Judge Blasts Atlanta City Officials Over Misleading Cop City Opponents With Worthless Petition Process

A federal judge is admonishing City of Atlanta officials for their poor handling over the Stop Cop City petition submitted earlier this week to force a referendum and put the issue on the ballot for a vote.

U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen said his hands are tied and he does not have the authority to rule on the petition of more than 100,000 signatures as he cannot interfere with a larger lawsuit filed over the Atlanta Public Safety Training facility in 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Monday, Sept. 11, organizers and activists opposed to the controversial Atlanta Public Safety Training Facility, submitted more than 110,000 petition signatures to City Hall to force a ballot referendum on the project better known as Cop City.

But their efforts appear to have been in vain as officials say the petitioners missed the deadline for submission.

U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen accused city officials of moving the goalposts on the signature-gathering campaign, saying they have “directly contributed” to a widespread sense of confusion over the matter.

“On June 21, 2023, instead of approving a referendum petition it had no intention to honor regardless of the number of signatures obtained from city residents, the City could have taken the position it later espoused in this lawsuit and disapproved the petition as unauthorized under Georgia law,” Cohen wrote.

A spokesperson for the City said that voting officials accepted the petition and allowed opponents of the project to collect the signatures as a “courtesy” to those who oppose the project.

Clerk Emeritus of the City of Atlanta Foris Webb III issued the following statement regarding the submission of petitions regarding Atlanta’s Public Safety Training Center upon receiving the advice of counsel:

“[Monday] morning, we received petitions from those seeking a referendum on the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center and have locked them away in a secure location until we receive further rulings from the 11th Circuit Court. State law and the City’s code have a clear and strict 60-day deadline for petition circulation.  Specifically, the law commands that a ‘petition … shall not be accepted by the council for verification if more than 60 days have elapsed since the date the sponsor of the petition first obtained copies of the petition from the municipal clerk.’ The original petition was issued on June 21, making August 21 the original 60-day deadline for petition submission.  The petitioners could have turned their petition in, on, or before, August 21, and indeed several times said they were going to do so but opted instead to take an additional three weeks to circulate their petition for signature,” said Webb. 

Webb added, “Today, September 11, is 81 days after the date the sponsor of the petition first obtained copies of the petition from the municipal clerk, so the City is prohibited by state law from accepting the petition for verification, absent further guidance from the 11th Circuit. However, the City is willing to receive the signed petition pages into its custody, subject to the express understanding that such receipt does not constitute acceptance for verification, pending further rulings and guidance from the 11th Circuit. If and when the City receives guidance from the 11th Circuit to proceed with verifying the petitions, the Office of the Municipal Clerk will begin the process that was previously outlined. The City of Atlanta is committed to an open and transparent process that follows the letter of the law.”

Although only 58,000 signatures or 15 percent of registered voters are required to force a vote, organizers say they are hedging their bets, commenting that they are concerned about efforts to disqualify signatures and halt construction until the issue can be decided at the ballot box.

City of Atlanta voting officials were expected to conduct a line-by-line review, a process voting advocates say is a “widely discredited tool of voter suppression.”

“That the city of Atlanta would use such a subjective and unreliable process is shameful and undermines the integrity of the city’s validation procedure,” more than two dozen voting rights organizations, including Fair Fight, wrote to city officials.

Last week, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr issued RICO indictments for 61 protestors he referred to as “military anarchists.” By Frida, Sept. 8, all 61 had posted bond and had been released from jail.

In June After a nearly 14½ hour-long session against a backdrop of hundreds of protestors, Atlanta City Council members voted 11 to 4 to fund the highly controversial Cop City in Atlanta.
Opponents of the training facility say they are concerned that the state-of-the-art police training facility will militarize police and result in more police brutality and police slayings of Black and Brown residents. 
“We have more than 100,000 signatures. You have more people in the electorate involved in this than voted for the mayor… but the city council doesn’t want to let people decide,” says DaMareo Cooper, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, a national organization supporting the ‘Stop Cop City’ movement.

The Atlanta Police Department training compound which will be built in unincorporated Dekalb County. has reportedly exceeded its original budget due to loss of private funders and increased expenses related to the widespread public opposition to the project.

Post 3 At-Large Council member Keisha Sean Waites released the following statement in support of a ballot referendum vote for the Public Safety Training Center: 

“The actual taxpayer cost of the proposed facility will be closer to $67 million, which many constituents consider irresponsible and disrespectful. With the recent closure of WellStar, the City of Atlanta has only “one” level one trauma center! We can spend the $67 million of taxpayer’s money on affordable housing, resources for the unsheltered, infrastructure improvements, mental health services, health care for the uninsured, rental and mortgage assistance, including providing accommodation and salary increases for our first responders, and law enforcement officers. These resources directly impact the root causes of crime and poverty. I also empathize with the neighbors who live near the South River Forrest, as the proposed site will have an impact on them, as well as the men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line each day to protect our neighborhoods, significantly as crime is escalating nationally and in our city. Yet, we still have a long way to go to improve community-police relations. As a result, I will join in supporting my colleagues’ efforts or introduce legislation on Monday, September 18, calling to place the Public Safety Training Center on a referendum ballot vote for the November 2023 election.”

The proposed building site is also the site where a young protestor was shot and killed by a Georgia State Trooper. Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, also known as Tortuguita, was a Venezuelan environmental activist and eco-anarchist who was shot and killed by a Georgia State Patrol trooper after an officer was wounded in the leg during a raid of the Stop Cop City encampment on January 18, 2023. However, on April 20, 2023, a Dekalb County medical examiner revealed that Teran was shot 57 times with wounds in his head, torso, hands and legs.  

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