Training center opponents to file new referendum petition after original denied

Protestors of Cop City cheer as a part of the ‘Vote to Stop Cop City’ coalition during a press conference to launch a referendum campaign to put Cop City on the ballot outside of Atlanta City Hall, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /



Protestors of Cop City cheer as a part of the ‘Vote to Stop Cop City’ coalition during a press conference to launch a referendum campaign to put Cop City on the ballot outside of Atlanta City Hall, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

The Atlanta municipal clerk has denied for a second time a petition for a possible referendum on Atlanta’s planned public safety training, the group leading the effort announced.

The denial comes on the same day the Cop City Vote coalition announced legal action against interim city clerk Vanessa Waldon asking a Fulton County judge to force Waldon to approve the original petition following a delay in the approval process.

“We regret that the City has made litigation necessary,” Kurt Kastorf, legal counsel for the Cop City Vote coalition, said in a statement. “However, there is still a path forward for the City if the Clerk promptly approves our revised language directly addressing their latest concerns. Doing so would best respect the boundaries of their role within this process.”

Activists said the clerk denied the petition a second time raising a new set of concerns, which they say she failed to mention in pervious conversations.

“The Clerk’s rejection today confirms what we already knew: the City of Atlanta is attempting to block the referendum effort and continue their ongoing pattern of silencing the voice of the people through whatever means they can find,” said Mary Hooks, a lead organizer with the Cop City Vote coalition. “If these concerns were genuine, the Clerk would have raised them in their first response, or in any of the many communications we have had with her office.”

According to the group, the clerk gave them three reasons as to why the petition was rejected. One was the addition of a single word and the other two are not actually required under law, according to the group.

The group said the city’s clerk failed to respect a seven-day timeline for approving the petition, filed June 7. According to the group, the clerk denied the petition a first time on June 14 because it was missing a line requiring Atlanta residents to validate each signature.

The group added the line and resubmitted the petition. According to court documents, the group is arguing it was the city clerk’s responsibility, based on Georgia law, to add the missing line, not the petitioners’.

“We’re not asking the Clerk to do anything more or less than the legal minimum. Approve the petition form, and let us go about the people’s work,” Mariah Parker, who filed the original petition, said in a statement.

Still, the group resubmitted the form. According to court documents, petitioners were given the clerk’s assurance on Friday that she would review the resubmitted petition before the end of that day. But Waldon closed the office at noon Friday ahead of Juneteenth.

According to an internal email shared with staff from Department of Human Resources Commissioner Tarlesha Williams Smith, the city had an early release at noon Friday in celebration of Juneteenth. The early release was only applicable to non-essential employees, provided business needs were met.

City Hall reopened Tuesday. Attempts to reach Waldon on Friday and Tuesday were unsuccessful; the office voicemail box was full.

Mayor Andre Dickens’ office referred questions about the petition to the clerk’s office, noting the municipal clerk is not part of the executive branch and the mayor’s office has no involvement in the approval process of the petition. A spokesperson for the mayor said in a June 7 statement that the administration respects the right to free speech and the process regarding the referendum.

“We firmly believe that our residents deserve well-trained first responders who have access to adequate training facilities,” the statement said. “We will continue to share our view that the PSTC and the more than 300 acres of green space are the right approach to ensuring Atlanta will be a national model for public safety.”

Opponents allege the clerk’s office was taking the position that the resubmitted was a new petition, which would have restarted the seven days available to review and approve.

The group plans to refile an updated petition with clerk’s office soon and expects a speedy approval after repeated delays.

They also argue that each day the approval is delayed should be credited to the time organizers have to collect more than 70,000 signatures for the referendum to be placed in the November ballot. Once the signatures are collected, the city council will have 50 days to determine the petition’s validity.

The Atlanta Police Department and Atlanta Fire Rescue hosted a media tour of the site for the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center on Friday, May 26, 2023. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar

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Credit: Arvin Temkar