Residents Plan Press Conference
to Protest Mayor's Expanded Powers
Friday, July 31 • 10AM
City of South Fulton Mayor William "Bill" Edwards & State Representative Roger Bruce.
South Fulton City Hall
5440 Fulton Industrial Blvd SW, 30336
July 31, 2020 — South Fulton residents are planning a rally today to protest two bills signed earlier this year — HB 921 and HB 1019 — which greatly expand the powers of the Mayor of South Fulton. The legislation is the latest in a series of clashes the City and its State Representatives since the city was founded in 2017. "It feels like they're trying to run our city from the State Capitol," said Old National Councilman khalid.
Organizers allege that State Representative Roger Bruce, who has known South Fulton Mayor William "Bill" Edwards since their days at Morehouse College in the 1970s, pushed for this legislation to tip the scales in favor of his old classmate. The bills give the Mayor the power to appoint offices like City Manager, City Treasurer and City Attorney without the approval of City Council. The bills also grant the Mayor the power to override or defund any vote or action by City Council.
Protest organizers created this graphic to explain the most drastic changes proposed by HB 921 & 1019.
The City of South Fulton currently contracts for its legal services with law firmFincher-Denmark. The firm has assigned a team of seven attorneys to the City, led by Tri-Cities High School graduate and South Fulton native Emilia Walker. They have never lost a case on behalf of the City. South Fulton spends around $528,000 annually with Fincher-Denmark. To set up a similarly staffed, in-house legal department will cost the city $600,000 to $1 million dollars.
Councilman khalid supports the idea of an in-house legal department, but not the timing. "To force us to spend taxpayer dollars on this now, in the middle of an economic recession where we might have to furlough the employees we already have, is just financially irresponsible," says khalid.
Organizers hope Friday protests will convince Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to reconsider these bills — which he signed before receiving a letter sent byCity Council opposing the legislation. There are also questions about whether the State Legislature has the constitutional authority to make all of the changes these demand. A question on the November Ballot could allow cities to ask a judge whether or not bills like HB 921 and HB 1019 are constitutional.
NOVEMBER 2020 BALLOT QUESTION:
Waiving Sovereign Immunity
Sovereign Immunity is a legal tradition originating from the British monarchy which holds that a king or queen, as head of state, cannot commit a legal wrong and is therefore immune tocivil lawsuitsorcriminal prosecution. Today in Georgia, it means that the State Legislature cannot be taken to court for any of the laws it makes — even if citizens think those laws are unjust.
Currently, laws made by the Georgia Legislature can only be challenged once an individual is hurt by a law. An individual must prove they have been "harmed" — in the case of 921 or 1019, this means someone would have to be fired or suffer a financial loss — before a Judge can decide whether or not a law is constitutional.
However, in November (not this August Runoff), a question will appear on Ballot asking voters if they would like to change this. The question will read:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to waive sovereign immunity and allow the people of Georgia to petition the superior court for relief from governmental acts done outside the scope of lawful authority or which violate the laws of this state, the Constitution of Georgia, or the Constitution of the United States?
If a majority of November voters answer YES, individuals or cities will be able to take the State Legislature to court for passing laws that seem unjust before anyone is hurt by them. In the case of HB 921 and 1019, passing this State Constitutional Amendment will allow South Fulton's City Council to ask a Fulton Superior Court Judge to determine whether these bills are constitutional, or if parts or all of them can be overturned.
If a majority of November voters answer NO, the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity will remain in place, and someone will have to prove they have been harmed by a State Law before they can ask a judge to overturn the law.
Visit Councilman khalid's Voter Education page at the link below for information & updates on the November 2020 election.
The next battleground over this issue will be South Fulton's City Budget. The Calendar by which governments (and businesses) spend money is known as the Budget Year or Fiscal Year (FY).The City of South Fulton's Fiscal Year begins each October 1 (just like a school calendar, where the 2020 School Year begins in Fall 2019).
City Council must vote this month on several FY 2021 budget and HR measures to bring the City in compliance with the new law. For example, HB 921 orders the creation of an in-house legal department, but City Council must authorize spending the funds necessary to set up such a department. HB 1019 orders South Fulton to set up a new Ethics Board, but the current Ethics Board can only be abolished by a vote of four or more Councilmembers. Below is a schedule of City Council meetings for August-September.
Click to view Printable PDF.
EARLY VOTING UNDERWAY for
AUGUST RUNOFF ELECTION
Polls are open for Early Voting in Georiga's Primary Runoff Elections. In Fulton County, three races from June are headed to Runoffs, Tuesday, August 11. Because Runoffs for local elections traditionally have the lowest voter turnout— less than 10 percent of registered voters, in most cases — your vote in these elections has the greatest individual impact. Several City of South Fulton's runoff elections have been decided by less than 20 votes!
Current DA Paul Howard faced off with challenger, Fani Willis in a live debate on WABE's "A Closer Look."
The most-watched race in Fulton County's Runoff Elections is for the District Attorney's office. District Attorneys (DAs) have the power to choose which charges are filed against individuals accused of a crime; and can approve Plea Bargains for reduced sentences. When the police arrest someone, the DA's office has the power to prosecute those cases, divert the accused to a program (like drug treatment or Georgia's First Offenders program), or dismiss the case altogether.
Current District Attorney Paul Howard has been Fulton County's DA for 23 years and has been dogged by allegations of sexual and financial misconduct. But in this #BlackLivesMater movement season, it is Howard's record as a prosecutor that is receiving the most criticism. Historically, Howard has been tough on criminals but not on criminal cops. Though he has moved swiftly (in this election year) to prosecute the police officers who killed Rayshard Brooks and assaulted Morehouse student Messiah Young, Howard has failed to prosecute over 100 similar excessive force police cases over his career.
His challenger, Fani Willis has been quick to note this inconsistency. However, some question whether Willis would really change the culture of the Fulton County District Attorney's office, since she worked under Howard for 16 of his 23 years in the DA's office. Prior to running for DA, Willis was the Chief Judge in the City of South Fulton. She held the position for less than 8 months before stepping down to run for this seat. Listen to the candidates debate on WABE's Closer look at the link below.
Georgia Superior Court handles both civil and criminal law actions. Unlike Municipal (City) Court, which handles traffic violations and other misdemeanor (minor) crimes, Superior Court Judges preside over cases involving misdemeanors, contract disputes, title to land, Georgia divorces and felonies involving jury trials, including death penalty cases. This is the court where District Attorneys try their cases, and where most of the cases you see on local TV news are heard.
Note: This is also the court where disputes between elected officials — like the conflict over House Bills 921 and 1019 — would first be heard.
Because they are called to be impartial and recuse themselves if they have pre-judged a case before hearing the evidence, judges & judge candidates rarely give interviews or make public statements about their political beliefs. This makes researching judges very difficult. Often, the best resource may be members of your community who have had to appear before them.
Two City of South Fulton residents are in a runoff to replace retiring Superior Court Judge Constance C. Russell. Tamika Hrobowski-Houston (left) was appointed by Russell to sit as a temporary judge in Fulton Superior Court’s family division, which handles protective orders, divorces, custody, visitation, child support and paternity. Candidate Melynee Leftridge Harris has 10 years of experience as a judge in Fulton County Magistrate (small claims) court. In 2012, she ran for State Court Judge, losing to Jane Morrison.
Fulton County Sherriff
One of five county officials listed in Georgia's State Constitution, the Sheriff is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of each county. If someone breaks the law in Fulton and flees to another county, the Sheriff can go anywhere inside the state to investigate the crime, make the arrest, and transport the accused back to Fulton.
Retired Atlanta Department of Corrections Cheif Patrick Labat (left) is challenging 12-year incumbent Ted Jackson for Fulton County Sherriff. Jackson is a former FBI agent with advanced certificates from Harvard University and the University of Southern California. Labat cites the Jackson administration’s loss of national accreditation and federal injunctions over inhumane conditions in Fulton County jails as his reason for coming out of retirement to run for Sherriff. Below, you can watch a debate for Sherriff's candidates hosted earlier this year by WAOK's Rashad Richey.
Watch Fulton County Sherrif's Debate Here
More information the August Runoff Elections, including Early Voting Locations and video demonstrations of Georgia's new Voting Machines, can be found at Councilman khalid's Voter Education page below.