Feb 6, 2024 - News

Council OK's "Stop Cop City" referendum rules

A screenshot of an Atlanta City Council committee meeting where activists in the audience turn their backs on lawmakers

Supporters of a referendum that could block the construction of Atlanta's public safety training center turn their backs to Atlanta City Council members during a key vote on Monday. Screenshot: City of Atlanta

The Atlanta City Council on Monday OK'd legislation creating new referendum rules that would apply to an effort to halt construction of the city's controversial public safety training center.

Why it matters: The ordinance outlines how Atlanta would verify the more than 100,000 signatures collected by training center opponents trying to force a city-wide vote and stop the project.

Details: The ordinance, approved by a 10-5 vote, would create a process for municipal referendums requiring the city to verify petition signatures with the official state voter registration database.

  • The legislation will take effect either when Mayor Andre Dickens signs it, or "by operation of Law," which is at the end of the day the Tuesday following a council meeting.
  • Dickens does have the power to veto it.

Yes, but: Activists speaking during public comment said the amended version of Council member Liliana Bakhtiari's legislation left room for officials to use signature-matching — a process widely criticized by voting rights advocates as discriminatory.

  • They called the change another bad-faith effort by officials to move the goal posts and stymy efforts to block the center's construction, which is tentatively set for completion at year's end.

The big picture: The coalition opposing the training center expects the city to use the new rules to verify the signatures they submitted in August, the group said in a statement.

  • The process is currently in limbo while the city appeals a judge's ruling that would give the activists more time to collect signatures.

What they're saying: Bakhtiari told her colleagues the amended legislation is "not my original paper" and tried to remove the signature-verification step and give City Hall and voters more time to resolve rejected signatures in a "curing" process.

  • The city's law department said removing that step would violate the Georgia Constitution.
  • Before voting against her own ordinance, Bakhtiari said the "verification as it is listed, to me, can still create issues" for people with disabilities.
  • "I have done all that I can to try to find a path forward," she said.

The other side: Councilman Michael Julian Bond said the legislation does not focus on "signature matching" and that the process would rely on human review, which activists demanding the vote called a "soft" version.

Meanwhile: Three people who conducted a sit-in protest before the meeting were detained by officers, according to a social media post.

  • The Atlanta Police Department told Axios that no arrests were made.
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