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

By John Ruch

A new “task force” for Atlanta’s public safety training center, beset by a transparency controversy, will hold its first partially public meeting via Zoom next week, according to a City official.

But there may be further openness debate both inside the task force and outside, as an attorney on the board of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation (GFAF) says he believes the Georgia Open Meetings Act’s (OMA) public notice and attendance requirements apply to the group.

Meanwhile, the longstanding Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee (CSAC), an Atlanta City Council-appointed body also reviewing the training center, met on April 25 for the first time in months amid its own transparency and legal controversies. Among the discussion points was transparency about one of its own members legally challenging the facility’s initial construction permit and an updated timeline that shows a “soft opening” in December 2024.

Mayor Andre Dickens appointed the South River Forest and Atlanta Public Safety Training Center Community Task Force, which aims to combine input about the intensely controversial 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 under the leadership of the Atlanta Police Foundation, a private nonprofit.

Since the task force’s announcement in February, the Mayor’s Office has not responded to SaportaReport questions about whether its meetings would be public and various other issues of transparency and influence. However, the task force’s debut meeting on April 19 was completely private, with Dickens saying in a press conference that was due to members’ own safety concerns.

The next day, the task force’s representative from the ACLU of Georgia resigned, in part due to that secrecy. Another member, the head of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, told SaportaReport that the group had discussed “how to ensure greater transparency” and had not reached a decision. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on April 21 that Dickens had changed his stance and that future meetings would be viewable by the public via Zoom.

However, there was no explanation of how public notice would be given and the City’s rationale for not following the OMA. The Atlanta Municipal Clerk’s office, which publishes notices and agendas of City committee meetings, indicated it had not received any task force information and did not expect to, as it mostly handles City Council-appointed bodies.

Kristen Denius, the City’s chief transparency officer, said on April 26 that she did not know the answer, either. Later that day, she followed up by saying she understands the Zoom links will be posted on the training center’s website. “I’m told that the next meeting will be next week,” she said.

That still does not answer questions about the status of the OMA or the Georgia Open Records Act (ORA), which ensure that the public can attend and obtain records of government meetings. Denius did not immediately respond to a question about whether she has determined if the OMA applies to the task force.

David E. Hudson, an attorney on the GFAF board, says he believes the OMA does apply due to language that addresses meetings of a “committee created by a governing body.”

“In my view, this would include a committee (task force) created by a mayor,” said Hudson.

Regardless, the City is always free to voluntarily apply OMA and ORR standards to any meeting or group.

SaportaReport has filed a request under the ORA for all records of the task force’s April 19 meetings. As of late on April 26, the Mayor’s Office had not responded  but still had some time under the ORA requirements.

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