Fulton OKs negotiating with Atlanta over jail, renews elections board

Commissioners and the public listen to a virtual call during a meeting at the Fulton County government building in Atlanta, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Commissioners and the public listen to a virtual call during a meeting at the Fulton County government building in Atlanta, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Fulton County commissioners agreed during their Wednesday meeting to negotiate with Atlanta for space at the city’s mostly empty detention center.

County officials for years have been trying to relieve space at the over-crowded Fulton County Jail on Rice Street by using space at the city’s facility.

Fulton’s jail was over-capacity last week, with 267 inmates sleeping on makeshift beds on the floors of common areas.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms offered to lease 150 of its 1,300 beds at its jail. She wants the inmates housed as part of a re-entry program, according to a memo from late April. The mayor also wants the inmates to be within six months of completing their sentence and be given access to housing and jobs along with other services.

But Fulton Sheriff Patrick Labat has said only 10 of Fulton’s nearly 3,000 inmates would be eligible under those conditions.

The city passed a resolution to create a joint committee to make recommendations on the overcrowding issue if the city and county couldn’t reach a consensus by May 31. So the county essentially passed its own version Wednesday saying they are willing to talk.

That vote followed a work session Friday between city and county officials that revolved around who has the right to negotiate this deal.

“Too many cooks are spoiling the broth,” said Fulton Commissioner Marvin Arrington, Jr. “We’ve got people sleeping on the ground.”

The southern Fulton commissioner said the jail is in crisis, and Atlanta officials need to talk price instead of stipulations.

Arrington faced the cameras Wednesday and said it plainly: “How much is the check?”

City officials say they are still looking for a response to their 150-bed proposal.

County Manager Dick Anderson said the city shouldn’t be awaiting a response because they know the county’s position: They want 500 beds and are willing to pay.

“This has been the biggest rain dance I have ever seen,” Anderson said.

Both Arrington, a Democrat, and Republican Commissioner Liz Hausmann said there is a possibility that they could ask Gov. Brian Kemp to step in and give the county part of the city detention center to use.

The county, including the sheriff, needs to make a deal “or we’re going to have to ask the Governor to take over the jail,” Arrington said.

Under Hausmann’s suggestion, the negotiations have a deadline of June 15.

The next item in the meeting dealt with one of the other largest issues facing the county — elections.

Commissioners ratified the re-appointments of four people who sit on the Fulton County Board of Registration & Elections.

The five-member board is comprised of a chair and two appointees from each political party. The board manages direction and tone of elections while overseeing the elections director Richard Barron’s day-to-day operations.

The sole member not re-appointed was Vernetta Keith Nuriddin, one of the Democratic party nominees. She was the sole Democrat who joined Republican appointees publicly, first in an invalid executive session vote, to oust Barron.

Nuriddin was replaced by Teresa K. Smith Crawford. All five members’ terms end June 30, 2023.

There has been rancor and ethics accusations down party lines since the tense elections of 2020.

The latest example was the county’s usually pro-forma discussion about a $7.7 million contract with a staffing agency that provides elections help called Happy Faces.

Wednesday was the second time commissioners failed to approve the contract, which Barron said would provide 300 to 400 elections workers who are key in running the municipal elections later this year.

Republican commissioners doubted whether a temp agency was the best use of money, considering a state monitor blasted staff as sloppy.

Barron argued, unsuccessfully, that a temp agency saves the county money.

Credit: WSBTV Videos

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