Detractors of Atlanta Public Safety Training Center project push for ballot referendum

Although the Atlanta City Council approved millions of dollars in funding for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center on June 6, those in opposition have said the fight to stop the project, commonly known as Cop City, is not over.

On June 7, a group of protesters, including lawyers, gathered in Atlanta to announce plans to request that a referendum be added to ballots, allowing residents to vote in favor or against the project during upcoming November elections.

“On Monday and Tuesday, over 400 [people] spoke against Cop City for a combined 15 hours of public comment, but the [Atlanta City Council] refused to hear their demands,” states a press release from the group, “Now, organizers are fighting back, launching a public referendum for the city of Atlanta to repeal the lease to the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) and take back the power of the residents to choose our path.”

The release also states that over the next two months, organizers will try to gather tens of thousands of signatures to achieve the 75,000 necessary to qualify for the referendum process.

“Once the referendum language is approved by the city of Atlanta’s clerk, we can begin collecting petition signatures,” states the group’s website. “We have 60 days to collect 75,000 petition signatures from city of Atlanta registered voters to get the referendum on the November ballot.”

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.

According to city of Atlanta and the Equality Foundation of Georgia officials, eligible city of Atlanta voters may cast ballots in Fulton County or DeKalb County, dependent upon where they reside, which are governed by two separate elections boards.

Alex Joseph, a local attorney who is helping to lead the legal effort and former member of the DeKalb County Board of Ethics, said the referendum campaign is modeled after a successful effort in coastal Georgia where Camden County residents voted last year to block county officials from building a launchpad for sending commercial rockets into space, according to Associated Press.

“The Georgia Supreme Court in February unanimously upheld the legality of the Camden County referendum, though it remains an open question whether citizens can veto decisions of city governments,” the AP article states. “Joseph said she expects city officials to file legal challenges to try to halt the effort, but that she and other attorneys are working to ensure that the referendum passes legal muster.”

After the vote to fund the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center passed, DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry released a statement that read, in part, “though this is a setback, this is not the end.”

“I have and will continue to argue that much of the pain and suffering this ill-fated plan has caused could be remedied by developing the site somewhere else. I still don’t believe it is too late to change the location,” stated Terry. “We also still believe that this site location and the development pattern approved is a violation of the Federal Clean Water Act and expect to have our day in court soon. If this appeal fails in Superior Court, we reserve our right to appeal to the federal level.”

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