Mayor and Commission 2/5/19

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor works with a 10-member Commission to pass legislation. (Photo/Spencer Donovan)

An accepted settlement for a former ACC police officer who hit a suspect with his car underscored the Mayor and Commission meeting on Tuesday night.

The Commission, without Mayor Kelly Girtz in attendance, also voted on a public arts project for downtown and zoning changes regarding halfway houses.

Addressing legislation against ACC

The Commission voted 5-2, with one abstention, to accept a legal settlement of $250,000 between ACC and former ACCPD police officer Taylor Saulters.

In June 2018 Saulters hit a fleeing suspect with his patrol vehicle, and the next day former ACCPD Police Chief Scott Freeman fired him. Saulters proceeded to find a job as an officer in Oglethorpe County, and in September 2018 Freeman was forced to resign. A state investigation exonerated Saulters in October 2018.

District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker was frustrated with the fact that no information about this item was uploaded online before the meeting.

“How could they have known today, or even prior to today, if they wanted to be here to see this vote taking place,” Parker asked.

Imani Scott-Blackwell, a former candidate for Clarke County School District Board of Education in District 5, also spoke about her disdain of the commission’s action surrounding this item.

“I am disappointed with the commission’s decision to pass with settlement with Officer Saulters,” Scott-Blackwell said. “But not just on the decision in and of itself, but also on the lack of transparency around this conversation.”

Public art project on Clayton Street

The Commission voted unanimously to send the public art project item to the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission for further recommendation. This is the first step in setting up a private contract with Athens artists to have public art structures on Clayton Street.

District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link, who represents downtown, said she was happy with the project but hoped that, in the future, smaller art projects would be considered so include a greater amount of influence from local artists.

“This project would include some extensive public presentation and outreach to public artists,” Link said. “I hope we do keep in mind that there’s a place for smaller scale projects … we need to make room for our local artists so they can get their foot in the door.”

Request to rezone parcels of land for halfway houses

The Commission voted unanimously to amend the Code of ACC and allow special use approval of halfway houses on three parcels on Highland Park Drive.

The houses are owned by Freedom from Bondage, a recovery residence organization tailored towards women in Athens who are facing substance use disorders.

“Our goal is to support the recovering woman,” Chris Church, program director at Freedom from Bondage, said. “Over the years we’ve had many success stories — women are building lives beyond their greatest expectations”

School resource officer agreement for 2019-2020 year

The agreement assigns six law enforcement officers to schools in the Clarke County School District for the 2019-2020 school year at a cost that cannot exceed $325,000. This agreement passed unanimously, but not before several commissioners either edited the language in the agreement or gave their opinions on the use of resource officers in schools in general.

Parker said she believes that there are enough bold ideas and creativity in Athens to get to a point where policing schools and communities may not be necessary at all.

“We have to be bold in addressing [crimes], as well as the roots of those crimes,” Parker said.

District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton echoed some of the same sentiments.

“The school resource officers are vital — folks just don't know what’s going on,” Thornton said. “And I’m excited about Chief Spruill. I hope under his leadership we can change the image of police officers in Clarke County.”

Ordinance for Phase V landfill construction budget amendment

This ordinance amended the Landfill Enterprise Fund budget in order to cover the full cost of a landfill construction contract that would complete phase five of the landfill in District 1.

District 1 Commissioner Patrick Davenport was the only commissioner to vote against the ordinance. He and Athens resident Sydney Bacchus spoke out against the ordinance.

Bacchus said the impact on the nearby environment was not considered when phases of the landfill were passed.

“My concerns are that important streams were not identified and impacts on the environment were omitted,” Bacchus said.

Davenport talked about the impact on his family and the community near the landfill.

“In the past year alone I had two of my cousins die of cancer,” Davenport said. “I have been on a campaign to test that water and to test that soil.”

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