Councilman Westmoreland’s Unrecorded, Apparently Falsified Vote
The minutes of the Feb. 11, 2020 Community Development/Human Services Committee reflect a “voice vote” on a motion to go into Executive Session (or closed, non-public session), and a “voice vote” on a motion to come out of Executive Session.
However, the minutes do not reflect the names of the mover, the seconder, the ayes, the nays, the abstainers, or those Councilmembers absent or not participating in the vote on either motion.
Worse, APN’s review of the video of the Meeting reveals that Councilman Matt Westmoreland (Post 2-at-large) appears to have called the vote and its results without Committee Members having actually voted.
The City of Atlanta’s failure to record the details of a recorded vote, clearly a violation of the Georgia Open Meetings Act, is currently the subject of a second pending lawsuit brought by APN’s News Editor against the City of Atlanta, currently pending in Fulton County Superior Court before Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe, case number 2020-CV-336027.
Apparently, the City of Atlanta has not learned any lessons from the 2012 ruling of the Supreme Court of Georgia in Cardinale v. City of Atlanta, in which the court ruled that the Georgia Open Meetings Act, O.C.G.A. 50-14-1(e)(2) requires the recording of the details of all votes in the minutes of agency meetings.
Councilman Westmoreland was so determined to pass an illegal ordinance that he and other Councilmembers knew violates the Georgia Fair Housing Act, that he twice shut down discussion of the legislation in committee, making motions to go into Executive Session to discuss the illegal legislation.
Mr. Westmoreland apparently felt that the proposed legislation being illegal was a good enough reason to discuss it privately.
THE VOTE IN WHICH NO ONE APPARENTLY VOTED
On Feb. 11, 2020, the fair housing ordinance, illegal under state law, came before the Community Development/Human Services Committee.
Westmoreland made the motion to go into Executive Session: “All right colleagues, I’m going to make a motion that we enter into Executive Session to discuss potential litigation.” (see: video 2:32:38-46)
Councilman Amir Farokhi (District 2) seconded the motion. (2:32:46)
Westmoreland opened the vote. (2:32:48)
There appeared to be problems with the electronic voting system. Then, Julia R. Pulidindi, Legislative Policy Analyst for the Committee, said, “Yeah, we can do a voice vote, yeah.” (2:33:13-15)
Then, without pausing for a vote to occur, Westmoreland uttered the following string of remarks, all within one second or less: “All those in favor say aye, the ayes have it, we will be in the Terminus Conference Room.” (2:33:15)
Westmoreland did not call for nays or abstainers. He did not note any non-participants in the vote.
Westmoreland did not utter his own vote. No Councilperson is seen or heard voting, including Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd (District 12), who was seated in front of her microphone.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong (District 5) is shown to be sitting in her committee chair talking on her cell phone the whole time; and thus apparently did not vote.
At the Feb. 25, 2020 CD/HS Meeting, Westmoreland and other CD/HS Councilmembers approved the minutes of the Feb. 11, 2020 meeting, despite the minutes’s violation of the Act; and despite the minutes’s apparent misrepresentations as to whether the called vote occurred as portrayed in the minutes.
Unfortunately, the Feb. 25, 2020 minutes also violate the Act, by failing to list the details of the vote to approve the Feb. 11, 2020 minutes.
WESTMORELAND, PULIDINDI AWARENESS OF ACT’S REQUIREMENTS
Both Chairman Westmoreland and committee analyst Pulidindi are aware of the Act’s requirements.
Westmoreland probably participated in one or more open records training sessions offered by the City of Atlanta, as required by the 2013 settlement in Cardinale v. City of Atlanta (2010).
In addition, Westmoreland and Pulidindi were present when the very issue of the calling and recording of votes was discussed in Committee on Council back in 2018.
At the Feb. 08, 2018 Meeting of the Committee on Council, two years earlier, APN’s News Editor raised his concerns regarding the fact that former Council President Ceasar Mitchell had been continuing to take and preside over unrecorded votes.
The now-late Councilman Ivory Lee Young, Jr. (District 3) asked the Law Department to opine.
Then-Senior City Attorney Kristen Denius, now the Transparency Officer for the City of Atlanta, told Councilman Young that the Georgia Open Meetings Act requires the listing of the yeas, nays, and abstainers for all votes, even for what Young described as routine matters.
Next, then-Municipal Clerk Rhonda Dauphin Johnson told Councilmembers that when the Council President calls a voice vote but does not allow enough time for the vote to be recorded, that it poses a problem for her office.
Councilman Westmoreland and Ms. Pulidindi were present for Ms. Denius’s comments and the Clerk’s comments.
In 2018, APN’s News Editor drafted legislation requiring the Council President to call all votes in a manner that allows the Municipal Clerk to record the yeas, nays, abstainers, and absences, so as to avoid this issue for future Council Meetings
Councilwoman Jennifer Ide introduced the ordinance and it passed the City Council with Westmoreland’s support.
Apparently no Supreme Court ruling, no legislation, no plea from the Municipal Clerk, and no Law Department opinion will convince the Atlanta City Council to stop taking unrecorded votes.
The lawsuit regarding these recent violations by the City of Atlanta is currently pending. The City of Atlanta has received a copy of the summons and complaint, but has refused to accept service of lawsuits since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The City has agreed to waive service upon the expiration of the statewide judicial emergency.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2020)