The Forest Park City Council voted 3-2 to uphold Mayor Angelyne Butler’s veto of $320,000 for a five-member Gang and Narcotics Task Force. On June 6, the council had approved Forest Park’s participation in a countywide effort, along with Jonesboro, Morrow, Lovejoy, Lake City, Riverdale, and the Clayton County Police Department. Butler vetoed FPPD’s participation, citing staffing shortages.
Police Chief Nathaniel Clark had requested the money for one civilian public education specialist, three officers and one sergeant. On June 6, the council had voted to approve the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which included that request. However, Butler exercised two line-item vetoes—$208,132.01 in salaries and $111,867.99 in capital outlay—saying the Forest Park Police Department should take those positions from its 35 current vacancies instead of adding them on separately.
A June 13 discussion item memo from City Manager Dr. Marc-Antonie Cooper to councilmembers sought direction on the issue for the June 21 council meeting. The memo contained Butler’s veto an explanation, along with a chart showing the amounts in three funds:
FPPD’s lost funding, Butler said, could be used for other public safety measures.
“It will be my desire to have Council consider redirecting the savings resulting from the veto to other critical public safety related purposes such as: a critically needed upgrade to our city-wide camera and surveillance system, Omnilert, a gun detection system; and a gun buy-back program to aid in removing weapons of war from our city streets,” Butler wrote in her veto.
Clark, who attended the meeting by phone, stressed the need for dedicated funding toward the Gang and Narcotics Task Force.
“I want to use every tool, every resource available to us to ensure that we have a safe city to live in and for people to come and visit our city,” Clark said. “This is just another avenue we have to ensure of our safety here in the city of Forest Park.”
Butler said she would reconsider increasing the FPPD’s budget for new positions only if Clark filled existing vacancies and paid “due and adequate consideration” to existing funding she said could be used for the task force.
The existing funding, Butler said, could be sourced from $1.2 million in police accounts from asset forfeiture, which is money police take from people targeted in criminal investigations.
Clark said only half of the $1.2 million is left, as the rest has been spent or pledged to pay for E-911 system upgrades.
In November 2021, Clark sued the city and Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells. In his suit, Clark alleged city officials retaliated against him after he said he had found financial irregularities with FBI task force reimbursement funds and Federal Assets Forfeiture Equitable Sharing. Clark also alleged the city may have used E-911 money to balance the city budget. Georgia’s Whistleblowers Protection Act protects government officials who report alleged wrongdoing. The case is still pending before Clayton County Superior Court Judge Shana Rooks Malone.
Clark said during the meeting that federal law prohibits using asset forfeiture funds to hire rank-and-file officers. City attorney Mike Williams stated those funds can be used for specialized positions, such as an inter-agency task force, and for equipment.
Councilwoman Kimberly James made the motion to overturn Butler’s veto, citing confusion about FPPD’s ability to use the asset forfeiture funds for the task force.
Gutierrez voted with James, saying he supported Clark’s expertise on what he needed for the task force. He said this support would later enable him to hold Clark accountable if something went wrong.
He stressed the importance of supporting the police now with funding for the vacancies.
“If it [a vote on task force funding] can come back, and if we hold our breath on waiting for these vacancies to be filled, it might never happen,” Gutierrez said. “I don’t know when eventually being a police officer is going to be an attractive job like it used to be before because of everything that’s happened. So, thank you for the men and women that we have here serving.”
Councilmembers Dabouze Antoine (Ward 2), Latresa Akins-Wells (Ward 4) and Allan Mears (Ward 5) voted with Butler to deny FPPD’s request for increased funding.
Mears said FPPD needed to fill its vacancies first.
“When you can go to McDonald’s or anywhere like that and make as much money and flip burgers than you do getting shot at, you’ve got a problem,” Mears said. “So what we’ve got to do to look at the real picture to get the numbers down that we want is we’ve got to come up with some money to pay these people.”
Captain Kayla Ghant, who oversees background and recruiting at FPPD, said the department’s efforts to fill these vacancies include two billboards, two ads on vehicles and a radio commercial. FPPD received 20 applications in June and 12 in May, Ghant said.
“Ever since that commercial aired this morning [July 7], the phone has been ringing off the hook,” Ghant said.