Court Declares Feb. 2020 CD/HS Minutes State in Error that Vote Occurred
(APN) ATLANTA — The official meeting minutes of the February 11, 2020 Community Development/Human Services Committee Meeting of the City Council of Atlanta erroneously state that a vote occurred, when in fact a vote did not occur, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe declared in a May 20, 2021 Order.
Atlanta Progressive News’s News Editor, in his personal capacity, brought the lawsuit, Matthew Charles Cardinale v. City of Atlanta et al., 2021-CV-345533, in February 2021.
The City of Atlanta waived service of process in the case, but did not answer the lawsuit. The City apparently chose not to answer the lawsuit, perhaps in order to avoid Councilmembers having to testify as to whether or not they participated in the ruse of a vote.
“The Court further DECLARES that the meeting minutes of the February 11, 2020 meeting of the City’s CD/HS Committee erroneously state that a vote occurred, in violation of Plaintiff’s right as a member of the general public to minutes that accurately reflect what transpired,” Judge Ellerbe wrote.
At the Feb. 11, 2020 Committee Meeting, Chairman Matt Westmoreland (Post 2-at-large) made a motion to go into Executive Session, or a closed meeting. Councilman Amir Farokhi (District 2) seconded the motion.
As previously reported by APN, the Executive Session itself was apparently illegal, as is the subject of a pending lawsuit for civil penalties under the Georgia Open Meetings Act against Mr. Westmoreland, Cardinale v. Westmoreland and Ide, 2020-CV-832334.
The separate lawsuit also seeks a civil penalty against Chairwoman Jennifer Ide (District 6) of the Finance/Executive Committee for apparently falsely attesting as to the justification of the closure of the Cmte Meeting to hold a Feb. 12, 2020 Executive Session.
Also, the subject of discussion of the Executive Sessions themselves was an illegal ordinance, City of Atlanta Ordinance 20-O-1155, which was preempted by state law but passed by the City Council anyway, as previously also reported by APN.
But even the very vote to go into Executive Session was a charade; as Mr. Westmoreland called the vote and its results without a vote having even occurred.
“All those in favor say aye – the ayes have it we’ll be in the Terminus Conference Room,” Mr. Westmoreland said, all in less than one second, without any member of the Committee shown on video opening their mouth to vote, or being heard voting.
He called for no nays nor abstainers.
Video clip of vote:
Full meeting video of City of Atlanta official website:
One possible reason for Mr. Westmoreland to have rushed any action on his motion to go into Executive Session, including by essentially faking the vote itself, was to cut off any possible discussion of whether or not it was appropriate to enter into Executive Session in the first place (which, it was not).
Originally, the committee and Council approved the minutes of the Feb. 11, 2020 CD/HS Cmte Meeting only by stating that there was a vote to enter Executive Session. The minutes were drafted by policy analyst Julia R. Pulidindi.
These minutes violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act by failing to list the motion and the second. Had a vote actually taken place, the Act would require the minutes to list the yeas, nays, and abstainers.
Originally, APN published an article complaining about this fact on June 06, 2020.
Then, on June 09, 2020, Chairman Westmoreland asked the CD/HS Cmte to amend the minutes. He said the minutes would be amended to reflect “unanimous consent.”
However, the vote was not called as a unanimous consent vote; it was called as a voice vote; and the Committee cannot go backwards in time and change the nature of the vote simply by amending the minutes.
Instead, the minutes, as amended, did not reflect unanimous consent, but listed all five Committee Members who were present, as voting yea. That was deceptive because a vote did not actually occur.
Amended Minutes as of June 09, 2020
Therefore, the Committee, and Full City Council which must also approve the amendment of the minutes, apparently defrauded the public twice as to the events of the Feb. 11, 2020 CD/HS Cmte Meeting, including the Councilmembers who know or who ought to know that they did not participate in a vote.
Natalyn Archibong, who is currently running for Council President, voted at least twice to certify that she participated in a vote, when apparently she was on her cell phone during the vote and she did not participate in said vote.
The minutes continue to misrepresent said purported vote. APN’s News Editor, both in his personal capacity and as the principal agent of Atlanta Progressive News, asked the Council to cause the minutes to be amended consistent with the Court’s Order, within thirty days or fewer, in an email dated May 21, 2021.
However, no one has responded to the request.
In the Court’s Order, the Court cited Cardinale v. City of Atlanta, 290 Ga. 521, (2012), the ruling of the Supreme Court of Georgia in prior litigation between APN’s News Editor and the City of Atlanta, as the legal authority for the requirement that official minutes of agency meetings be true and correct.
In that case, then-Committee on Council Chair Felicia A. Moore had in 2010 conducted a secret vote while the Council was having lunch on Retreat at the Georgia Aquarium. The City insisted that the public should be forced to believe, by operation of statute, erroneously, that the vote was unanimous even though the record showed the vote was split.
The Supreme Court of Georgia in that case ruled that secret votes violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act, in part because they would render minutes deceptive by requiring the assumption of unanimous votes.
The next meeting of the CD/HS Cmte is tomorrow, May 25, 2021.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News, Inc. / 2021)