(Atlanta-AP) January 23, 2007 - A dispute over a proposal to break Fulton County in two is producing claims of racism in the so-called "city too busy to hate."
Legislation introducted by members of the Georgia Legislature's Republican majority would split off Atlanta's predominantly white, affluent suburbs to the north from some of the metropolitan area's poorest, black neighborhoods.
The legislation calls for amending the Georgia Constitution to allow the return of Milton County, which succumbed to financial troubles during the Depression and was folded into Fulton County in 1932.
Supporters say it is a quest for more responsive government in a county with more than 900,000 people. Opponents say the measure is racially motivated and will pit white against black, rich against poor.
Senator Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat and member of the Legislative Black Caucus, bitterly opposes the plan. He says as much as some would like to think it is not racial, it is difficult to draw any other conclusion.
The former Milton County is now mostly white and Republican and one of the most affluent areas in the nation. Atlanta and its southern suburbs are mostly black, are controlled by Democrats and have neighborhoods with some of the highest poverty rates in America.
The plan's chief sponsor, Representative Jan Jones of Alpharetta, says Fulton County is too large and dysfunctional to be considered truly a local government.
Jones, a former marketing executive, cites the county's troubled library and public transit systems and a jail that was taken over by a federal judge because it was filthy and unsafe. He denied the move is racially motivated.
Milton County would have a population of about 300,000 - instantly making it Georgia's fifth-largest county. Those resident represent 29 percent of the county's population of 915,000 but pay 42 percent of its property taxes, according to a local taxpayers group. A split would lead to the loss of $193 million in property taxes alone for Fulton County.
Opponents of the split say that loss would be devastating. They also warn that a breakup of Fulton could harm Atlanta's international reputation as a progressive city and hurt its appeal as a business, entertainment and convention destination.