“Our four plaintiffs each live near the site of the Cop City training center,” attorney Brian Spears said. “They have their first amendment right to collect signatures on a petition to force the city of Atlanta to allow its voters to decide the fate of Cop City.”
Critics of the project have long pointed out that DeKalb residents who live around the proposed 85-acre site are most affected by its construction, but don’t have a say in Atlanta city elections.
“I believe that DeKalb County residents have been unacceptably restricted from participating in a process that most affects them,” said Jacqueline Dougherty, who lives within two miles of the training center. “This is voting rights and fair representation issue and the people of unincorporated DeKalb County have the lived experience to be able to speak with their Atlanta neighbors about how this vote impacts their lives.”
Signatures for the petition can only be legally collected by residents of Atlanta that were registered voters in 2021. The lawsuit argues the plaintiffs should be allowed to collect signatures since they live within four miles of the site.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ office declined comment, citing pending litigation.
“We are asking for the residency requirement to be repealed so we can have the kind of nuance, detailed, complicated and necessary conversations that were denied to us since the beginning of these plans between our respective governments, private corporate interests and the Atlanta Police Foundation,” Dougherty said.
Attorney Jeff Filipovits said they have filed a motion for a preliminary injunction asking for three things: that the city be prohibited from enforcing residency restrictions on the plaintiffs; that the city clerk reissue copies of the referendum petition removing the residency restriction; and the city restart the timeframe in which the signatures must be collected.
Judge Mark Cohen will give the city and state a week to respond to the lawsuit, and from there the plaintiffs will have a week to file their own brief, Filipovits said.
“Mayor Andre Dickens says this construction project has popular support, so I think that should be put to the test. The question is how the city will respond to this,” he said. “If the city opposes this lawsuit and opposes this request, the question needs to be why, why would they try to keep people out of this process who live in the area most affected by this process.”
The initial filing of the petition with the Atlanta municipal clerk’s office was denied twice before being approved on June 21.
The official countdown clock of 60 days began June 22, after interim Municipal Clerk Vanessa Waldon handed official copies of the petition to organizers. Last week, Dickens said he doesn’t believe organizers will be successful in collecting the necessary signatures.
“We know (the referendum) is going to be unsuccessful, if it’s done honestly. We are making sure we continue monitoring the process but there is no one in law enforcement or my administration that would ever get in the way of them doing their constitutional right to have a petition,” Dickens said.