What happened at the last Mayor and Commission meeting in Athens, Georgia? Quite a bit actually:
1 – Cash bail ended
2 – Smoking banned in sidewalk cafes
3 – Generous lease agreements made
4 – FY2020 budget passed
5 – Single-use plastic bags will be banned
6 – Surprising admission about EMS services
These issues can’t be covered adequately in such a short clip, so look for future videos on these topics!
Welcome to Athens Politics Nerd where we break down commission meetings to bring you the important local news.
At the last meeting, the mayor and commission made huge progress on criminal justice reform, they passed the 2020 budget including a prosperity package to fight poverty, and Commissioner NeSmith made a surprising admission about our for-profit ambulance service. All coming up!
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The commission ended cash bail for violations of local ordinances, which is a huge win for advocacy groups like the Athens Anti-Discrimination movement and Athens for Everyone.
I’m excited to be here today because for almost one year myself and various community members have advocated to eliminate cash bail. We can be a bright shining example for not only the state of Georgia, but for the country. At this moment, we are reminded just how important grassroots advocacy is.
There are exceptions for people who have previously failed to respond to court summons and for violent offenders, but all other offenders of local ordinances will be set free and sent a text message when it’s time for them to appear in court. I feel this is such a big deal that I’m going to make a whole video about it, look for that coming soon.
Next, the commission took a look at our sidewalk cafe ordinance for downtown. Two big changes are that they banned smoking and beer bottles in outside cafes. Wine bottles and glasses that are washed and reused are still allowed. This only applies to sidewalk cafes outside of restaurants, so smoking outside of bars is still allowed.
Moving on to the county’s lease agreements with outside agencies like the East Athens Development Corporation and the Clarke County Health Department. Keep watching, this is pretty interesting! The East Athens Development Corporation had been renting their space from the local government for $720 dollars a month, but for the next year, they and all other agencies will have their rent lowered to $1. For the entire year. Why suddenly so generous? Well, some of these agencies had been receiving similarly generous lease contracts for years now. Others, particularly black-led organizations like those in East Athens, were paying market rates in that same time-frame. To me, this is what racism looks like. It is really imperative that we deal with this as far as equity is concerned.
For now, everyone will get generous terms until a policy is developed that’s fair across the board.
The local government’s budget for fiscal year 2020 was also passed at this meeting. There is a lot of great stuff in it, and I’m going to go over it in detail in a future video. Budgets are so exciting! Are you not entertained?
Next, the Mayor made an announcement: “I’m also assigning to the citizen’s solid waste advisory committee to develop a draft ordinance for eliminating plastic bags and styrofoam containers at points of purchase.” This is something that advocacy groups like UGA’s Bag the Bag have been pushing for for years! With big companies like Kroger removing plastic bags from their shelves as well, this is a perfect time for ACC to implement that county-wide. The ordinance should be ready by the end of the year, with a one-year phase in.
Lastly, I want to focus on something very interesting that Commissioner NeSmith admitted at the end of this meeting. Commissioner Denson started by asking for transparency for the EMS Oversight Committee that regulates our ambulance service here in Athens.
With the EMS oversight committee, it is a little concerning to me that those meetings are happening in closed session. And so I guess I’d like to see what legal ways we could possibly change that then, if we have seats at that table, on that committee, to make sure those meetings are being held legally and open and actually going by the sunshine laws.
Commissioner NeSmith then gave such a strange and revealing comment, I just have to play it for you. He’s talking about his role on the oversight committee!
We both were concerned about EMS performance and wanted to know more. And so, we’re under non-disclosure, with them. We had to sign NDAs, but we have learned a lot. I’ve actually gained a lot of confidence in the performance of EMS, especially in conjunction with our fire department, the EMTs. Because they’re more distributed, they usually get there first.
Am I taking crazy pills? The ambulance is supposed to get there first! We subsidize them, and they are contracted to arrive within 8 minutes to an emergency. Why does the fire department usually beat them? Look, our fire department is amazing, it’s one of the best in the country, and I’d love for them to take over EMS services. But that’s not the situation. We’re contracting it out to a for-profit company, and that company, according to Commissioner NeSmith, usually doesn’t get there very quickly, and so our public fire department is having to pick up the slack. Which they are doing well, and I’m glad for that. If you’re an ACC Firefighter, thank you for your service! But if the public sector is the one doing the job, why are we subsidizing this for-profit company?
I’ve got a video in the works on the EMS issue as well, so take a look for that, tentatively scheduled on June 29th. Have a great day and thanks for watching!