City DopeNews

Commissioners Continue Push for Criminal Justice Reform

Andy Herod is leaving the commission after serving more than three full terms.

Some Athens-Clarke County commissioners are questioning why the local government should accept state funding for local law enforcement.

Two state grants that have been routine in the past came under scrutiny at the commission’s Dec. 1 meeting. One, for $120,643, goes toward the salaries of four investigators and a records technician who work on cases of violence against women. The other, for $139,461, helps fund four investigators for the Northeast Georgia Regional Drug Task Force, a partnership among the ACC Police Department and the Clarke and Oglethorpe County sheriff’s departments that focuses on drug trafficking.

Commissioner Mariah Parker said she would rather spend money on preventing violence against women, such as relationship training and mental health care, than prosecuting offenders. “Simply locking someone in jail doesn’t do a lot to help the person who was the victim of that crime,” she said.

Ultimately the commission accepted both grants. A commission-defined option from Tim Denson and Parker directed the drug task force not to focus on marijuana or cases of simple possession. Manager Blaine Williams said the task force is bound to enforce state laws as long as they’re on the books. Drug rings also involve other crimes, such as speeding and sex trafficking, Commissioner Melissa Link said.

Mayor Kelly Girtz said the commission will have a work session on public safety early next year.

Commissioners also debated plans for a 109-unit apartment complex on Lexington Road that’s in Athens-Ben Epps Airport’s flight path. The ACC Planning Commission, planning staff and the Airport Authority all recommended denying the development, but some commissioners said they favored approval because the area needs new development and the developer promised to work with the Athens Land Trust to set aside 12 units as affordable housing.

“I think this is a pretty cool project,” Parker said. “I’m not that concerned about proximity to the airport.”

However, Commissioner Russell Edwards pointed out that the affordable housing pledge is not binding and raised concerns about noise.

“I hesitate to put this many bedrooms right beyond the runway of this airport,” he said. “If we achieve the dreams of many and get a commercial carrier one day, we’re going to have regular takeoffs of jets directly above this multifamily development, and that to me is not a good quality of life.”

The commission voted unanimously to put off a decision until January. Also delayed was an agreement with student housing developer Landmark Properties to build a parking deck for a new arena at the Classic Center and the company’s corporate headquarters at the student high-rise The Mark.

Commissioners also paid tribute to Andy Herod, who has served on the board since 2007 and is now stepping down. Commissioner Mike Hamby teased Herod for his British accent, Edwards read a limerick in his honor, and Parker even rapped a few bars.

On a more serious note, “You should be proud of what you’ve done for District 8, what you’ve done for Athens and what you’ve done for this commission,” Hamby said, pointing to Herod’s championing the Lexington Road corridor and Firefly Trail. Others lauded him for his wit and attention to detail.

Carol Myers will take over the seat in January. “I’m sure she will do an excellent job as the next District 8 commissioner,” Herod said.