by Robin Kemp

Today is the last day to register to vote in the upcoming U.S. Senate runoff elections that could change the balance of power in Congress.

Early voting starts December 1.

Election Day is January 5.

Forest Park

Forest Park City Council is set to meet tonight to discuss three bids to install video cameras in council chambers. (See the agenda.) The work session (discussion) starts at 6 p.m., with the regular meeting (voting on work session items) following at 7 p.m.

Forest Park citizens have until 12 noon today to submit public comments (3 minutes max) at www.slido.com using event code 1207200. Remember to include your name and address.

Join via Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88560387235?pwd=MFNRUFE4QS9sM0U3Nk4vazFicERudz09

Meeting code: 885 6038 7235

Passocde: 594354

Join by phone with one-tap mobile:

+19292056099,,88560387235#,,,,,,0#,,594354# US (New York)

+13017158592,,88560387235#,,,,,,0#,,594354# US (Washington D.C)

The move to install video cameras in chambers for livestreaming comes after The Clayton Crescent took legal action through the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, the University of Georgia Law First Amendment Clinic, and media attorney S, Derek Bauer to hold the city responsible for following the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

The Clayton Crescent has fought to ensure that Forest Park citizens can access their council meetings

Forest Park continues to refuse to allow either the public, or any member of the news media who could act as an intermediary for the public, into council chambers. The city has recently restored a usable online audio feed to its meetings and has said that it would consider reopening chambers after the first of the year. The city says an emergency order closing city facilities remains in effect for health reasons related to COVID-19, yet has staged numerous public events in Starr Park and at the Main Street fountain. It also has hired and fired many top city officials during this time. Public participation in meetings, which usually is robust, has dropped almost to zero in recent months.

Some personnel changes during this time have included:

  • Numerous longtime police officers have left the department.
  • The city has a new deputy fire chief, Latosha Clemons.
  • The city has gone through four city managers since the beginning of the year, firing Angela Redding at the first council meeting, appointing Police Chief Nathaniel Clark as acting city manager in addition to his duties as chief; then hiring Albert Barker, who was sworn in May 18, only to fire him soon after this conversation with The Clayton Crescent:

  • Appointed former city clerk Shalonda Brown, who had been moved over to Human Resources, as interim city manager (the position is currently being advertised but is expected to go to Brown). Brown also is serving in dual departmental head roles as interim city manager and HR director roles.
  • Clark was recently named Director of Public Safety in addition to being police chief. He replaced Dwayne Hobbs, who was outsted last year, a month before he was to have retired, after conflicts with Councilmembers Latresa Akins-Wells and Dabouze Antoine. Hobbs has filed suit in federal court, alleging wrongful termination on the basis of race.
  • Fire Chief Don Horton, who also heads the city’s Emergency Management agency, replaced Chief Eddie Buckholts.
  • Former City of Atlanta deputy chief procurement officer Girard Geeter, who used to handle airport procurement, was hired to manage purchasing for Forest Park.
  • Finance Director Ken Thompson, who was brought in to clean up the books around the time the city had hired an outside firm to do a forensic audit, reportedly has been let go.
  • Gretta Harris, who was hired to replace Brown as city clerk, was fired in early October; Sharee Steed replaced her and is listed as serving in two positions: city clerk and executive assistant.

City Attorney Mike Williams told The Clayton Crescent’s legal team that the city would not reopen chambers to the public “until at least January 2021,” adding, “The closure may very well extend past then.” He said the city is following Georgia Department of Health COVID-19 public health guidelines. Other municipalities that also follow GDPH guidelines have reopened (like Jonesboro) or never closed in the first place (like Morrow). However, the city continues to host large public gatherings in Starr Park, where social distancing is not enforced. The mayor, council, and city leadership have all been repeatedly documented violating the city’s own rules about wearing masks while in council chambers or at public events.

Williams said Forest Park may impose a “phased reopening with limited seats” and promises that “your request to ensure that a fair and equitable method of making those seats available to the public will remain on the table for consideration.”

For now, Williams said, city staff and others coming before council will make presentations remotely, while the mayor, councilmembers, city attorney, city manager, city clerk, and an IT representative will meet in chambers. If the city installs video cameras, Williams said, that “will certainly address the concerns you raised in your October 8 letter.” The city rejected our attorneys’ request that The Clayton Crescent be compensated for the city’s violations of the Open Meetings Act.

The Clayton Crescent will continue to monitor developments regarding public access to the governing body’s regular and special called meetings.

Another big item on the agenda in Forest Park is a presentation by POND on the Green Model Mile, which is slated to be the first link in a series of Beltline-like trails outside the perimeter. The Green Model Mile would run alongside Starr Park, turn left on West Street in the heart of Rosetown, and end near Fountain Elementary.

Jason Brookins also will make a presentation on the Georgia Smart Clayton County Community Engagement Project. The project is aimed at making Clayton County more pedestrian-friendly. Specifically, it will

  • “build a decision support system” to prioritize transportation projects that “increase mobility and equity”
  • “identify smart technologies” to make Clayton County more walkable
  • Use high-school students to collect data
  • Use Georgia Tech’s “semi-automted Geographic Information System collection process” to collect sidewalk data
  • Partners include the cities of Lake City, Morrow, and the Rotary Club of Lake Spivey/Clayton County

In addition, the city will consider using insurance proceeds to replace the ambulance that rolled over at Tara Boulevard and Upper Riverdale Road, seriously injuring one paramedic. The ambulance was declared a total loss.

The city also will introduce incoming Deputy Fire Chief Clemons, upcoming holiday and 2021 city schedules, floodplain management, a COVID-19 update, consider allowing Atlanta Youth Rugby to use city property (Mayor Angelyne Butler’s daughter is a rugby player) and express appreciation to the CERT volunteers and CINTAS for their service to the city.

Jonesboro

Jonesboro City Council meets at 6 p.m. Monday to consider the proposed 2021 budget (a public hearing will be part of that meeting), next year’s schedule, and several conditional use permit applications:

  • truck and trailer rental at 759 North Avenue
  • Butch’s Chicken House, 192 Jonesboro Road
  • dance studio complex, 309 N. Main Street
  • change 262 S. Main Street’s zoning from light industrial to mixed use
  • a religious community nonprofit at 272 S. Main Street
  • rezoning 286 and 288 S. Main Street from single-family residential to mixed use
  • rezoning 294 S. Main Street from light industrial to mixed use
  • rezoning 298 S. Main Street from residential to mixed use
  • a mixed use master plan for the Casey Investment Group LLLP development, incorporating parcels Parcel 06032A B006, Parcel 06032A B004, Parcel 06032A B003, Parcel 06032A B0011, Parcel 06032A B002, and Parcel 06032A B002Z.

This massive project, which has frontage on Tara Boulevard and S. Main Street, involves 29.14 acres that would be combined into one property, then divided into 11 lots and adding two streets. Plans include minimum two-acre lots, a 100-room hotel, up to 165,000 square feet of professional/medical/government offices, a 250-unit, three to four story active senior residence, and 26,000 square feet of restaurant and retail over four parcels.(See the agenda packet for more details.)

Sheriff’s Office

A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in a case involving numerous Clayton County Jail inmates who are taking Sheriff Victor Hill to court over what they allege are inadequate COVID-19 protections. The Southern Center for Human Rights is helping the inmates pursue their case against Hill. One inmate’s declaration describes another inmate who was left in his cell when he could no longer come to the slot for his food tray, where the food allegedly piled up and the inmate, S.S., was left to die and decay in June. The trustee said he was later reassigned to another job and placed in general population, purportedly for speaking with attorneys from the Southern Center for Human Rights. Another declaration from a woman with multiple sclerosis alleges she fell from her bunk, broke her hip, and was left on the floor without medical attention for a week. We’ll go into more detail on this story elsewhere.

The Clayton Crescent also has some big news, which we hope to share later this week. Please send news tips to KempWrites@gmail.com or use the News Tip box on this website.