Despite previous claims from Atlanta Police Foundation, documents show “Public Safety Training Academy Advisory Council” had no community members present, violation of mayor’s administrative order
ATLANTA — Official documents obtained and reviewed by The Mainline show that a “Public Safety Training Academy Advisory Council” was formed earlier this year through an administrative order issued by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Jan. 4, 2021. The recommendations developed by the council resulted in the city’s plans for what is now commonly referred to among locals as “Cop City“: a massive $90 million police training facility the city intends to build on the Old Atlanta Prison Farm in unincorporated DeKalb County.
The land was originally inhabited by the Muscogee (Creek) Indigenous tribe before it was sold in a land lottery to a plantation owner who practiced in the chattel enslavement of Black people criminalized by the state. The city and Atlanta Police Foundation’s plans to build the facility would include deforestation of vital green space in the city, which scientists explain is Atlanta’s greatest defense against climate change.
Administrative Order No. 2021-01 was directed to Chief Operating Officer Jon Keen, who became COO of the City of Atlanta in December 2020. Keen, a former major in the U.S. Army, served as the interim COO following Joshua Williams’ resignation in November 2020. Keen began working with the city in 2018, serving as deputy COO, after working as a manager for Deloitte Consulting LLP.
In an official press release from Bottoms’ office following Keen’s appointment, the mayor stated that Keen would serve in the “advancement of our One Atlanta agenda.” The One Atlanta vision is mentioned numerous times in the administrative order for the advisory council.
The order directed Keen to “convene a public safety training academy advisory council comprised of community members and partners … which shall explore options and make recommendations concerning the development of a new public safety training facility.” The areas to be considered were described as “the location, the development of a phased approach to design and construction, and the funding source(s).”
The council reportedly met on Jan. 22, Feb. 12, March 4, and March 26 of this year. On June 7, Council Member Joyce Sheperd introduced an ordinance to authorize the mayor’s office to issue a ground lease with APF for the full 381 acres of land for $10 a year.
Section 1 of the administrative order states, “The Chief Operating Officer shall convene an advisory council comprised of community members and partners, both existing and potential. However, a “Public Safety Training Center Recommendations Report” shows no community members listed. During the city and APF’s “public input sessions” hosted over the summer, both council members and APF spokespersons referred to an advisory council consisting of community members. Of the council members approached in a media inquiry on behalf of The Mainline and American Press Association to learn more, no council member directly answered our questions about the advisory council and who was on it.
According to the report, the advisory council members consist of: Jon Keen, Chief Operating Officer; Jestin Johnson, Deputy Chief Operating Officer; Matthew Bartleet, Deputy Chief Operating Officer; Rodney Bryant, Chief, Atlanta Police Department; Rod Smith, Chief, Atlanta Fire Rescue Department; Roosevelt Council, Chief Financial Officer; John Gaffney, Deputy Chief Financial Officer; Tina Wilson, Deputy Chief Financial Officer; Dave Wilkinson, Atlanta Police Foundation; Shirley Ann-Smith, Atlanta Fire Foundation; Marshall Freeman, Atlanta Police Foundation; Remy Saintil, Commissioner, Department of Enterprise and Asset Management; and Donna Wilson, Department of Law.
This report, along with the City of Atlanta Public Safety Training Overview, explains $40 million is expected to come from “philanthropy and new market tax credits,” $20 million from a loan to the APF from a banking institution, and the rest to come from a city commitment to “$1 million per year lease on the developed property” with payments to begin in the Fiscal Year 2024. The documents also indicate the City of Atlanta is to commit to a “$1 per year ground lease on the property to the Atlanta Police Foundation for development”.
The legislation to authorize the ground lease to APF was tabled on Mon., Aug. 16, after which a substitute was introduced. On Sept. 7, Atlanta City Council reconvened for a regular council meeting and received 1,166 calls on the public comment line from constituents voicing their stance on the potential facility, totaling to 16 hours of public comment. Local organizers have reported a total of 418 calls were played, with 282 callers against the facility and 117 in support.
City council has adjourned until 9 a.m. on Wed., Sept. 8, and will continue to listen to remaining public comment lines. Council President Felicia Moore said deliberation is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. We will continue to report on this story as it develops.