June 9 rally on Atlanta City Hall steps — protestors put pressure on the city to make good on its promise to close the jail. Credit: Kelly Jordan
By Maggie Lee
Atlanta’s new $673 million budget avoids Covid-related furloughs, and moves staff from the closing-down jail to other jobs. But most of a six-hour weekend City Council budget hearing was about police funding.
By a 13-2 vote, Atlanta City Council approved a budget for the year that starts in July with proportions similar to this year’s budget. About one-third of general fund money, or about $218 million, will go to the Atlanta Police Department. (The airport and water and sewer works cost much more but aren’t part of annual budget negotiations.)
But anti-police-brutality demonstrations in the streets of Atlanta and calls from activists — followed by Atlanta police shooting and killing Rayshard Brooks on June 12 — had some on Council ready to make some police funding contingent on some new rules for police.
Finance Committee Chair Jennifer Ide proposed tying some strings to about one-third of APD’s budget — requiring the mayor and police to propose “thoughtful, significant, and comprehensive changes to our public safety system” by December 1 in order for about $73 million of APD’s budget to be released to the department.
Ide blamed elected officials for creating rules that she said need to be rethought.
“It’s not just necessarily that there are police officers, a few people who aren’t following the rules,” Ide said. “It’s that we need to think about what the rules are, and we need to think about where our allocation is.”
Thus her idea was to take some time, get the police, the community and Council together, and work on the rules.
But At-large Councilman Michael Julian Bond said Council needs to take into account officers working day in and day out.
“To leave them hanging in a limbo situation for any period, whether it’s a month, six months, to wonder about their security for their families, I think is unfair,” Bond said.
Southwest Atlanta Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet said her constituents want a better relationship with police officers, but that she hadn’t heard from a single District 11 constituent who wants fewer officers.
“Especially our elderly population. They are afraid that we will have less police presence in the community and that is terrifying to them,” Overstreet said. “And it’s totally understandable. Crime is real.”
Councilman Antonio Brown, from the westside’s District 3, had his own anecdotes of hearing from constituents at marches over this month.
“We all love our brothers and sisters that work tirelessly to keep our community safe. But we must do the work together to reimagine public safety,” Brown said.
“I’ve been speaking to the young people. These young people feel so disengaged from you guys,” he said. “This is our opportunity to show the community we hear them, that we’re not just responding with our words, but by our actions, that we don’t just hear them, we see them.”
Ide’s idea got some support. By a 9-6 vote, Council approved a resolution urging Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and her administration to produce a report of recommendations to enhance the city’s approach to public safety.
But a separate vote to actually set aside $73 million this year, as envisioned in Ide’s legislation, failed by a vote of 7 to 8. Bond and west Atlanta District 10 Councilwoman Andrea Boone voted for the urging resolution but not for setting aside the money this year.
More than 1,000 people left messages in a City Council voice mail box that’s doing duty as public comment period Council meets remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. It took more than 16 hours to play all the comments. SaportaReport won’t claim to have listened to all of them. But a sample revealed much the same comment that’s been left before other budget meetings: defund the police or jail or both.
The city will cut spending on its jail by $13.5 million, as it prepares to close the Atlanta City Detention Center. Jail spending will go down to about $3.6 million. Most jail staff and funding will be moved mainly to the Mayor’s office of constituent services.
The budget now heads to the desk of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
City Council Resolution 20-R-4068