Georgia officials back 8-foot fence around Capitol after protests

A Georgia Building Authority employee works on a piece of tall fencing Wednesday outside the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. An 8-foot fence will soon encircle the Capitol as part of a $5 million package of security improvements that will also beef up the Governor's Mansion and the Department of Public Safety's headquarters, according to Gov. Brian Kemp's office. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The Georgia Capitol will soon have a new, highly visible and politically charged layer of security.

Citing safety concerns and the ongoing expenditure for security from the National Guard, the Georgia Building Authority’s Board of Governors approved a $5 million project that will enhance security at several major government buildings. The package includes an 8-foot fence to be built around the Capitol.

The new fence replaces temporary barriers that were constructed earlier this year in response to protests calling for racial justice. Some of those protests focused on a statue of Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon, who later became the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia.

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State Democrats pounced on the fence as a symbol of fear and mistrust of the public.

“Republicans can build a fence around the state Capitol,” state Rep. Matthew Wilson, D-Brookhaven, said via Twitter. “but it won’t protect them from Georgia voters in 27 days.”

“The state Capitol is the People’s House — not some untouchable fortress,” said Democratic state Rep. Jasmine Clark of Lilburn. “It should be open and welcoming, not gated and intimidating.”

Republicans have said the move is purely practical and addresses security concerns.

“To ensure the safety of state employees, protect the public and prevent damage to state property, the Department of Public Safety and the Georgia Building Authority recommended numerous improvements to a number of state buildings,” said Cody Hall, a spokesman for Gov. Brian Kemp. “The governor agreed with their assessment.”

Kaleb McMichen, a spokesman for Republican state House Speaker David Ralston, said the fence was “was not a political decision and should not be made into a political issue.”

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The members of the GBA Board of Governors, which approved the $5 million expenditure and may increase that figure, are Kemp, three of his state officers and three Georgia residents appointed by Republicans.

Officials said building the fence would allow the state to send away the National Guard troops that continue to guard the Capitol each night at a cost of $200,000 per month.

Security around the Capitol has been an issue for years, with the 9/11 attacks on federal government buildings serving as an inflection point. State government officials attempted without success to purchase Mitchell Street, which separates the Capitol Building and legislative offices, from the city of Atlanta. Past law enforcement evaluations, noting the proximity of the building to the street, have warned of the Capitol’s vulnerability to assault via vehicles.

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