am not sure if Atlanta has annexed much of anything in recent memory at all. A good illustration is that the Atlanta MSA has 72 incorporated areas for it’s 5.4 million residents. The Chicago MSA has 28 for it’s 9.8 million residents.

    What they’re doing is separating themselves from their dysfunctional county governments so they can start to manage their own services instead of being held out with the larger county stuff. There’s clearly two sides to the coin there – on one had it’s self-determination, on the other, it does tend to be white supermajority residents choosing more public services for themselves but electing to vote out the poorer and blacker parts of the county lest some of their tax money be used on those areas.

    From what I can tell, the semi-ironic upshot of all this is the continuing creation of more government by exactly the kind of folks that the word to be an epithet. In the short run, they’re absolving themselves of as much responsibility for crappy county governments in exchange for making long-run reform and improvement to municipal and county government far harder than it already was going to be.

    The parts about how terribad most of the county governments here is well taken, though I’d suggest the evidence is strong that the state of governance in general in Georgia is among the worst of any state in the Union. Of course, the absolute worst of the worst mentioned in the article is DeKalb county, which remains nearly entirely unincorporated to the east, while the rush to incorporation going on is pretty much entirely in Fulton County to the North and Northwest.

    With that part, I really struggle with your conclusion that counties are a smarter level of government to focus on. Counties are an awful extra layer of government, political lines drawn pretty exclusively according to the communication and travel economies of the early 18th Century. They’re an excess layer of government for nearly every citizen of the US, who already live in a city, village or town as well as a state. Cities make far more sense to me as a primary local government, especially one that can be a bit more organic as demographics and geography change.

    • Thanks for the background, Pinky. Seems like most of my post was on a tangent to the issue that inspired it.

      I don’t think both city and county government are necessary, I just think it’s the city that needs to go. County lines tend to be drawn much more orderly and less politically than municipal lines, which is why I prefer to keep things at the county level and dispense with the city level.

    • Wow, imagine that. A WND piece that is deceptive and fails to provide important facts while rushing to a breathless and outrage-inducing conclusion. Huh.

      • Interestingly, a lot of their conclusions are more reality based than their facts, which seems like an odd switcheroo to me.

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