ATLANTA — A referendum on a new Atlanta public safety training center stumbled again Monday after the city's law department told council members they can't legally put the issue on citywide ballot with a council vote.
This was an effort to sidestep the now-stalled initiative petition that would have put the training center on a ballot.
Called "Cop City" by opponents, the project is a planned 85-acre complex on the Old Prison Farm site in south DeKalb County under a land lease agreement with the City of Atlanta. The training center has been met with a protest movement. However, some city politicians have argued it will have a much-needed modernizing effect on the police force. It is also slated to offer training capacity to the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and the city's 911 center.
Last week, the city’s law department ruled the city couldn’t validate signatures on a petition drive to put the so-called "Cop City" question on a city ballot. Now, the law department won’t allow the council to initiate a referendum.
"We received a legal opinion from the law department indicating we did not have jurisdiction and or the authority to do so," said councilwoman Keisha Waites. "My feeling is this is a very sad day in Atlanta for democracy."
Waites said even it if was legal, it would be too late to get it on a city election ballot this November.
Some city council members have been motivated to put it on a ballot – at least in part, because some of the unhappy activists behind the petition drive have also helped Democrats win elections in Georgia.
"I think it’s going to be hard pressed for us to continue to show up for Democrats in this state when they continue to turn their back on us," said "Cop City" activist Mary Hooks last week.
Meantime, supporters of the public safety training center project surfaced at the Monday city council meeting – with talking points about public access built into the project site which, they said, will produce the city’s second largest public park.
"This new facility will have 296 acres of green space with an extensive network of walking trails," one woman told council members during a public comment period. "You're talking about a community that has been begging for a park for a generation. Now they will get it," added an Atlanta resident Mike Russell.
Waites said the city council could, on its own, put the public safety training center on a ballot. But not until after it gets authorization from the Georgia General Assembly – a Republican-run collective unlikely to play ball with the "Stop Cop City" movement.