m&c special called session 6/25

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission passed the fiscal year 2021 budget at a special called meeting Thursday. (Screenshot/ACC YouTube)

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission passed the fiscal year 2021 budget without a reduction of police funding Thursday in a special called meeting. The commission also approved the movement of the Confederate monument on College Avenue and Broad Street to Timothy Place and a memorial project for the Linnentown neighborhood.

The budget passed 7-2 with no reduction to the ACC Police Department’s funding. Police funding has been a highly-discussed topic recently in the wake of nationwide protests of police brutality against the Black community. Over 100 people gathered at City Hall to voice their opinions on the fiscal year 2021 budget on June 17. Many said they wanted a reduction in police funding in the budget.

The Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement held a rally on June 25 during the special called meeting. One of their goals was to stall the budget vote for more time for public input and to negotiate police funding.

The commission was originally scheduled to accept the budget on June 16 but pushed the vote to June 25. The county charter says the commission must adopt the budget by June 30, or else the budget for the previous fiscal year will be adopted for the next fiscal year. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Commissioners Mariah Parker (District 2) and Tim Denson (District 5) voted against the budget after a motion by Parker was not passed. Parker motioned to add a goal of exploring options to shrink investments in armed police officers by 50% and transition toward a broader definition of public safety over the next 10 years. This initiative, proposed previously by Parker and Denson, is called the 50/10 Plan.

In a June 18 work session, the commission discussed the 50/10 Plan and the S.T.A.R.T Athens Plan proposed by Commissioners Ovita Thornton, Patrick Davenport, Allison Wright, Mike Hamby and Andy Herod.

Some parts of the S.T.A.R.T. Athens Plan were added to the final budget, including a county minority purchasing officer to focus on procuring minority services, contracts and consultants for the county.

During the meeting, Parker advocated for a community participatory budget process for the next year’s budget, which means community members would have direct input in the budgeting process.

Hamby, the District 10 commissioner, highlighted an amendment in the budget that adds another mental health co-responder team to the police department and a social worker in the public defender’s office. A co-responder team is made up of an ACCPD officer and a mental health specialist from Advantage Behavioral Health Systems to respond to people who are having mental health crises. The amendment also commits $350,000 toward public safety and community building that addresses police strategies.

The mayor and commission also voted to move the Confederate monument on College Avenue and East Broad Street to the site of the Battle of Barber Creek at Timothy Place and widen the crosswalk across East Broad Street. Mayor Kelly Girtz said someone will design an interpretative package with historical context for the monument.

Thornton, the District 9 commissioner, said she had issues with the Confederate monument being moved and wished that the money would’ve gone to building statues honoring Black leaders.

“I don’t think moving a statue erases racist hearts,” Thornton said. “It’s part of the history.”

The commission voted to close College Avenue between Clayton and Broad Streets, commonly called College Square, for six months. Girtz said that during the closure, the ACC government will evaluate if the closure could be made permanent to create a pedestrian plaza and space for outdoor dining.

District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link and Wright (District 4) also presented a motion to allocate $50,000 to paint a rainbow crosswalk near College Square, which passed. The total project cost is $500,000, Girtz said. Wright said the Legislative Review Committee hopes to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance by the time the asphalt at College Square was ready.

Girtz also said they would be launching a Linnentown Justice and Memory Project that would work with Linnentown residents, historians, economists and other community members to atone for the removal of the Linnentown neighborhood.

The Linnentown neighborhood was demolished in the 1960s to make room for three University of Georgia high-rise dorms — Russell, Creswell and Brumby Halls. The Linnentown Project has been lobbying for recognition and redress for the Black residents of Linnentown that were forced out by the university’s seizure of the land.

The Justice and Memory Project would involve formal site markers to acknowledge and apologize for the removal, recommendations for the creation of a Black history center and an enhancement of local efforts for housing equity.

This will be the first of several projects in the same frame of memory and justice, Girtz said.