Inside City Hall: APD focused on ‘gangs, drugs and guns,’ not abortions

Erica Schulte (left) and Ansley Banks, (right) chant “my body, my choice” to drivers passing by the steps of The Capitol on Sunday, June 26, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Erica Schulte (left) and Ansley Banks, (right) chant “my body, my choice” to drivers passing by the steps of The Capitol on Sunday, June 26, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

A weekly roundup of the most important things you need to know about the Atlanta mayor’s race.

Last week, the Atlanta City Council approved a resolution urging Atlanta police to make investigations into abortions their “lowest possible priority” if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Just a few days later, on Friday, the court ended constitutional protections for abortion, setting the stage for Georgia’s 2019 “heartbeat” abortion law to take effect.

We told you ahead of that City Council vote about how the measure is non-binding, and it would be up to the mayor and APD to make any concrete policy changes when it comes to enforcement.

We learned last Tuesday that both Mayor Andre Dickens and interim police Chief Darin Schierbaum are aligned with the council’s view on the issue, and don’t intend for the city to spend time and resources on investigations into abortions.

“I don’t believe the Atlanta Police Department should be involved in women’s health concerns,” Dickens told reporters at a press conference at APD headquarters. He later said in a statement Friday that he was “sickened” by the court’s decision, and that it will “most grotesquely impact women of color and those who do not have the resources to travel to find safe and high-quality health care.”

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Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens talks at a press conference as the interim chief of Atlanta Police Darin Schierbaum looks on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens talks at a press conference as the interim chief of Atlanta Police Darin Schierbaum looks on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.  Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens talks at a press conference as the interim chief of Atlanta Police Darin Schierbaum looks on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Schierbaum said the priority of the police department is “gangs, drugs and guns.”

“That’s where our resources are focused. It’s where the expertise of this department is at this moment. That will not change,” the interim chief said.

Several city council members publicly condemned the court’s decision. Council member Liliana Bakhtiari said the council doesn’t want the city to criminalize or penalize people seeking abortions. Bakhtiari also said they want to donate at least $300,000 to Access Reproductive Care - Southeast, which funds and supports access to safe abortion services.

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City Council recently approved the mayor’s proposed budget for the next 12 months, giving Atlanta a record-breaking $754 million general fund fueled by a projected increase in property and sales taxes.

The budget includes pay increases to all city employees and additional funding for police, fire and transportation. Councilman Alex Wan said the budget will also enhance the city’s aging infrastructure and efforts to build a greener, environmentally focused city.

Mayor Dickens’ office announced the budget will also provide more funding for Pre-Arrest Diversion efforts, technology infrastructure upgrades, arts and culture, and parks and greenspaces.

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The City Council passed an ordinance to fund street sweeping and dead animal collections, among other sanitary services, through the city’s general fund.

“If you look at our sister cities, it’s really considered a best practice...using the general fund to pay for what we call common good services,” said Council Dustin Hillis.

The council revised their solid waste fee system as part of the city’s $19 million legal settlement, which originated from a lawsuit filed last year that alleged Atlanta failed to perform services at several condominiums, townhomes, and apartments.

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Your City Hall insiders have info on several new council resolutions that will be considered in the coming weeks. Here are some of the measures we’re digging into:

  • A resolution to close Atlanta’s detention center to repurpose it into a health and wellness center, named after the late John Lewis.
  • A resolution to OK a $500,000 donation to the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation to support an eviction defense services pilot program for Atlanta residents.
  • A resolution urging the mayor to hire a chief sustainability officer to lead the Office of Resilience and to serve as the chairperson for Atlanta’s Clean Energy Advisory Board.
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The Atlanta City Council held their first in person meeting since they were suspended at start of the pandemic In Atlanta on Monday, March 21, 2022. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

The Atlanta City Council held their first in person meeting since they were suspended at start of the pandemic In Atlanta on Monday, March 21, 2022.   (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

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The Atlanta City Council held their first in person meeting since they were suspended at start of the pandemic In Atlanta on Monday, March 21, 2022. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

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The national environmental nonprofit The Conservation Fund recently purchase the 77-acre former Chattahoochee Brick Company site. By doing so, the property adjacent to the Chattahoochee River in Northwest Atlanta is one step closer to becoming the city’s next park, according to the nonprofit.

Once the project is completed, the land will provide public access to the river and a memorial for the African American victims of the brick company’s convict lease labor practices, according to the nonprofit.

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Last week, we told you about an investigation from Atlanta’s Inspector General, who reported former Mayor Kasim Reed may owe Atlanta nearly $83,000 for expenses paid on his behalf by city officials who misled the council and the public about the nature of payments for his health insurance, a South Africa trip, and a donation to Howard University. The report also said Reed might be owed some salary from a pay increase he declined to accept.

Reed, who declined to comment for the story but provided the AJC with a statement, spoke out against the report in a lengthy Instagram post over the weekend.

In it, he said a law firm hired by former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration in 2018 found no wrongdoing in the payment for his administration’s 2017 trip. He also said the other issues raised by the IG report could be traced to the fact that he declined to accept a raise in his second term.

“If accounting processes are being questioned, fine,” Reed said in his statement. “But the fact is the intent and the results are something Atlantans can be proud of.”

The IG found that the only written work released from the law firm that cleared the Reed administration’s trip was a three-page executive summary, and the IG was unable to review the data underlying that summary, according to the IG report.

Additionally, the IG reported city department funds were used instead of the funds Reed declined to accept. Reed’s administration never created an account funded with his deferred salary raise because he never received the raise, the IG reported, adding that Atlanta might owe Reed the funds he was entitled to through his salary increase.

Send us tips and feedback at Wilborn.Nobles@ajc.com and joseph.capelouto@ajc.com. We’re also on Twitter, @jdcapelouto and @WilNobles.

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