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UPDATE: Following Decatur attorney’s inquiry, two members of immigration board resign

Crime and public safety Decatur slideshow

UPDATE: Following Decatur attorney’s inquiry, two members of immigration board resign

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City Attorney Bryan Downs File Photo by Mariann Martin


Two members of a state immigration board handling a complaint against the city of Decatur have resigned after the city’s attorney questioned whether they were legally serving on the board.

Decatur City Attorney Bryan Downs recently argued that board members on the state Immigration Enforcement Review Board, which is handling the complaint, had overstayed their terms. Two members of the board – Chairman Shawn Hanley and member Phil Kent – have resigned as a result.

Hanley confirmed the resignation to Decaturish, but didn’t offer any additional statements. Kent forwarded a copy of his resignation letter to Gov. Nathan Deal:

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Please convey to Governor Deal my deep appreciation for my appointment in 2011 to the state Immigration Enforcement Review board. I have enjoyed my public service contribution with my fellow board members, but it is time for a replacement. I therefore submit my resignation from the panel and wish it further success as it seeks to enforce our state laws.

With kindest regards,

Phil Kent

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle filed the complaint against the city of Decatur in the midst of the Republican gubernatorial primary. That complaint, which accused the heavily Democratic city of violating state law prohibiting sanctuary cities, became a visible part of Cagle’s campaign for the Republican nomination. He lost to Secretary of State Brian Kemp in the July runoff election.

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The complaint was mired in controversy and legal wrangling from the start. As the state’s lieutenant governor, Cagle also appoints two members to the IERB. Kent already had recused himself from Decatur’s case after the city uncovered evidence of him praising Cagle’s actions against Decatur.

More resignations could be on the way. According to Downs, three other board members have overstayed their terms.

In addition to Downs’ recent inquiry, the city has lobbed two lawsuits at the board, accusing it of violating the state’s open meetings and records laws while asking a judge to throw out the preliminary ruling. That ruling, which came days before the Republican gubernatorial primary in May, agreed with Cagle. But the ruling has never been officially adopted by the IERB.

The IERB’s preliminary ruling determined Decatur is a sanctuary city and said Decatur needs to repeal its policy regarding cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or risk being stripped of state funding. Decatur in 2017 put a longstanding policy in writing regarding cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The city said it does not detain immigrants without a valid warrant from ICE and never has. Officers who violate the policy could face disciplinary action.

Prior to the resignation of Hanley and Kent, Downs filed two additional lawsuits against two IERB members: Kent and Hanley. These “quo warranto”  lawsuits were filed on on behalf of Mark Douglas, a Professor of Christian Ethics and the Director of the Master of Divinity Program at Columbia Theological Seminary.

The lawsuits question “by what authority” Hanley and Kent held office, Downs said.

Downs said he was representing Douglas because, “Under Georgia law, quo warranto actions must be filed by an individual.” He said the state Attorney General’s Office ignored the city’s request for information about Kent and Hanley’s legal status as IERB members, which prompted the additional lawsuits.

“After receiving no response from Mr. Hanley or Mr. Kent and being told by the Attorney General’s office that we would not be receiving a response, we obtained a hearing in Fulton Superior Court Friday morning, Aug. 3, where we were granted permission to file the suits,” Downs said. “Hanley and Kent were provided notice of this hearing but they chose not to appear. The suits were then filed later Friday, seeking the removal of Mr. Hanley and Mr. Kent from their expired offices as members of the IERB.”

Downs said the city “went to great lengths to resolve this issue without resorting to the courts.”

He said there are questions that need to be answered about the validity of Kent’s and Hanley’s actions while serving past the expiration of their terms, and questions about whether the other three members also need to resign.

“What remains unresolved is the status of the other three members of the IERB who have been holding office for almost seven years, far beyond their four year maximum term,” Downs said. “This is not an issue just for the City of Decatur or concerned Decatur residents like Dr. Mark Douglas.  The press and other interested members of the public  in Georgia need to demand that the Attorney General’s office address this issue with their client, the IERB.

“Finally, there are serious questions about the validity of actions taken by former Chairman Hanley and former member Kent since September 2017, the last date on which they had any authority to act.  This of course includes the complaint filed by the Office of Lieutenant Governor against the City of Decatur in November 2017.”

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