By John Ruch
The advisory board for the controversial Atlanta Public Safety Training Center has released its first community update after eight months of meetings, an email which touts its accomplishments without mentioning issues relating to the start of pre-construction debates and secrecy.
Dated June 6 but sent on June 9, the email is the first and so far only such communication from the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee (CSAC) since an update subscription service was announced on April 26. The CSAC has been meeting since October and is overseen by the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), the nonprofit developer of the training center.
The email lists several accomplishments, such as relocating a main entrance and establishing a 100-foot-wide treed buffer between the facility and the living quarters. It does not mention the controversial start of preparations for the site, which the APF said would be kept secret from the CSAC, despite the permits being public documents. A controversy over this recently led a DeKalb County Commissioner to release the APF’s lengthy ground disturbance permit application — an important document hidden at the CSAC.
The email also fails to mention that such mitigations could be on the chopping block due to security concerns over large-scale protests against the facility, with the APF already warning that a perimeter fence could be erected.
Local residents and DeKalb County officials expressed confusion and frustration with the secrecy of the job at the site, often learn about land clearing and bulldozing following complaints from citizens. One example came on June 10, when a DeKalb inspector briefly issued a stop work order on site preparation in response to a complaint, according to a county spokesperson, before determining that the APF had an appropriate permit. This work consists of erecting a temporary fence around the site, another element not discussed by the CSAC and on which the APF did not respond to questions.
The CSAC has been plagued by transparency issues, such as an unmediated meeting and a lack of minutes. The meeting section of training center website has not been updated since March. The CSAC’s legally questionable attempt, launched at its last meeting, is also not mentioned in the email. to remove a member who publicly criticized the environmental study of the project.
The thrust of the email appears to be responding to various transparency controversies with a public relations campaign, as CSAC members discussed at their May meeting, where “control the narrative” and enlist the help of City of Atlanta Public Relations were themes.
The list of accomplishments seems to imply that the CSAC deserves credit for certain actions that the APF and the Atlanta Police Department have already taken unilaterally, in some cases without the knowledge of the committee, such as a plan to move a existing police explosives disposal facility.
In terms of future work, the email refers to CSAC’s subcommittees on public green spaces and certain types of educational programs involving the facility and “local schools and youth groups.” These subcommittees have been mentioned from time to time during CSAC meetings, but they seem to have been established in behind-the-scenes conversations. While meetings of these subcommittees would be subject to Georgia’s open meeting law, none have been announced and the CSAC and APF have not responded to SaportaReport questions about them.
The email does not give any dates or meeting places for these sub-committees, or even for the CSAC itself, which next meeting on June 21 at 6 p.m.
The $90 million facility, which would train Atlanta police and firefighters and field services, is planned for 85 acres of the former Atlanta Prison Farm, property owned by the City of Atlanta but located outside the city limits on Key Road in unincorporated DeKalb County. The Atlanta Police Department has used part of the property for decades for a firing range and explosives disposal, but its selection for the training center and APF process last year revealed surprised neighbors and of DeKalb officials, generating controversy. The establishment is also fought by a protest movement known as Defend the Atlanta Forest involving proponents of police reform and environmentalism who dubbed it “Cop City”.