Commission funds delinquency prevention initiative to combat gang recruitment

The ACC Commission has approved a $2.9 million contract with the Boys and Girls Club of Athens to start a new delinquency prevention initiative to help at-risk youth stay out of gangs and improve their academic performance.

The Boys and Girls Club is asking for $1.6 million to fund the initiative, which will involve outreach in at-risk neighborhoods and educational programming six days a week at Boys and Girls Club locations around Athens. Another $900,000 will go towards maintaining their existing satellite locations in Nellie B and Rocksprings, opening up new locations in Broad Acres and Parkview communities and expanding hours at their Smilow and HT Edwards locations. The remainder of the contract award will support administration of the program.

The delinquency prevention initiative will run from September 2023 through July 2025.

The idea was developed by Commissioners Dexter Fisher and Tiffany Taylor, working in concert with Robert Finch, President and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Athens. 

Dexter Fisher
Commissioner Dexter Fisher

“I think this is the right step to start helping our young people in this community, guiding them in the right direction,” said Fisher, who placed a strong focus on youth development and fighting crime during his 2022 campaign.

Similarly, Taylor has been advocating for the re-opening of the Broad Acres and Parkview community centers since her campaign last year, and is now making good on that promise with some help from the American Rescue Plan.

“I’m just gonna do whatever it takes for the kids, because they’re our future,” Taylor said. “We need to put things in place to catch every child we can.”

Commissioner Jesse Houle had expressed some concern at the agenda-setting meeting last month regarding the performance assessments for the program, which focused on academic performance and fighting gang recruitment and did not specifically measure exposure to violence more generally. Houle proposed a commission-defined option to add some additional language designed to measure program participants’ exposure to violence, which passed unanimously.

In 2022, the commission allocated $7 million of American Rescue Plan funding to youth development and violence prevention. Of that $7 million, $3.6 million remains after accounting for the current contract with the Boys and Girls Club and the $500,000 that was spent on summer youth programming last year.

Mayor Kelly Girtz announced that the remaining funds will be spent in partnership with the Clarke County School District. The commission approved the first part of this partnership at their Tuesday meeting, which will provide opportunities for youth in the third to sixth grades to compete in “positive, structured sports programs” like basketball, volleyball, soccer, track and field and cheerleading.

Commissioner Melissa Link briefly objected to the lack of non-sports related opportunities, such as arts classes, but Girtz reassured her that the sports programming was merely “an appetizer.” After allocating $230,000 for the sports program, $3.4 million will remain in the local government’s youth development fund, leaving plenty of room for the main course whatever that turns out to be.

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Other items of interest

Linnentown Lane

Hattie Thomas Whitehead receives a certificate of honor from Mayor Kelly Girtz
Whitehead receives a certificate from Girtz, which reads “For giving voice to Linnentown nationally in the New York Times — ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

The portion of S. Finley Street that runs from Baxter Street to Cloverhurst Avenue has been renamed Linnentown Lane in honor of the former neighborhood that once stood at this location. The neighborhood was destroyed during the urban renewal period of the 60s and 70s to make room for the UGA dorms such as Creswell Hall that now stand along Baxter Street.

Hattie Thomas Whitehead, a former resident of Linnentown who had been fighting for this name change as part of the Athens Justice and Memory Project, was honored by the commission on Tuesday along with community activists and nonprofit directors Rashe Malcolm, Linda Lloyd and Heather Benham for their outstanding community service.

Candidate sites chosen

The commission approved a short list of candidate sites for the proposed eastside library and judicial center but delayed a decision on the approval of a third bond issuance to support the proposed Classic Center Arena. They’ll take a look at that in a special meeting on Tuesday, August 15.

Public safety monitor housed within the auditor’s office

The commission decided in a 9-1 vote that the role of public safety monitor will be housed within the ACC Office of Operational Analysis, headed by new ACC Internal Auditor Gavin Hassemer. Commissioner Allison Wright was the lone vote in opposition, but she did not elaborate.

The purpose of the public safety monitor is to help the ACC Public Safety Oversight Board provide oversight over the police department and other law enforcement agencies by reviewing police procedures and complaints.

New positions for the DA’s office

The commission also approved two new legal assistant positions for the District Attorney’s office paid for with American Rescue Plan funding. Their hope is that these positions will help the court system process a large backlog of cases from the COVID-19 pandemic remaining due to a shortage of prosecuting attorneys. The commission approved the legal assistant positions on the understanding that they would be temporary, hoping that attorney staffing within the DA’s office will improve before the American Rescue Plan funds expire.

Ban on indoor vaping

The ban on indoor vaping that the commission discussed last month passed unanimously on the consent agenda.

125 Baxter Drive rezoning denied

The commission denied a rezoning request for 125 Baxter Drive after getting complaints from nearby residents of a relatively wealthy, white neighborhood. The request was to change zoning from “mixed density residential” to “main street business,” which would have allowed for an increase in housing density. 

The planning commission recommended approving the request in a 5-0 vote, but the ACC Commission denied it, also in a unanimous vote.

Commissioner Melissa Link
Commissioner Melissa Link

“I’m not opposed to increasing density here to some extent,” Link said. “But what’s being proposed is massive. It’s 18 acres, that’s a huge tract. This would be giving them a blank slate to put The Mark [a huge student development] there on Baxter Street. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is intended to be future student housing.”

If passed, the proposal would have required the developer to gain approval for any changes to the site beyond replacing a building that burned down a decade ago. Still, the commission felt uncomfortable approving the developer’s request in the face of opposition from residents of Fortson Drive, which abuts the property. 

The commission is asking the developer to return with a more detailed plan for the site, if they can find one nearby residents would approve.

Pittard Road environmental concerns

As Tuesday’s meeting was drawing to a close, a group of 15-20 people with the words “Justice 31≥” printed on black shirts spoke during public comment to urge the local government to do more to address concerns of environmental pollution in the Pittard Road area.

Residents of Pittard Road stand up in black shirts that say "Justice 31."

“The Pittard Road stakeholders have been impacted negatively as environmental victims due to industrial dumping in the soil,” said Dr. Tawana Mattox, a community organizer who grew up in the area. “Many of our neighbors, over 31 people, were diagnosed and/or died with various cancers.”

Pittard Road residents were not satisfied with a previous investigation of potential environmental contaminants by the ACC government, the findings of which were released in April.

Mattox and other residents called on the local government to do a second cancer cluster study and for additional testing of the soil and wells in the area.

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