Friday, April 30, 2010

Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms: Is PARKatlanta even legal?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 30, 2010 at 7:45 PM

Although this morning's work session that was meant to provide answers — namely, what a moratorium on PARKatlanta enforcement would look like should the full council approve councilman Kwanza Hall’s measure on Monday — city officials were left with a whole lot of questions.

The most pressing of those queries, raised early in the meeting by councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms: Is what PARKatlanta’s doing even legal?

“The more I look at this,” she said, armed with a copy of the city’s contract with the agency, “the more I’m convinced that this program is not a legal program.” A former magistrate judge and an attorney by trade, Bottoms questions whether non-sworn officers (a.k.a. meter maids) are authorized to write tickets that become a criminal matter if brought before the municipal court.

For the sake of the non-lawyers in the room, she illustrated the issue with an analogy: “If you’re on private property and there’s a private security firm and you are trespassing, that person can come in as prosecuting witness and make the case for trespassing . But, if you’re intoxicated on that private property, that person cannon make case for public intoxication. That needs to be a sworn officer. You can’t have civilian making a criminal case. That’s not permissible under the law.”

City attorney Peter Andrews left the room to discuss the potential discrepancy with City Solicitor Raines Carter, as well as judge Crystal Gaines, and eventually came back to explain that there was a difference of opinion on the matter — this prompted one audience member to shout, “It doesn’t have to do with opinion, it has to do with the law.” Bottoms requested that either outside counsel or the Attorney General review the legality of the contract — she worries about class action lawsuits being filed against the city — a process that would further necessitate an temporary moratorium.

Hall was pleased that passage of his proposal seems like even more of a foregone conclusion. “I feel good. Encouraged. The pain we were experiencing [in District 2] was indicative of a much greater internal challenge," he said. "I think this [represents] a paradigm in the city and how we do things going forward.”

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