Buckhead City Committee sues Atlanta and mayor for allegedly violating free-speech rights with code citations
By John Ruch
The Buckhead City Committee has sued the City of Atlanta and Mayor Andre Dickens for allegedly trying to suppress cityhood advocates’ free-speech rights by selectively issuing code violations for signs and parking at its headquarters.
“This suit challenges a variety of improper actions taken by the City of Atlanta in an attempt to silence the Buckhead City Committee,” said E. Adam Webb, an attorney for the BCC. “It is no secret that City of Atlanta leaders do not want Buckhead citizens to have a vote on their future. They must not, however, be allowed to use illegal and unconstitutional methods to control the marketplace of ideas.”
Filed Jan. 20 in federal court, the lawsuit seeks court injunctions preventing further City actions as well as “monetary damages.”
The City had no immediate comment, with spokesperson Michael Smith saying the City had not been served with any complaint.
The lawsuit is based on a recent complaint-spurred controversy about the legality of a large sign on the BCC’s headquarters at 3002 Peachtree Road early this month, as well as a Jan. 13 appearance by an inspector who allegedly demanded that the parking lot have clearly marked spaces and area for a van for people with disabilities.
BCC chairman and CEO at the time said the group got properly issued permits for the sign and that the City’s allegations it was suddenly a code violation was “selective and harassing.”
The lawsuit’s complaint says the sign is legal, and that the City both delayed issuing a permit on purpose and also has not enforced the code on similar signs in the area — including Dickens campaign signs on a nearby building. The complaint also alleges that the parking space rules do not apply to its property.
The complaint says the City is trying to “squelch constitutionally-protected freedoms,” particularly by delaying the BCC from displaying its message during the time-sensitive cityhood debate. The issue is currently in the form of legislation before the General Assembly seeking permission to be placed on the November ballot as a referendum. The complaint alleges violations of the U.S. Consitution’s First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and of the Georgia Constitution.
The complaint notes that the citations or threatened citations come with the possibility of fines or jail time, adding to the chilling effect.
“Due to the anger and animosity of the leaders of the City of Atlanta toward the Committee and its purposes, Atlanta officials have taken improper actions in an attempt to harm the Committee and stifle its message and activities,” the complaint says.