On Monday, the Atlanta city council adopted new rules to move forward with the referendum process, allowing the public to vote on the “Cop City” project. Organizers of the campaign to halt the construction of an Atlanta police and first responders training center, convened at the Atlanta City Council hearing, on Monday, Feb. 5, to protest city officials’ attempts to disallow thousands of petition signatures and squash the effort for a referendum on the Cop City project.
The vote took place amid protests against the council’s adopted methodology for signature matching. Critics argue that the methodology the city intends to use allows the city to block a public vote on the controversial project.
Ahead of the 10-5 vote adopting the ordinance, three people who called for removing the signature matching element were escorted from the council chambers.
The project is going forward and is nearly two-thirds complete, despite contentious hearings in which activists raised concerns about its expense, location in woodlands outside the city, and the circumvention of public input by the city. In 2022, protests started to intensify, gaining national attention following the killing of activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran near the construction site of the center in January 2023. The incident occurred shortly after a state trooper was injured by gunfire.
The Atlanta City Council in a 15-0 vote in September approved the first step in the process of verifying 116,000 signatures in petitions submitted to begin the process for a referendum that would allow voters to choose if they want to repeal the ordinance that authorized the lease of roughly 300 acres of South River Forest land to the Atlanta Police Foundation.
The city has agreed to scan the petitions and post the signatures on the city’s website within 10 days for public access. But an analysis by four news organizations finds the outcome — if city officials ever count the petitions — could be decided by a narrow margin.
In September 2023 a federal judge admonished City of Atlanta officials for their poor handling of the Stop Cop City petition submitted earlier on Sept. 11 to force the referendum and put the issue on the ballot for a vote.
U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen accused city officials of moving the goalposts on the signature-gathering campaign, saying they have “directly contributed” to a widespread sense of confusion over the matter.
A spokesperson for the City said that voting officials accepted the petition and allowed opponents of the project to collect the signatures as a “courtesy” to those who oppose the project.
“That the city of Atlanta would use such a subjective and unreliable process is shameful and undermines the integrity of the city’s validation procedure,” more than two dozen voting rights organizations, including Fair Fight, wrote to city officials.