Atlanta Abuses Executive Session to Discuss Illegal Ordinance (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — The City Council of Atlanta continues to operate in a cloak of secrecy and abuse public trust, this time holding two closed-door meetings to discuss their illegal ordinance, 20-O-1155, despite having no eligible exception that would allow the meeting to be closed under the Georgia Open Meetings Act.
APPARENTLY ILLEGAL CLOSED MEETING
On Tuesday, February 13, 2020, Matt Westmoreland, chair of Atlanta’s Community Development/Human Services Committee made a motion to go into Executive Session, or closed session, due to “pending litigation.”
It was not clear at the time to what pending litigation Mr. Westmoreland was specifically referring.
Later it would be revealed they were discussing legislation, not litigation.
On Wednesday, Feb. 14, Mr. Westmoreland again made the motion, this time in Finance/Executive Committee to go into Executive Session, cutting off the remarks of Councilman Antonio Brown (District 3).
Councilman Brown, sponsor of the unlawful ordinance, had just admitted publicly that the ordinance is what had been discussed in Tuesday’s closed meeting.
Chairwoman Jennifer Ide (District 6) stated the reason for Wednesday’s closed meeting was due to “threat of litigation.”
However, no one appears to have threatened litigation against the City of Atlanta regarding the proposed ordinance. And according to Councilman Brown, the Atlanta Apartment Association, a likely opponent, is supporting the ordinance.
The Georgia Open Meetings Act, O.C.G.A. 50-14-1 et seq., requires that City Council meetings be open to the public.
O.C.G.A. 50-14-2 allows for closed sessions for specific reasons only. The litigation exceptions are for “pending or potential litigation.”
If there is no pending or potential litigation, then the City violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act, aided and abetted by the City’s Law Department, and based on deceptive statements by Councilmembers Westmoreland and Ide.
APN’s News Editor sent an email to Nina R. Hickson, City attorney, asking what pending or potential litigation exists, but did not receive a reply.
If Hickson does not reply within three days, APN’s News Editor, who is currently suing the City of Atlanta regarding First Amendment issues, will amend his complaint to ask the Fulton County Superior Court to review the minutes of the Executive Session to ensure compliance with the Act.
The Council is currently considering City of Atlanta Ordinance 20-O-1155, which would add source of income as a protected class from rental housing discrimination in the City of Atlanta.
The ordinance would require residential lessors to accept housing authority vouchers and thus undergo housing authority inspections for their rental properties.
The only problem is that State of Georgia law, O.C.G.A. 8-3-220, clearly preempts cities from adding additional protected classes, as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News.
Georgia’s Fair Housing Act establishes seven protected classes and prohibits discrimination, in O.C.G.A. 8-3-202. In section 220, it allows cities to “adopt verbatim” the state law as a local law, but warns cities “may not expand or reduce the rights granted by this article.”
Therefore, the proposed ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Brown, would unlawfully expand the rights that cities like Atlanta are only allowed to “adopt verbatim.”
Councilman Howard Shook (District 8) warned that if he supported Councilman Brown’s proposed ordinance, he would be violating his Oath of Office.
Councilman Brown told Shook he would have to do his due diligence regarding Shook’s statement regarding his oath of office.
Brown told Shook that he would research whether Shook previously supported adding additional protected classes at the local level.
The City of Atlanta previously added seven protected classes in 2000, which was preempted by state law then as it is now.
Shook did not vote on the matter because he was not on the Council at the time, when the District 7 seat was held by Bob Ellis.
Shook said he had no interest in going to executive session, but Westmoreland made a motion while Brown was addressing Shook.
Two Councilmembers, Shook and Councilman J.P. Matzigkeit (District 8), voted against the ordinance in Committee.
Metro Fair Housing Services, Inc., which currently contracts with the City of Atlanta to handle housing discrimination complaints, sends any complaints that exceed state law authority back to the City of Atlanta, APN has also learned.
Therefore, the City of Atlanta continues to have laws on the books that are not being enforced, and continues to mislead tenants regarding their rights.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2020)
CORRECTION AND UPDATE 1: A previous version of this article accidentally stated that Shook voted on the 2000 ordinance, also noting he was not on Council on the time. The article has been corrected to state that he did *not* vote on the 2000 ordinance.