DeKalb commissioner to call for deeper training center review, nominate new advisory committee member
By John Ruch
DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry is planning a resolution calling for a deeper review of Atlanta’s controversial public safety training center while nominating a replacement for a member of its advisory committee who was kicked off for criticizing the plan.
Terry, who represents DeKalb’s District 6, said he planned to introduce the resolution this week. And his Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee (CSAC) nominee will be Amy Taylor of Starlight Heights, who, confusingly, is already a member but is serving as a non-voting “alternate” due to a legislative error.
Lily Ponitz, Terry’s previous nominee, was voted off of the CSAC on June 21 after publicly criticizing the training center plan in various forums, including a SaportaReport opinion piece.
The $90 million facility, which would train police officers and firefighters from Atlanta and outside departments, is planned for 85 acres of the former Atlanta Prison Farm, a piece of property that is owned by the City of Atlanta but sits outside city limits on Key Road in unincorporated DeKalb County. The Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), a private nonprofit, is leading the planning.
Terry is among DeKalb officials who have expressed frustration with the lack of information from APF and the CSAC, including about a land disturbance permit (LDP) application that is crucial to the start of pre-construction work. Terry last month obtained and released the LDP application after APF told the CSAC it would remain secret due to security concerns related to a protest movement against the plan.
Terry is now formalizing his interest in more information with the commission resolution, which may be introduced on July 12. He said he will be “asking for more review before an LDP is issued… Hope it’s not too late.”
District 3 DeKalb Commissioner Larry Johnson is a CSAC member, though he has not been a vocal participant in its meetings. Johnson did not respond to a comment request about the CSAC’s process.
Meanwhile, Ponitz says she is challenging her removal from the CSAC, a vote that raised legal and procedural questions even among other members proposing it and which remain largely unanswered. The concerns include parliamentary procedure and the ability to remove someone appointed by the Atlanta City Council. The CSAC had previously discussed a ban on members talking to the media, also in relation to Ponitz, that raised First Amendment free speech issues.
Ponitz says she believes the removal was procedurally invalid because of its unusual method of a “vote by exception,” where only those opposing the decision would make a vote and abstentions are not possible. She said it was inappropriate for public officials on the CSAC — such as Johnson, the interim Atlanta Police Department chief, and the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department first deputy chief — not to abstain in a vote about removing “a community member who was providing accountability over them.” Those officials or their departments did not respond to requests for their opinions of Ponitz’s removal.
Ponitz said she intended to speak to the City’s “integrity officer” — an official who typically reviews procurement issues — but did not respond to questions about the status of that inquiry. CSAC chair Alison Clark previously said she was seeking the City’s legal opinion, but she and the City did not respond to requests about any advice sought or given.
Terry strongly criticized Ponitz’s removal, taking to Twitter the following day to call it a case of “the ‘democratic’ process being usurped to stifle dissenting views.” But he is moving on with a replacement nominee. He said he did not get a response from officials on how to nominate a replacement, but will do so after being informed of the process by SaportaReport. According to a City Council spokesperson, it involves submitting the nominee to the council’s Public Safety & Legal Administration Committee, followed by confirmation by the full council and an amendment to the CSAC’s enabling legislation. The earliest that can happen is next month.
The CSAC membership was in confusion for months because the original legislation did not include some people who turned up as members — including Ponitz — and incorrectly identified who some were intended to represent. Taylor ended up one of two people listed as representatives of Starlight Heights even though she intended to represent a DeKalb Commission district. After several months, the CSAC resolved the situation with bylaws that created non-voting members for the dual appointments in Starlight Heights and Eastside Walk. If Terry’s nomination is successful, Taylor would now become a voting member as his District 6 representative.