Mike set up a meeting with district 7 Fulton County Commissioner William “Bill” Edwards. He set the meeting up and made it clear that he would have guests. Mike had asked if I could join him, as I’ve been one of his main advocates. Mike also asked Rob Call, with Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, a close personal friend, and two members of the local clergy to be in the meeting as well.
The meeting was to be fact finding for us, not contentious. When we were called back to the office I immediately noticed a shocked look by Edward’s chief of staff Deloris Baskin face when she saw me. I’ve never met Deloris in my life.
We all sat down in a conference room and Deloris came in and asked who each person in the room was. I introduced myself as Tim Franzen, Economic Justice Program Director with the American Friends Service Committee, the Rob Call Introduced himself as with Occupy Our Homes Atlanta. Deloris then said, “Occupy Atlanta will not be in this meeting”
She at first claimed that only Mike and his wife was scheduled for the meeting, but then it was clear that his other guests would be permitted to stay. Mike said that he wanted us to stay. When Deloris said the meeting wouldn’t happen with Rob and I in it, I volunteered to leave stating, “This is unjust, but I want this meeting to happen, Rob and I will wait in the lobby and we can deal with this later”
When we got in the lobby of the Fulton County Services Center, Where Commissioner Edward’s off is, there was a team of about five cops waiting for us. They informed us that we were not welcomed in the building, and that we would be arrested for obstruction if we didn’t leave.
We walked outside and police followed us, letting us know that we were not welcomed outside the building and that we would need to be escorted to the property line.
Since the incident a lot of people have called into Edward’s office demanding an explanation. Most callers have been ignored; a few have been told that Rob and I were not on some list. The fact is, there was no list. Mike had made it clear that he would have guests, and even if he didn’t it’s rather bizarre that Rob and I would be treated as criminals while other guests were welcomed without question.
It seems clear to me that Edward’s chief of staff Deloris Baskin recognized my face from something Occupy Atlanta related and decided that there was a threat. The ironic thing here is that we were there to deal with a real threat; the Figaro family losing their home as a result of a fraud committed in their contractor’s permits applications.
There was a silver lining to all this. After Rob and I got kicked out hundreds of people around the country started calling into Edward’s office. The Figaro’s told us that they believed their meeting was taken very seriously after the phone lines were effectively shut down. Edward’s office has agreed to open a fraud investigation around the Figaro’s case, and they admitted to documents looking forged.
What happened to Rob and I was not only unacceptable, it’s actually quite illegal. I don’t believe we can afford to allow elected officials or their staff to make up laws on the spot and abuse their perceived power on a whim.
While I’m not sure what AFSC’s response or my personal response will be to Commissioner Edward’s staff behavior, I am sure that there will be a response. In the meantime I really appreciate all the calls people have made on our account. If nothing else It really helped the Figaro’s and perhaps it Edward’s office will think twice about being loose with basic civil rights of Fulton County residents, which Rob and I are both.