Opponents of Atlanta’s proposed police and firefighter training center have taken legal action against the city, claiming that the city clerk is intentionally stalling the approval of a petition drive, Your Content has learned.
The petition aims to trigger a voter referendum to halt the construction of the contentious facility.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday at the Fulton County Superior Court, requesting a court order to compel acting City Clerk Vanessa Waldron to grant approval for the petition, enabling organizers to begin collecting signatures.
Dubbed “Cop City” by its detractors, the proposed training center has faced strong opposition.
Following the City Council’s rejection of protesters‘ pleas to defund the project, opponents filed the petition on June 7.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and other proponents argue that the $90 million facility would replace inadequate training facilities and address the challenges in recruiting and retaining police officers, which have worsened since the nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice three years ago.
However, opponents, including activists from across the country, express concerns that the training center would contribute to the militarization of the police and exacerbate environmental damage in a predominantly Black, economically disadvantaged neighborhood.
The “Stop Cop City” movement has persisted for over two years and has occasionally involved acts of vandalism and violence.
The proposed referendum seeks to allow voters to decide whether to repeal the ordinance authorizing the lease of the city-owned land for the construction of the project.
Organizers must gather signatures from up to 70,000 Atlanta voters for the language to be included on the ballot.
They are currently seeking funds to employ canvassers who can assist in this endeavor.
According to the law, opponents have 60 days to gather signatures.
However, in order to have the referendum on the November ballot, all signatures must be submitted by August 15, regardless of when the signature collection begins.
As of Tuesday, the deadline was 59 days away.
Lawyer Kurt Kastorf, representing the opponents, wrote, “Each additional day the clerk delays in approving the petition deprives petitioners of one of the days in which it is entitled to collect signatures to include the referendum on the ballot in the next municipal election.”
The opponents assert that they are unable to commence signature gathering until they receive official copies of the petition from the clerk.
In the lawsuit, opponents claim that Waldron had a seven-day window to approve their petition but waited until the last day, June 14, to deny it on what they consider “frivolous” grounds.
The petitioners argue that Waldron is legally obligated to provide the missing information herself.
Opponents further contend that despite promising to review a revised petition before the end of Friday, Waldron closed her office early in anticipation of the Juneteenth holiday.
While the group seeking the referendum has blamed Mayor Andre Dickens, he has referred inquiries to Waldron, clarifying that the clerk is appointed by and reports to the City Council rather than the mayor.
As of Tuesday, Waldron had not responded to requests for comment.
Mariah Parker, who filed the petition, stated in a release, “We’re not asking the clerk to do anything more or less than the legal minimum. Approve the petition form, and let us go about the people’s work.”
Construction crews have already commenced clearing large portions of the overgrown urban forest in an unincorporated area of DeKalb County, in preparation for the construction of the 85-acre (34-hectare) training center campus.
Project opponents intend to seek a court order to halt the work until the outcome of the proposed referendum is determined.
The land for the project was leased to the private Atlanta Police Foundation for $10 a year, as approved by the City Council in September 2021, according U.S. News.