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Committee Votes Against Public Curfew

Athens doesn’t need a curfew for public spaces like the City Hall and courthouse grounds, say four commissioners who serve on a committee that’s been discussing the proposed law.

The Legislative Review Committee—chairman Kelly Girtz, Allison Wright, George Maxwell and Doug Lowry—voted unanimously to send the proposal on to the full commission, along with a recommendation that their colleagues not pass it.

The ordinance—assigned to the LRC by Mayor Nancy Denson last year after Occupy Athens protesters camped outside City Hall—would have let the government set hours for spaces outside City Hall, the courthouse and the planning department building on Dougherty Street.

Commissioners raised concerns about people wandering around the water treatment plant, the landfill or other dangerous places, obstructing fire trucks by camping near fire stations, or getting in the way of maintenance workers, but they decided the ordinance didn’t address those concerns. They also had concerns about free-speech and protest rights.

“I have been one of those who demonstrated for equal rights back in the day,” said Maxwell, a former civil rights activist.

The public should be able to visit landmarks like the Spirit of Athens statue, the double-barrelled cannon and the veteran’s monument outside the courthouse at any time, commissioners said.

“Those are symbols that I think people should have access to at all times,” Lowry said.

The “Occupy ordinance” or “public curfew law,” as it’s known, drew widespread opposition. About 20 protesters came to the LRC meeting Tuesday evening.

The vote ended several months of debate on the LRC. The recommendation will go on to the full commission Thursday, June 20, and a vote is scheduled for Tuesday, July 2. Correction: Thursday, July 18 and Tuesday, Aug. 6.