Local News Update: July 2, 2019

What happened at the July Mayor and Commission meeting in Athens, Georgia?

1 – SPLOST 2020: The Saga Continues
2 – Wayfair brings 500 living-wage jobs
3 – Protected bike lanes coming to Hancock Ave
4 – Judd Drake becomes the new ACC Attorney
5 – Commission PROTESTED by immigrant right’s groups

Transcript

Welcome to Athens Politics Nerd. So, what’s the latest from the mayor and commission?

We’re finally getting protected bike lanes in Athens and 500 jobs are coming from Wayfair! They pay living wages, but are they ethical? I’ve got that and the latest on SPLOST 2020 coming up!

You can keep up with local news, Georgia politics and national policy by subscribing. Click that subscribe button and let’s get to it.

At the commission’s agenda-setting meeting on June 18, a line of speakers gave public comment supporting or opposing different potential SPLOST projects. With $278 million dollars on the line over 10 years, creating the final list is an enormously important decision that will have an impact on our community for decades to come. There is even talk of extending the SPLOST to 11 years to accommodate even more projects, such as the Classic Center Arena.

This is such a difficult decision that the commission pushed it back two weeks to give themselves extra time. The final vote will take place on Tuesday the 16th.

In exchange for a $50,000 dollar investment from the county, the home goods company Wayfair agreed to bring in 500 jobs to Athens. These jobs will be at a new customer service center to be built at the old General Time factory. They’ll pay at least $14 an hour plus benefits, so that’s great news and a huge win for the ACC Economic Development Department. <record scratch sound> Wait, what? <sound of crumpled papers> Why can’t we have just one unambiguous win?? Is that too much to ask? Days after this agreement was reached, Wayfair employees walked out in protest, calling on their company to stop selling beds to Trump’s detention camps and to establish a company code of ethics. These demands were not met exactly, but the employees are now back to work, and will continue speaking with management about maybe getting to the point where they’re not profiting off human misery. Athens employees will hopefully also have the opportunity to contribute to that conversation and to join in any future walkouts.

In a split vote, protected bike lanes were approved for Hancock Avenue, near Cine. This vote was contentious because of some parking spaces that had to be removed to accommodate both the new, protected bike lanes and also the big trucks that often load and unload at Creature Comforts. Four commissioners were uncomfortable with the removal of the parking spaces, and tried to delay the vote to find another option.

Commissioner NeSmith: I’m not convinced this design has the truck situation under control.

Commissioner Hamby: I’d like to make a motion we hold it for a month.

That vote failed 4-5, and the final vote to accept the bike lanes passed 9-0. 9 yes, 0 no. Alright, motion carries.

Athens-Clarke County officially has a new attorney, welcome to Judd Drake! He’s familiar with consolidated governments, with his former job being in Macon-Bibb county.

Lastly, our local government was protested at this commission meeting by Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens and the Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition. The commission has not acted quickly enough to protect immigrant communities from the threat of arrest and deportation for driving without a license, according to protestors.

So that they stop arresting people for not having a driver’s license. <speaking in spanish> Every day, the community has to go to work, has to go to the doctor, has to go grocery shopping and has to bring their kids to school.

Many states allow undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses, for reasons of safety. Makes sense, because there are safety benefits to making sure everyone has had at least some training and certification before they get behind a wheel. However, states like Georgia refuse to let undocumented immigrants apply for a license. Some counties seem to disagree with the state on this, and Cobb county has stopped arresting people who drive without a license. The undocumented community in Athens is asking for that same protection.

<speaking in spanish> It’s not just about paying a high fee. <speaking in spanish> Or being arrested like a criminal. <speaking in spanish> But the damage that is done to the children. <speaking in spanish> Children are afraid when they see a policeman in the streets. <speaking in spanish> We know this is possible because other counties in the state have done it. <speaking in spanish> It’s just a matter if you want to make it happen.

In response, Mayor Girtz claimed that Athens’ current policy on the books is actually the same as in Cobb county.

Our common protocol in the Athens-Clarke County Police Department is effectively the same as in Cobb county, which is that if identification can be produced, then there is release. If one has a passport, someone is simply allowed to find alternate means to go home at that point. If we need to be more explicit, I think we are willing to do that.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite square with the experience of many immigrants in town. The commission will definitely need to make this policy more explicit, at the least, and I hope this will be at the top of their agenda, soon. We’ll be watching.

Hey, did you know that you can subscribe to my blog directly at athenspoliticsnerd.com. Thanks to my patrons, and I’ll see ya next time.

Thanks to Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens (DIA) for the use of their videos! If you speak Spanish, you can check out their website here.

If you’re an English-speaker like me, you can visit the Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition’s website to learn more or make a donation,

You can also like DIA’s Facebook page to show support.

Source Videos:

Voting Session (July 2, 2019)
Agenda-Setting Session (June 18, 2019)
DIA’s May 1st Protest at City Hall

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