Inside City Hall: A vote to increase jail space gets personal

A weekly roundup of the most important things you need to know about Atlanta City Hall

Divisions among the Atlanta City Council were on full display last Monday, when a vote to lease 700 city detention center beds to Fulton County sparked acrimony during a nine-hour meeting.

Officials first heard hours of public comments, most of which urged the council to reject the deal aimed at relieving overcrowding at Fulton County’s jail.

With most of the councilmembers refusing to send the measure back to a committee for further review, several progressive councilmembers who opposed the measure proposed a number of amendments to the lease agreement.

One of those changes — which mandated that the lease wouldn’t start until a “jail population review” for Fulton is conducted — passed on a tie 7-7 vote with Council President Doug Shipman breaking the deadlock, before the full ordinance passed 10-4.

Then Councilman Jason Winston essentially tried to undo the final vote to reconsider his vote on the amendment, and things got more tense.

ExploreIn contentious meeting, Atlanta City Council OKs leasing jail beds to Fulton

“After all the things you’ve said, after all the conversations, ... suddenly you want to reconsider? I am absolutely ashamed,” progressive Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari said, before temporarily walking out of the council chambers.

Winston’s motion ultimately failed on another 7-7 tie vote, with Shipman again breaking the deadlock.

With the overall lease agreement still passing, opponents of the measure warned of electoral implications.

“Voters will remember the decision that we made today,” said Councilwoman Keisha Sean Waites.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

“Three years and eight months from now, all of us will be on the ballot. The community will make these choices,” Councilman Antonio Lewis said.

It was the first time this council, which saw significant turnover at the beginning of the year, experienced such turmoil. It also showed the level passion and emotion that often surrounds discussions over jailing and criminal justice reform in Atlanta.

It’s too early to say how relationships on the council could be affected long-term, but officials have several days of committee meetings coming up before they’re off for a week.

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A legal dispute spanning three mayoral administrations was finally resolved with settlements totaling over $5 million last week.

In 2014, then-Mayor Kasim Reed used eminent domain to take dozens of homes on a block in the Peoplestown neighborhood for a sewer infrastructure project to prevent major flooding in that area. But several residents refused to leave, spurring the city to sue them in 2016.

Last Monday, Mayor Andre Dickens’ office announced it negotiated plans for the city to pay about $1.98 million to resident Tanya Washington; $1.9 million to Robert and Bertha Darden; and $1.47 million to the estate of Mattie Jackson, who died in 2020 at age 98. With the settlements in motion, we’re now watching for city’s next moves on the flood prevention plan.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

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There’s been a lot of talk recently about safety and security at the city’s parks. The City Council last week authorized a $750,000 annual agreement to provide security for various Department of Parks and Recreation programs.

For the next two years, a private security company will provide security, traffic control, and other functions at the city’s 12 outdoor pools during the summer, football and cheer games at multiple sites during the fall, and basketball games in the winter, in addition to other sites and programs where city wants to provide guards.

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As council committees meet this week, here are a few proposals that caught our eye:

  • A resolution urging the Georgia General Assembly to amend state law to limit the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials.
  • A measure requesting the mayor study expanding the city’s summer youth employment program into a year-round youth employment program.
  • An ordinance to amend the city budget to provide funding for a tuition reimbursement program for city of Atlanta employees.
WILBORN NOBLES III

Wilborn P. Nobles III covers the Atlanta mayor's policies for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wil (not "Willie" or "William") previously covered Baltimore County government at The Baltimore Sun, but he never finished "The Wire." He also covered education for the Times-Picayune in his hometown of New Orleans, so he tries to avoid discussions about football. Wil used to play tuba for his high school marching band, but he eventually put down his horn to intern at The Washington Post. The Louisiana State University graduate enjoys gardening, comedy, and music.

Wilborn.Nobles@ajc.com

J.D. CAPELOUTO

J.D. Capelouto is a local news reporter covering City Hall and all things intown Atlanta for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His work focuses the City Council, neighborhood issues, public safety, housing and transportation. J.D. was born and raised in Atlanta and has lived in the city all his life, except for four years at Boston University, where he studied journalism and learned how to dress for cold weather. He’s been with the AJC since 2018, and has previously written for The Boston Globe and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. When he’s not reporting or scrolling through Twitter, J.D. enjoys pop culture podcasts, “Survivor” and visiting various pools around Atlanta.

Joseph.Capelouto@ajc.com