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City won't count signatures on Atlanta public safety training center petitions

City officials said it conflicts with U.S. court; petitions say city "sandbagged" petitioners.

ATLANTA — Atlanta will not be validating petitions on whether to build a new public safety training center.

On Monday, city officials argued that because the matter is in court, the counting process must wait. The people who oppose what they call Cop City said the city pulled a fast one on them by allowing them to submit petitions – but saying they would sit in boxes in City Hall unopened.

"Today we’re here to say, 'let the people decide!'" said Kamau Franklin as a crowd roared outside City Hall. Franklin is one of the strategists behind the drive to stop the public safety training center project.

Advocates of the "Stop Cop City" movement had collected, they said, 116,000 signatures – about twice the number of valid signatures they think they’d need to put the controversial training center on a citywide ballot.

"It was a family effort. We turned our backyard into a place where volunteers could come and get trained on how to canvas and leave from my backyard into Midtown," said volunteer Helena Herring, "And getting people to sign the petition."

RELATED: 60+ people indicted on RICO over ties to protesting of Atlanta Public Safety Training Center

Inside City Hall, they formed a daisy chain to haul 17 boxes of petitions into the city clerk’s office.

But then city officials took the wind out of whatever moment of triumph petitioners had expected.

"It is our position that the law does not permit us to begin the verification process at this time," a worker in the clerk's office told petitioners.

The city cited a court challenge to expand the pool of signature gatherers into DeKalb County, where the site for the facility has been cleared. 

"The eleventh circuit (US court of appeals) said hold on, we are going to take --we are going to consider whether the injunction was correct," explained attorney Robbie Ashe III during a virtual news conference later Monday morning.

People delivering the signatures felt bamboozled by the news.

"I’m disappointed to report the City of Atlanta decided to sandbag us this morning," said Kurt Kastorf, an attorney representing the petitioners.

The petition gatherers still turned in their boxes of petitions. The clerk’s office sealed them with tape – for how long, is unclear. Then the petitioners turned their sights on the city council, whose meeting started moments later.

"Seems to me it’s pretty clear, let the people decide," Jordan Streif told the council.

That could still happen. 

But with signature verification delayed indefinitely, backers of the petition drive say it’s increasingly unlikely they can get the issue before Atlanta voters in November.

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