Atlanta City Council pondering fate of contested school deed

The Atlanta City Council is considering an ordinance that could determine the fate of a school property deed that Atlanta Public Schools wants, but Mayor Kasim Reed has refused to turn over.

A proposal sponsored by council members Joyce Sheperd and Kwanza Hall would allow the city to formally enter into negotiations with APS over the contested deed. The proposal was approved by the council’s finance committee on Thursday. It now will be sent to the city council for a final vote on Monday.

Sheperd said it’s critical that the city has an opportunity to review and discuss the future of the former George Adair Elementary School, which has long sat vacant in her southwest Atlanta community. Among her concerns, she’s worried about the financial viability of the school system’s proposed sale, she said.

“We should be working cohesively together as two different entities trying to figure out what we can do to redevelop this land (and increase) the quality of life in our communities,” she said. “… This is an opportunity for us to get involved from all angles.”

District 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore — who ultimately supported the ordinance — questioned whether the move to enter into talks could delay turning over the deed to APS.

“While this legislation could be viewed in the way you described it, it could also be viewed as a delay tactic or to keep us from actually getting to the point of selling the property. And I don’t want to be a part of that,” Moore said.

Earlier this month, APS Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen told the school board that she’s unable to execute the sale of the former school because Reed’s office refused to turn over the deed.

APS, which has long taken care of the property, is under contract with a developer to sell it for $412,000. The city of Atlanta holds deeds to a number of school properties because the district was once under its purview.

Reed said the city isn’t obligated to turn over the quitclaim deeds. The mayor also said they’re part of ongoing negotiations between his office and APS over payments the city is contractually obligated to make, but hasn’t, regarding the Atlanta Beltline. Former APS Superintendent Erroll Davis has refuted that the Adair property is central to those talks.

The conflict exploded on Feb. 4 when Reed told reporters that Carstarphen “doesn’t know what she’s talking about” in her request for the city to release deeds to school property.

Officials within Reed’s administration later raised concerns that APS did not follow protocol in moving to sell the deed before Atlanta had a chance to determine whether it had need for the property, as a 1985 ordinance allows.

APS Board Chairman Courtney English said — and emails show — that the system first requested the deeds in early October 2014 and was denied in late January. During that time, no one from Reed’s administration raised concerns about the property, he said.

“If there was any true intent to either negotiate or find another use for the property, or if city wanted to hold the property, then why not tell us that when we asked for the deeds on Oct. 3?” he said.

English said while the board is willing to meet with the city, “we want this to come to a close as quickly as humanly possible.”

A Reed official said Thursday that the mayor supports Sheperd and Hall’s proposal, which would effectively allow city leaders to review the school system’s sale process and study its own redevelopment options.

Moore said that could be stretching the intent of the 1985 ordinance, noting Atlanta must first purchase the property from APS before it’s able to sell and redevelop it.

The finance committee also approved an ordinance by Post 1 At-Large Councilman Michael Bond that authorizes the mayor’s office to evaluate all properties not currently in use by APS for redevelopment, such as greenspace.

A proposed ordinance by council members Mary Norwood and Andre Dickens, which would have required Reed to turn over the deeds, was held at Norwood’s request on Thursday, pending the outcome of Sheperd’s legislation.

The Norwood-Dickens paper is seen by some as a last-resort solution to the property deed issue, should the negotiations between the city and APS fail in coming months.

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