A conceptual illustration of tree plantings at the main buildings of the proposed public safety training center. (Image by Atlanta Police Foundation.)

The Atlanta City Council has quietly approved legislation that appears to reform the membership and appointments of the public safety training center’s controversial advisory committee and allow it to meet much less frequently.

Approved May 1 after three meetings where it had no discussion or explanation, the resolution’s immediate effect on the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee (CSAC) is unclear beyond allowing it to meet quarterly rather than monthly. However, its language appears aimed at clarifying how District 6 DeKalb County Board of Commissioners member Ted Terry can fill a nearly year-old vacancy created by the controversial removal of a skeptical CSAC representative. 

Terry says he was unaware of the council’s resolution and that even after its approval, he had received “no word” to his questions about it.

The language also appears to remove the chair of the council’s Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee as a CSAC member. The chair position is currently held by District 9 City Councilmember Dustin Hillis, who sponsored the resolution and did not respond to questions about it. Another tweak in the original language is that the membership now includes an appointee of the District 3 county commissioner rather than that officeholder, who is currently Larry Johnson. 

Also unclear is whether the amending of the membership will require new appointments to be made, though existing members indicated at the latest CSAC meeting that they believe they will be returning.

The CSAC has had many transparency and representation problems – including basic questions as to who is a member and the controversial expulsion of one who was never replaced. As SaportaReport previously revealed, the City’s official membership list is incorrect and four past or present members appear to have served without council appointment, among other problems.

The CSAC is administered by the Atlanta Police Foundation, the private nonprofit that is planning and building the training center but is appointed by the City Council. Most of its members are residents but five are high-level government officials, including Atlanta’s police chief and deputy chief operating officer.

Under the legislation that created it in 2021, the CSAC was supposed to meet monthly to provide public input into the training center plan, which has been enormously controversial for secrecy, environmental impacts and police-reform issues. However, the CSAC stopped meeting without explanation between January and April of this year – in violation of council legislation and its own bylaws — after SaportaReport coverage of its membership, ethics and politicization issues. 

In the interim, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announced a new South River Forest and Atlanta Public Safety Training Center Community Task Force, which aims to combine input about the training center — which is opposed by the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement — and a broadly popular green space concept. The South River Forest is merely a conceptual idea, while the training center is already in a pre-construction phase. The task force also drew transparency concerns.

When the CSAC finally met again on April 25, CSAC chair Alison Clark referred briefly to the new resolution, saying it would change how members are appointed and would allow quarterly meetings, though the group could still choose to meet more frequently. She said the CSAC eventually would vote on a bylaws change to match the legislation. She offered no explanation for the changes beyond saying of a quarterly meeting schedule that “hopefully it makes life a little easier for everyone on the committee.”

The training center is in a ground-clearing initial phase of construction and the CSAC is reviewing many elements that appear likely to change sooner than three months from now. That included a discussion of how to change plans for an exterior sidewalk that could remove large trees and an internal sidewalk infringing on a waterway buffer. CSAC members planned a site visit related to the tree issue. As of May 10, its next meeting date is listed on the Municipal Clerk’s website only as “TBD.”

Membership and vacancy confusion

The CSAC’s membership confusion is rooted in several issues: enabling legislation that was hastily written in response to public pressure for transparency and ended up riddled with errors, an informal appointment process involving both the County and City governments, and unilateral CSAC actions that have contradicted both legislation and its own bylaws. 

The vacancy Terry has attempted to fill for months is emblematic of the confusion and the lack of official interest in solving its crucial public representation questions, at least until now. 

The seat was held by Lily Ponitz, who was nominated by Terry to fill a slot representing District 6. However, the legislation did not name Ponitz and instead listed as District 6 representative Amy Taylor. 

Clark resolved the situation by changing their representation and voting status, with unclear legal authority. Ponitz got to be the District 6 representative, while Taylor was made a Starlight Heights representative — though the legislation named yet another member, Nicole Morado, as the representative for that neighborhood. As a further resolution — again with no clear legal authority — Clark declared that Morado was the official neighborhood representative, while Taylor was a “back-up” who could vote on matters only if Morado was unavailable.

Ponitz was elected as the CSAC’s secretary but quickly became controversial among Clark, co-chair Sharon Williams (herself not appointed by the council, either) and some other members for skeptical public comments about the training center. Yet again with no clear legal authority, CSAC members voted Ponitz out of the group in June 2022.

Terry nominated Taylor as her replacement for the District 6 slot. But the seat has gone unfilled — and District 6 without the legislation-required representation — for nearly a year, despite Terry’s repeated requests to the council for updates on his nomination.

Meanwhile, Morado quit in January over the police killing of protester Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran. Acting unilaterally once again, Clark named Taylor as the official, voting member for Starlight Heights. Taylor has since filed an appeal against the training center’s pre-construction permit — a challenge joined by Terry — but remains a CSAC member.

In February, SaportaReport asked Hillis about the status of officially replacing Ponitz and Morado with council-approved appointees. Hillis appeared not to know the answer, as he forwarded the request to the Atlanta Municipal Clerk’s office and a council assistant, asking to “see how they are appointed.”

The new resolution appears aimed at this issue. The language says the amendment is “necessary … to allow the respective DeKalb County Commissioner to appoint representatives to the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee.”

Terry learned of the legislation from SaportaReport and said he has never gotten a response from the council’s Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee about his appointment questions. On May 8, he emailed Hillis and City Council President Doug Shipman, saying, “Please let me know when I will be able to bring forward a replacement on the CSAC. My understanding is that I would have to present this before the Public Safety Committee. If you can provide the best date in which to attend and present we will be there.”

The resolution also amends the CSAC’s “composition,” or seats for representatives. The original legislation had 17 positions. The new resolution has 16, with eight appointed by the Atlanta mayor or his designee and eight by a “respective” County commissioner — apparently meaning the one representing a given neighborhood, though the list also includes the County’s Parks and Recreation Department. Removed from the list is the Public Safety and Legal Administration chair. 

The new legislation does not name specific people to those seats or explain how to resolve confusion over who is currently representing which seat. It is unclear whether current members will need to be renominated or reappointed.

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  1. Why is no one from East Atlanta Community Association appointed to CSAC? We are City residents living only 3 or 4 miles away and have had to hear the occasional bomb activity there for years. It’s unconscionable the way the City is handling this project, and no one but our District 5 councilperson seems to care that this monstrosity is being dumped into our forest.

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