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City Politics

Two City Council Members Will Push to Put ‘Cop City’ on the Ballot

Opponents of the Public Safety Training Center vow to exhaust all channels to stop the facility’s construction after the city delays verifying petition signatures.

Mary Hooks with the Cop City Vote coalition addresses the media after the city of Atlanta delayed verifying petition signatures in support of holding a referendum on the "Cop City" training center. (Madeline Thigpen/Capital B)

Two Atlanta City Council members are drafting legislation that would put plans to build the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, dubbed “Cop City,” up for a ballot referendum in November.

Their efforts come in the aftermath of the city attorney announcing on Monday that officials would not begin to verify the 116,000 signatures collected by Cop City Vote, an activist coalition that’s been making its own push to get the issue on the ballot.  

One of the two lawmakers, Post 3 At-Large council member Keisha Sean Waites or District 5 representative Liliana Bakhtiari, will introduce the legislation during next Monday’s council meeting, according to Waites. Both council members voted against funding for the training center in June.

“Given the amount of money, $67 million, I think it is important that the public weigh in,” Waites said.

She added that while she supports a public safety training center, she believes people are feeling their voices aren’t being heard. Waites said she’s concerned about a number of issues, including the way contracts were awarded to the private companies who are building the facility.

Waites also has concerns about the investigation into the death of 26-year-old Manuel Paez Terán, an activist who was shot 57 times by Georgia State Patrol officers who were conducting a multijurisdictional raid in South River Forest, where the training facility is to be built, in late January.

“At the end of the day, we are elected officials, and as such we take our guidance from those that elected us,” Waites said, emphasizing that she has received numerous calls, emails, and texts from Atlantans who are concerned about the project.

If the council were to pass the planned legislation, the issue could be on the ballot this November. If the city instead prioritizes verifying the Cop City Vote petition signatures, the vote likely will not be held until March 2024.

When Cop City Vote activists went to City Hall to turn in the petition forms Monday morning, they were expecting the verification process to begin that day.

However, a legal memo from the city released after the signatures were turned in Monday said officials could not begin verifying petition signatures until the 11th Circuit Court decides whether to uphold a lower court ruling allowing DeKalb County residents to collect signatures and extending the 60-day deadline.

Kurt Kastorf, legal counsel for the coalition, disagreed with the city’s interpretation and called the decision another delaying tactic.

“The City of Atlanta’s interpretation of law has consistently put us in an impossible position where no matter what decision we make, they’re going to assert that the decision is invalid and that entire process does not need to occur,” Kastorf said.

Mary Hooks, tactical lead organizer for Cop City Vote, expressed frustration after the city’s announcement but said it wouldn’t stop her coalition’s push to get the controversial training center on the ballot.

“We are doing everything that we can to exhaust democracy, to use what we can at our disposal, everything within our right to do so — the referendum being one of them,” Hooks said. “And if we cannot find justice in the courts, in the system, then we’re going to take it to the streets.”

On Tuesday, Fair Fight, the Georgia-based voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, criticized the city of Atlanta for “following the same tired anti-voter playbook that has been wielded against voters of color for generations” and called for city officials to put the issue to a vote.

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