By Jim Tharpe
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A controversial proposal to carve Milton County out of north Fulton County died in the state House of Representatives late Friday night, unable to get the two-thirds vote it needed to stay alive.
House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton) decided just before midnight not to bring House Resolution 21 to a floor vote. Jones, the proposal’s key supporter in the House, said proponents were within three or four votes of the 120 they needed in the 180-member chamber.
“We waited and tried to get the votes as long as we could,” Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at 11:55 p.m. “We came up a few votes short.”
Jones said she will reintroduce the bill next year. The proposal needed a two-thirds vote of the House because it would require amending the state constitution.
“This is just the beginning,” Jones said as the Legislature prepared to adjourn on Crossover Day, the day bills must pass one chamber or languish for the year. “Fulton County has been put on notice.”
Milton County supporters have argued that the Fulton County Board of Commissioners is unresponsive to the needs of north Fulton residents and wasteful with their tax dollars.
But opponents said splitting the county would hurt the city of Atlanta and what remained of Fulton County. That, they said, could hurt the entire region.
Milton supporters argued the cities of Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton, Mountain Park, Roswell and Sandy Springs should be permitted to form their own county if voters first approved the idea in a referendum.
“There’s a lack of proper governance in [Fulton] County,” state Rep. Wendell Willard (R- Sandy Springs) said earlier this month at a hearing on the proposal. “And that’s the fuel that drives this engine.”
Milton and Campbell counties were merged with Fulton during the Great Depression as a cost-cutting measure. Jones’ bill would have permitted voters to re-create historically merged counties.
Democratic opponents blasted the proposal, and Rep. Joe Heckstall (D-East Point) argued the proposal has racial underpinnings -- south Fulton is majority black; north Fulton is majority white.
Jones’ proposal also ran into opposition from one member of her own party. Republican Majority Whip Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta) opposed the part of the plan that would let only residents of the proposed county vote on its creation during a second vote. Most of Lindsey’s district is in Buckhead, which would not be part of the new county.
“She’s fighting very hard to reform a county she believes is out of control,” Lindsey said. “I’m fighting very hard to reform a county that I believe is out of control. I just want to make sure my constituents are at the table and have a say in those reforms.”
Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves had called the 1932 merger of Fulton with Milton a “marriage” that Milton County proponents are trying to tear apart.
“This divorce would have a disastrous impact on all parties involved,” Eaves said. “It’s a lose-lose situation.”
But Roswell Mayor Jere Wood had argued that divorce is sometimes necessary. In this case, he said, it might cause some short-term pain, but the long-term benefits would be worth it.
“The divorce is because it’s not working out,” said Wood, a major backer of Milton County whose city would be within its boundaries. “I see irreconcilable differences.”
State Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta) said that instead of creating a new county lawmakers should come together to reform the Fulton County Commission.
Bruce, chairman of the Fulton County Legislative Delegation, has criticized a major study on the proposed county by the University of Georgia and Georgia State University. The study, he said, only looked at the feasibility of creating Milton County and neglected to study the impact the new county would have on Atlanta and the remnants of Fulton County.