Ban on indoor vaping coming soon to Athens

The ACC Commission returned from their summer break to a packed meeting on Tuesday where they discussed a ban on indoor vaping and a number of other topics. APN breaks down the highlights below:

Vaping ban
Police monitor finally chosen… sort of
Delinquency prevention initiative
Eastside library and new courthouse update
Classic Center Arena woes

Vaping ban

When the commission banned indoor smoking in 2005, vaping wasn’t a thing. But now e-cigarettes are everywhere, and the commission is looking to update their old anti-smoking ordinance to include vaping.

“It’s not harmless water vapor,” said Lauren Bracci, the Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association of Georgia, at the commission’s Legislative Review Committee meeting in May. “Second-hand aerosol contains heavy metal, cancer-causing toxic chemicals and fine particulates that can worsen heart and lung disease.”

While probably not as dangerous as smoking, the American Heart Association says that vaping isn’t safe, and neither is inhaling the vapor second-hand. 

At the recommendation of the Legislative Review Committee, the commission placed the anti-vaping ordinance on their consent agenda, meaning they’ll vote to ban the practice indoors across Athens next month. However, retail tobacco shops, private clubs and hotel rooms designated for smokers are currently exempted from the anti-smoking ordinance, so you’ll still be allowed to vape there as well.

Police monitor finally chosen… sort of

Newly hired ACC Internal Auditor Gavin Hassemer announced that he will be serving as the monitor of the ACC Police Department and other public safety agencies if approved by the commission at their voting meeting on August 1. If approved, Hassemer would assist the Public Safety Oversight Board by reviewing police complaints personally in any down-time he has from his normal duties as auditor.

Originally, the Police Advisory Board Development Task Force created by Mayor Kelly Girtz recommended one full-time, dedicated monitor position and at least two part-time positions to assist the monitor. More recently, the Public Safety Oversight Board repeated this request to have at least one dedicated full-time staffer. Hassemer himself also asked for an additional full-time position for his office to handle the responsibilities of monitoring ACC public safety agencies.

But the commission’s Government Operations Committee disagreed. They’re not recommending any additional positions for the ACC Office of Operational Analysis at the time.

It’s possible Hassemer can handle the workload, or that he’ll decide to work overtime if need be to make the Public Safety Oversight Board a success. It’s also possible the board will be able to provide active and robust oversight without much in the way of staff support. But if not, it will become clearer that the board has become a casualty of the commission’s rightward shift after redistricting and the 2022 election. The current commission is stuck with an oversight board, the gift of the previous commission, that they may not really want. While it’s here to stay, full funding will probably remain out of reach.

A redesigned audit committee

Girtz announced that the commission’s new audit committee has been formed and is ready to help relaunch the Office of Operational Analysis after years of inactivity. Commissioners Carol Myers and Dexter Fisher will be joined by former Clarke County School District Superintendent Xernona Thomas, local insurance agent Carl Blount and business owner Beth Higgins.

The commission hopes that by including people with knowledge and expertise on the audit committee – not just politicians – that they’ll be better able to hold the auditor accountable and improve productivity in the office. 

Delinquency prevention initiative

The commission gave their initial approval for the Boys and Girls Club of Athens to start a new delinquency prevention initiative funded by the American Rescue Plan. The purpose of the program, proposed by Fisher and Commissioner Tiffany Taylor, is to help at-risk youth stay out of gangs and improve their academic performance, hopefully reducing gang violence in Athens over the long-term. 

The Boys and Girls Club is asking for $1.6 million to fund this initiative and another $1.3 million to allow them to reopen the community centers in Broadacres and Parkview while continuing support for their satellite locations in Nellie B and Rocksprings.

The commission will vote on the contract with the Boys and Girls Club next month.

Eastside library and new courthouse update

The commission is in the process of narrowing down potential sites for a new eastside library and a new courthouse, both funded by SPLOST 2020. ACC staff have identified eight candidate sites for the library and nine for the courthouse that the commission will whittle down to four each at their voting meeting on August 1.

According to a public poll, the most promising potential site for the eastside library is 2000 Barnett Shoals Road, which is currently a Kroger shopping center, with 280 Gaines School Road, the current site of CCSD’s early learning center, as the runner up. According to a similar poll, the federal building at 355 East Hancock and the jail property on Lexington Road are the two best sites for the new courthouse.

But all of these sites have their disadvantages. For example, many of them are not currently owned by the county and they may be difficult to acquire. That’s one reason why the commission is considering alternate sites, like the CHaRM facility on College Avenue for the courthouse or 1030 Barnett Shoals Road for the library.

Classic Center Arena woes

Paul Cramer, CEO of the Classic Center, seemed as confident as ever about the future of the planned Classic Center Arena even as he told the commission that the developer has backed out of the deal. It’s why he’s asking to double the size of the third bond issue from $13 to $26 million to get the capital needed to keep construction on schedule.

Can the Classic Center shoulder this increased debt, while keeping the arena project on track? Yes, according to Cramer. 

“We have years of history of revenue streams that shows you we can pay this bond back,” he told a somewhat skeptical Commissioner Jesse Houle on Tuesday night. And he has the figures to back it up – Cramer is expecting an increase in the hotel / motel tax revenue, first of all, and he wants to raise the price of tickets, parking and finally the price of arena naming rights as a way to ensure the bonds are repaid.

The developer backed out because of the Classic Center’s inability to secure a minor league hockey team as a tenant for the arena, but Cramer remains optimistic that he’ll seal the deal. “We’re gonna have a hockey team,” he told Commissioner John Culpepper who also seemed a bit skeptical. “It’s gonna happen.”

Despite their doubts, the commission is likely to approve Cramer’s request. After all, the arena project could end up being a major economic driver for our community and it will pay living wages to its workers. We’re also so deeply invested in it that, at this point, there isn’t much choice. 

The Classic Center Arena is scheduled to open next year.

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