Breaking down the legislative process
When Documenters head to a public meeting for the first time, they’re often confronted with language and customs that can feel foreign and intimidating. What’s the difference between an ordinance and a resolution? What does it mean to second a motion? And what the heck is an easement?
To help everyone better understand what’s going on at these meetings, Documenters have started taking notes at local workshops that help interpret complex topics—from parliamentary procedures to zoning basics—hosted by the city’s NPU University, zoning department, and other providers.
For example, Documenters recently broke down Atlanta’s legislative process. Here are the basics.
- Atlanta City Council members and the city administration can submit an ordinance, or a potential law, at a City Council meeting. Ordinances must be read at two regular City Council meetings. If an ordinance is introduced at the full council meeting, it then usually goes to the relevant committee.
- The seven City Council committees make a recommendation to the full council of how to handle a piece of legislation. Most of the discussion about proposed laws happens in the committees. If the committee finds the legislation “favorable,” then it goes back to the full council for a vote.
- If the committee unanimously voted for the legislation, then it usually goes on the full council’s “consent agenda.” That’s a long list of items that are all voted on together, usually with little discussion. (Take a look at last week’s council agenda for an example.) If the committee wasn’t unanimous, there might be more discussion at the full council meeting. A proposed law needs a majority vote at the full council meeting to move forward.
- After the council votes to adopt a law, the mayor has a chance to veto it within a week. If the mayor chooses to veto the proposed law, the council can override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote.
Is there another topic we should help break down? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MEETINGS AROUND THE METRO
TRANSPORTATION: Atlanta Streetcar East moves ahead
THE BREAKDOWN: MARTA is moving ahead with completing the design phase for an extension of the Atlanta Streetcar, which will extend the beleaguered service 2.5 miles east from its current operations in downtown to Ponce City Market and the BeltLine Eastside Trail. The project is a “top priority” for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, according to board members.
Some residents have voiced concerns about the extension disrupting residential neighborhoods and the trail itself. After financial struggles, MARTA is reshaping and narrowing the list of expansion projects it can prioritize, including recent changes in strategy from rail to bus transit for projects in Clayton County and along the Clifton Corridor.
READ MORE: Atlanta City Council members questioned MARTA officials at last month’s Transportation Committee meeting.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Is policing the police working?
The Atlanta Citizen Review Board (ACRB), in which residents review Atlanta police misconduct cases, shared its 2022 stats at the February meeting. When a citizen makes a complaint to ACRB against a police officer, both ACRB and the Atlanta Police Department investigate the case separately. ACRB makes recommendations for how officers should be disciplined, but has no authority to force APD to abide by them.
When ACRB decides to “sustain” a complaint—meaning, when ACRB says that police rules were violated—APD usually has not agreed with the board. Prior to 2018, Executive Director Lee Reid noted that APD usually agreed with ACRB only 15 to 30 percent of the time.
However, the agreement rate has been trending up since then. Last year, APD agreed with 58 percent of ACRB’s sustained allegations that were sent to it. (Last year, ACRB investigated 55 complaints.) The board’s goal is 75 percent agreement from APD, according to Reid, and he sees this as a promising indication that “civilian oversight works. It requires all of us to work at it, but it works.”
ELECTIONS: Clayton County needs a new sheriff
Clayton County is holding a special election for Clayton County Sheriff on Tuesday, March 21.
Victor Hill, who was previously Clayton sheriff since 2012 and calls himself “the Crime Fighter,” was suspended in 2021 due to a federal indictment. He was charged, and convicted last October, with punishing detained people at the Clayton County jail by strapping them into restraint chairs, and violating their civil rights.
Clayton has been without a permanent sheriff since Hill’s suspension. There are five candidates for the office, including interim sheriff Levon Allen, whom Hill chose as his successor. At a standing-room-only forum last month, the other four candidates campaigned around creating a new era for the sheriff’s office, according to 11Alive. (Allen did not attend.)
Early voting starts February 27 and ends March 17. Find early voting locations here.
WATCH: The Clayton County Federation of Democratic Women held the forum attended by four candidates last month.
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- Understanding Workforce Housing and Affordability (recording): Atlanta’s NPU University’s webinar presents processes and procedures to secure Invest Atlanta funding. / By Chelsea Corbin and Justice Owens
- Atlanta BeltLine Westside Trail Update (2/2): Atlanta BeltLine Inc. gives update on construction of Westside Trail Segment 4 / By Jill Alikonis and Maya Teague
- Zoning Fundamentals (1/31): Breaking down key terms and concepts in zoning, via NPU University / By Johnny Kauffman and Jane Zoellick
- Parliamentary Procedures (recording): Breaking down some of the rules and terms used in public meetings / By Moriah Freed and Everest Owens
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we wanted to spotlight two Documenters who also happen to be a couple.
NAME: Everest and Justice Owens
NEIGHBORHOOD: We have both lived in the West End/Oakland City area for 7+ years. We actually met on the MARTA line that connected our homes.
MEETINGS COVERED: NPU University workshops, Atlanta BeltLine.
ABOUT US: A few of the things that connect us on various dimensions are reading on self-awareness, ancient mythologies, and thought forms. We love skateboarding at our
local skatepark, Joyland, and are very invested in our health and wellbeing.
WHY DOCUMENT?: As independent contractors and active members in our community, we have been captivated by the growth and development of our surrounding areas. We wanted a way to gain as much relevant information as possible.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED: That there’s a collective of people looking to engage their community with information about future development as well as local politics.
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