For the Record: On “Cop City” and why documenting public meetings matters

Here’s this week from Atlanta Documenters, powered by Canopy Atlanta.

By Atlanta Documenters
February 03, 2023


On “Cop City” and why documenting public meetings matters


In 2021, Atlanta City Council authorized the lease agreement with the Atlanta Police Foundation for the creation of the $90 million Public Safety Training Center, known by critics as “Cop City.” With that came the Public Safety Training Center Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee. 


The committee—with members appointed by the Council and the DeKalb County Commission, and administrative support from the Atlanta Police Foundation—formed to ensure “continued public engagement and input” around “key siting, design, and operating details.” 


On Tuesday, as DeKalb County issued a construction permit for the police training facility to move forward, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond touted their commitment to a resident-informed process through the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee. They stated that minutes from the committee’s monthly meetings are available on its website. 


However, the website’s committee documents haven’t been updated since June, and Documenters have been unable to find any minutes. Bryan Thomas, the city’s director of communications, told Canopy Atlanta that it is exploring adding meeting recordings, minutes, and agendas to the website. (The Atlanta Police Foundation and the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee did not immediately respond to our requests for comment on the transparency of the committee.)


Writer George Chidi laid out his concerns on the matter in a recent issue of his newsletter, the Atlanta Objective:


“The body does not publish meeting notes, and does not disclose the location of its meetings. There’s a Zoom link, which is helpful. But there is no opportunity for public comment, probably because they’re not interested in a repeat of the 17 hours of public commentary endured by the Atlanta City Council. … Canopy Atlanta and the Atlanta Documenters have been observing committee meetings and taking notes for them, nonetheless.”

Atlanta Documenters Dominique Harris, Johnny Kauffman, Jermaine Siler, and Sierra Williams covered these committee meetings in November, December, and January. In doing so, Documenters have created one of the only transparent and verified public records of these meetings. They’ve also questioned the extent of the Atlanta Police Foundation’s involvement, and the extent to which all community perspectives are represented. 


This record—alongside Atlanta Community Press Collective’s recording archive and critical live-tweets of meetings, and Canopy Atlanta contributing editor John Ruch’s regular coverage for Saporta Report—has helped power the reporting of others in our city.


Documenters are putting community members back into the rooms where decisions are made about our metro. Do you know of a meeting we should be covering? Let us know at documenters@canopyatlanta.org.


GET INVOLVED: The next meeting of the PSTC Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, February 21 at 6 p.m.


COMMUNICATIONS: Public access TV and community media

THE NOTES: read here



THE BREAKDOWN: The City of Atlanta annually awards a contract to a third-party entity to operate the city’s public access TV and is currently weighing feedback. Nonprofit organization People TV Inc. has held the contract since 1986. The current contract expires June 5.


Advocates call public access TV a vital platform for local journalism. But in Atlanta, public access TV suffers from a lack of financial support from the city.


GET INVOLVED: City Council is seeking community input, including on how community media in Atlanta should be funded. Email communications@atlantaga.gov through February 25, or attend an in-person meeting on February 25. 

CITY PLANNING: Atlanta’s permit backlog persists

THE NOTES: read here 



THE BREAKDOWN: Atlanta’s Department of City Planning is reviewing its permitting processes, which have been criticized for being inefficient amid recent staff departures, according to Atlanta Civic Circle.


A quarterly report explains a number of issues the department has faced, including its backlog. During the last quarter of 2022, the number of permits issued by the department dipped.


Now, City Planning is working overtime to catch up, though staffing issues persist. The department will also revisit its service agreements so they give a more accurate picture on how long permits and inspections take moving forward.

HOUSING: Clayton County zoning changes target “group homes”

THE NOTES: read here



THE BREAKDOWN: Clayton County Board of Commissioners discussed the potential need to increase the distance between group homes. A Rex resident commented that group homes invite “an invasion of slums, boarding houses, things that run people’s property values down.” But another homeowner disagreed, saying the county “can’t give up on people.”


Commissioner Felicia Franklin asked whether such criteria would apply to PadSplit, an Atlanta start-up similar to Airbnb, but for temporary shared housing. It does not, though, residents using the service have previously reported dangerous living conditions. PadSplit also has residents concerned with overcrowding that disrupts neighborhoods.

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“If I were about to spend $230 million, I’d want to know that I can’t use that $230 million somewhere else, because this is unique and different for something that I’m not convinced people are going to ride.” 

— William Floyd, MARTA Board of Directors member

IN CONTEXT: This quote comes from a MARTA Board of Directors Planning and Capital Programs Committee meeting. MARTA is expanding Atlanta Streetcar East’s route two miles east of Edgewood Avenue, to just south of Ponce de Leon Avenue. For $230 million, this expansion would require five proposed stops, six new streetcars, an expanded vehicle maintenance facility, shared transit and roadway lanes, and transit lanes along the BeltLine. Documented by Nile Kendall.


NAME: Jessica Ingram

NEIGHBORHOOD: Riverdale, Clayton County

MEETINGS COVERED: Forest Park City Council, Clayton County Board of Commissioners. My favorite local public agency is the Clayton County Library System. I haven’t covered any of its board meetings, but I appreciate the myriad of events and services it provides for the community.

WHY DOCUMENT?: During the Covid-19 pandemic, my eyes really opened to the fact that those in power aren’t very responsive to the needs of the people. I started searching for ways to be more politically engaged in my own community, and my sister introduced me to Atlanta Documenters.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED: I’ve enjoyed watching firsthand how the decisions in my local county government are made–and admittedly, the spirited exchanges between officials and feedback from concerned residents. I also enjoyed the Press Freedom 101 workshop, which covered our rights and limitations as journalists. I look forward to attending a Community of Practice event, as well as utilizing the forthcoming resource library, to help me improve as a Documenter.

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