DeKalb residents file lawsuit against Atlanta to collect referendum petition signatures

A group of DeKalb County residents has filed a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta because they believe they have the right to help collect signatures for a referendum that would put the controversial Atlanta Public Safety Training Center project to a vote.

In the lawsuit, filed July 6, plaintiffs Lisa Baker, Jacqueline Dougherty, Keyanna Jones and Amelia Weltner, all listed as residents of unincorporated DeKalb, say they want to “support the current referendum initiative to repeal the city of Atlanta ordinance authorizing the lease and construction of the training center by circulating and collecting signatures on petitions of qualified residents of Atlanta,” however an Atlanta city code bars them from doing so as they are not current city of Atlanta residents.

“All plaintiffs live, or have lived, within four miles of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, known to many as Cop City,” the verified complaint continues. “This restriction violates the First Amendment rights of citizens to speech and petition their government, and plaintiffs bring this lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against Atlanta’s Municipal Code 66-37(b).”

The lawsuit also states that plaintiffs are seeking a 60-day period in which to gather qualified signatures be restarted by the court “establishing a constitutional process for signature collection.”

On July 10, a press conference was held by lawyers representing the plaintiffs where they stated that city of Atlanta officials have one week to provide a defense and then the plaintiffs will have one week to reply to that defense, according to a judge.

They also clarified that through the lawsuit, a judge could allow DeKalb residents to participate in the signature collection process, but it would not allow them to sign the petition.

Detractors of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center project immediately set out to get a referendum added to the November ballots that would allow Atlanta residents to vote for or against the project after the Atlanta City Council approved millions of dollars in funding for the project in June.

Organizers are now trying to gather tens of thousands of signatures to achieve the 75,000 necessary to qualify for the referendum process – an effort that Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens recently said he did not believe would be successful.

By law, the petition must meet certain criteria, including that signatures must come from those who were registered to vote in Atlanta in the 2022 election and must come from current residents of the city of Atlanta.

When asked for his reaction to Dickens’ statements about the petition process, attorney Jeff Filipovitz of Decatur-based Spears and Filipovitz LLC said that it appears Dickens is “willing to push this project through at all costs, whether he’s right or wrong.”

For more information about the petition, visit copcityvote.com/petition.

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