ATLANTA — Controversy over money sparked heated moments at the Fulton County Board of Commissioners meeting on Wednesday. It all stemmed from comments board member Bob Ellis made last month about the Police Alternatives and Diversion Initiative or PAD.
"I think we should stop funding that," Ellis said. "It's an Atlanta program, it was a pilot for us. Maybe they should fund that."
Those comments lit a fire under PAD and its supporters. They were worried the $400,000 a year that Fulton County contributes was in jeopardy.
On Wednesday, dozens of PAD supporters spoke before the board, encouraging it to spend more money on the program, which diverts low-level offenders from jail and helps them get the resources they need. PAD says it saves the county more than $500,000 a year, which would be spent on housing and taking care of inmates.
"They’ve supported me so I feel like I need to pay it forward," said Shaun Hunter, one of the PAD supporters who spoke to the board. Hunter said without PAD, he'd still be in jail. Now, he said he's a contributing member of society.
Supporters for PAD spoke for hours and at one point during their comments, Ellis left his seat and didn't return for roughly 30 minutes. Another commissioner left during the comments, saying he was being accused of making remarks he never made.
"The frustration that I think you heard in commissioners Ellis’ statement the 'don’t bite the hand that feeds me' - it was not me saying that," Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. said. "This thing is not going anywhere. Commissioner Ellis was the only person that said that. Nobody’s talking about defunding PAD but ya'll."
The board received the 2023 proposed budget at its Nov. 16 meeting with commissioners saying "there has been no action to modify this funding." In the same statement, a spokesperson for the board told 11Alive that funding for PAD was not being voted on Wednesday and that it is currently in the budget. At this time, it seems there are no intentions to remove it, which gives PAD's executive director Moki Macias peace of mind.
"It was very important for us to ensure that Fulton County understood the benefit that PAD provides to Fulton County by diverting people from the Fulton County Jail," Macias said.
Fulton County's budget should get voted on next month. The board will grant final approval for the budget at the end of January 2023.