Clarkston loses lawsuit over demolitions

Clarkston, GA – The city of Clarkston tried and failed to stop the North American Mission Board from demolishing two historic homes as part of a plan to build an outreach ministry hub.

The proposed $15 million, 8-acre project will be located on the site of the Clarkston International Bible Church, at 3895 Church Street. The church sold its property to the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention, which plans to convert the site into the outreach ministry hub – including not just a larger church worship space, but a sports complex, multiple retail shops, a medical clinic, new gymnasium, and temporary housing for Baptist mission workers.

To see Decaturish.com’s earlier story about this project, click here.

The project required the demolition of homes, but city wouldn’t provide the demolition permit, prompting a lawsuit from NAMB, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The city had placed a moratorium on development at the site while city officials worked to turn the area into a historic district, which would’ve included the homes. A judge in December ordered the city to provide the demolition permits.

The city on Feb. 5 announced that the lawsuit had been settled. Clarkston will also have to pay $25,000 to resolve the lawsuit, the AJC reported.

“The City of Clarkston fought hard to try and preserve two historic homes and l am proud of the courage that the City Council showed in doing so,” Mayor Ted Terry said when the settlement was announced. “However, we ultimately determined that it is now in the best interests of the Clarkston community to give up this fight and focus our efforts and resources on other matters, such as improving infrastructure and revitalizing the city’s downtown. It will be a sad day when these buildings come down but we hope that this settlement can set the foundation for a cooperative relationship with NAMB moving forward.”

NAMB said it was pleased with the outcome.

“NAMB is gratified by the mutual settlement agreement reached with the City,” the group said. “NAMB filed this lawsuit to protect its constitutionally protected property rights and to save its Clarkston development, which NAMB had invested considerable time, effort and resources into completing to advance NAMB’s mission of making a positive difference through. Christian values. The Clarkston development will be an asset to the community that NAMB envisions will have both recreational and educational facilities. We look forward to a positive working relationship with the City and to the successful development of this development.”

Clarkston boosts protections for defendants in its municipal court

After being warned about a possible lawsuit, the city of Clarkston has bolstered legal protections of non-English speaking and indigent defendants who appear in its municipal court.

On Tuesday night, the city council unanimously adopted a resolution that puts additional safeguards in place to ensure no one’s constitutional rights are violated.

“As soon as we were made aware of the issues, we expedited getting solutions to them,” Mayor Ted Terry said. “We take this very seriously and want to make sure we have a fair and just court system.”

In November, the Southern Center for Human Rights sent a letter to city officials that contended the municipal court was imposing illegal jail sentences and failing to provide enough courtroom interpreters.

The Southern Center alleged that the court was imposing “pay-or-jail sentences” — sending defendants into custody if they were unable to pay their fines. Courts have long held that indigent defendants should not be jailed solely if they can’t afford to pay.

Clarkston’s court will now inquire into a defendant’s ability to pay a fine before imposing one and determine if the fine poses a “significant financial hardship,” the resolution said. If such a determination is made, the court can then reduce the fine and convert the sentence to community service.

Similar findings must be made when there is a move to revoke a defendant’s probation because of his or her failure to pay the fine, the resolution said.

With a steady influx of refugees over the past few decades, Clarkston has struggled to find enough interpreters for its increasingly diverse population, the Southern Center said.

The council’s resolution says the city will try and flag potential language issues throughout the process, beginning when police officers identify them when issuing citations. Before they appear in court, defendants will be notified in forms written in seven different languages of the availability of certified interpreters.

When a certain interpreter is unavailable, individuals can call into a “language line” for help. If the interpreter on this call believes the individual is still unable to understand the proceedings, that person’s court date will be rescheduled, the resolution said.

Ebony Brown, one of the Southern Center lawyers who signed the November letter, said she was pleased the city took the action it did.

“We are encouraged to see Clarkston take these important steps towards ensuring constitutional compliance, and we look forward to continuing to work with the city to guarantee that everyone who appears in its municipal court is treated with fairness and dignity,” she said.

The vast majority of cases handled by the court involve traffic citations and some involve alleged code violations, Terry said. Because these are low-level misdemeanor cases, very few people face any jail time, the mayor said.

“It was always our assertion that the concerns brought by the Southern Center were exceptions to the norm,” Terry said. “Passage of this resolution now puts us in the gold standard of how municipal courts in Georgia operate. We are taking a compassionate, equitable and fair-minded approach.”

Clarkston moves toward citywide ban on single-use plastics

The City of Clarkston hopes to follow the lead of Atlanta and other U.S. cities that have passed bans on single-use plastic items.

Clarkston City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday laying the groundwork for an ordinance that would outlaw items like plastic shopping bags and plastic foam containers from the city’s businesses. The resolution directs the Clarkston city attorney to write an ordinance to be voted on in May 2020, according to the resolution.

The Clarkston vote comes on the heels of Atlanta City Council passing a similar ban on single-use plastics in city buildings and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Clarkston’s ban would affect all businesses in the city, including gas stations, restaurants, and the city’s grocery store. Once approved, it would begin with a year-long “phase out” process to allow businesses time to find substitutions for the single-use plastic items that they’re currently using and seek out possible subsidies and incentives, Mayor Ted Terry said. The goal is to have single-use plastics eliminated from the city by 2021, Terry said.

The Atlanta legislation, which is awaiting approval by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, would also have a “phase out” period. Atlanta’s ordinance would take effect on or before Dec. 31, 2020.

Clarkston’s 2020 budget includes $20,000 for environmental projects, and a “significant amount” of that money will go toward incentives to help the city’s businesses switch to reusable, compostable or otherwise sustainable options, Terry said. Terry hopes the switch will encourage more people to patronize Clarkston businesses and boost the city’s economy, he said.“It’s a much more powerful economic growth argument than what some see as a small increase in the cost of packaging,” Terry said.

The small DeKalb city intends to model the future ordinance after those implemented in other municipalities around the country, from the Charleston suburb of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina to the metropolitan hubs of Boston and Portland, Oregon.

“From their perspective, they have been very successful, very popular and haven’t caused these doom and gloom scenarios you hear about from the plastic industry,” Terry said.”When we talk about phasing out the plastic, people say it’s going to hurt the consumer, hurt the businesses and it’s going to cost too much money. It’s already costing us — cost to clean up waste, add additional tonnage to landfills, cost to our air and water resources. We are paying for it now. The sooner our society shifts away from these petroleum derived products, the sooner we will see the benefits for people.”

These cities explicitly ban items including styrofoam and plastic straws; Clarkston intends to take a similar approach by adding an “acceptable packaging and products” chapter to its city code.Terry, who is running for U.S. Senate, says that while he touts his mayoral achievements in his campaign, the move toward a plastics ban is for the benefit of the city.

“This is not me doing it, it is just mayor and city council doing it,” Terry said. “But it takes people to be leaders and push things forward for things to happen.”