The state’s filing is in response to a lawsuit from DeKalb County residents who want to be able to collect signatures for the referendum petition. Signatures for the petition can only be legally collected by residents of Atlanta that were registered voters in 2021. The lawsuit argues plaintiffs should be allowed to collect signatures since they live within four miles of the site.
In the filing, Attorney General Chris Carr’s office argues that the Atlanta ordinance on referendums only requires that those “collecting signatures” certify that they are city residents, not those circulating the petitions.
“While no Georgia court has expressly defined the term “collecting signatures,” nothing in the law prohibits the Plaintiffs from going door-to-door to explain the petition, why it should or should not be signed, or otherwise engaging in speech related to the merits of the proposed training facility,” the filing says.
Opponents of the training facility launched a campaign last month to collect more than 70,000 signatures within a 60-day period to put the question of the controversial training facility in front of voters. The referendum campaign was launched days after Atlanta City Council approved a funding package.
In the filing, the state claims that every council member who voted in favor of the 2021 ordinance authorizing the lease was re-elected, including then councilman Andre Dickens, who was elected mayor in the 2021 November election. However, in reality, the sponsor of the ordinance, Joyce Sheperd, and then-District 4 councilmember Cleta Winslow, lost their re-election bids in runoff elections.
“It’s hard to take seriously the legal opinions of a man who thinks attending a music festival constitutes an act of terrorism,” said Paul Glaze, a spokesperson for the referendum effort, referring to the protesters who have been charged with domestic terrorism. “It’s even harder when his filing contains the easily disprovable claim that no Atlanta City Council members lost their seats after voting for Cop City.”
The Attorney General’s Office updated the filing Friday to remove the Atlanta city council election results reference.
In the filing, the state makes note of the fact that, over the past two years, city council has received public comment about the training facility and continued moving forward with its development. In a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Mayor Andre Dickens said the discord around the training facility for the most part “is healthy.”
There was more than 14 hours of public comment against the training facility on the night council passed the funding package.
“People voicing their opinions about what is happening in their city and what’s being proposed, that’s very healthy,” Dickens said. “We don’t ever want a government or a time in our history where the public is silent completely about matters of great concern or any matter.”
“We remain supportive of the right to free speech of those opposed to the Public Safety Training Center and remain committed to moving forward with this critical project for the safety of our communities,” a spokesman from the mayor’s office said in a statement.