Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson promised it was the beginning, not the end, in the struggle to end discrimination in Athens as a commission-defined option passed at Tuesday's commission meeting, which approved the alcohol license ordinance, previously known as an anti-discrimination ordinance.
The commission also decided to direct the Athens-Clarke County Manager and Attorney to explore ways to create a Human Relations Committee by partnering with already-existing local groups, with the manager and attorney reporting their findings no later than next June. The Human Relations Committee would serve as a liaison between the people and the government in matters of discrimination.
The ordinance commission-defined option passed with a vote of 6 "yes", 2 "no" and 2 abstaining. The reason for the dissenting votes was due to the fact that an amendment proposed by District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link was rejected. The amendment proposed allowing public input to the Athens-Clarke County Manager and Attorney in their process of creating a plan for the committee.
Many members of the anti-discrimination movement in Athens were disappointed by the commission’s failure to add the amendment, as they felt the community might not be heard in the creation of the committee.
“They passed the CDO without the public input [amendment], but it's not bad because there’s still a CDO on the table for a public relations committee,” said Mokah Jasmine Johnson, founder of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement. “Now there's no public input, so they're going to go behind closed doors to figure out how to formulate this committee.”
Johnson said she was happy with 90 percent of Tuesday's decision, and simply wished that Link’s amendment had been added. She said she was also happy the ordinance is now called the bar admittance ordinance as opposed to an anti-discrimination ordinance, as it only addresses discrimination in bars and not systemic discrimination.
Other activists at the commission meeting were less pleased with the final result of the vote, specifically for its failure to include the public input amendment. Athens for Everyone member Jesse Houle stormed out of city hall shouting that “the ‘yes’ votes come from the
enemies of justice.”
The overall reaction among those in the Athens anti-discrimination community were divided between those who were disappointed by the lack of a public input amendment but pleased the ordinance had passed and those who completely rejected the commission-defined option without the amendment and felt the others were being too diplomatic with the commissioners.
“It’s kinda disappointing that we’re at loggerheads over this, the two CDOs … are very similar and it’s a shame that we’ve got people basically engaged in a pissing contest,” said District 5 Commissioner Jared Bailey about the commission-defined option which
included the citizen input amendment and the one that did not.
The final approved version of the ordinance was proposed by the Government Operations Committee on Aug. 9, and is available starting on page 3 of the document below.
The alcohol license ordinance is the result of a commission-passed resolution in January, a survey conducted by members of the University of Georgia Student Government Association regarding discrimination downtown and months of citizen input and legislative review.
In its Aug. 9 form, the ordinance would require bars to post their dress code near their doors and keep records of all private events. It also would allow citizens to report acts of discrimination to the county attorney.
The ordinance was originally set to be voted on in September, but Denson pulled the item from the agenda for both September and October. After a rally at the October commission meeting, Denson announced that the ordinance would return to the agenda for the November meeting.
The commission meeting Tuesday night began with citizen input to the commission with those wishing to speak lining up behind the podium, the line extending out into the hallway. Many of the speakers read from a card which instructed them to tell the commission why they supported a Human Relations Committee and to “humbly ask” ask the commission to consider analogous committees in other communities such as Gwinnett County and Austin, Texas.
Some of the commissioners were skeptical of whether or not models for such a committee from other communities could be successful implemented in Athens. That claim was denied by Tommy Valentine, a member of the anti-discrimination movement, who said each suggested model was vetted by the organization before being presented to the commission to ensure it was compatible with Georgia law.
Many of those who spoke at the meeting were confused by the commission's final decision to change the the commission-defined option at the last minute, and felt as though their voices were not being heard by the commission.
“It’s just crazy because you can see [the commissioners] are divided with what they want to do,” Johnson said. “They’re still not fully listening to the people, because it would help them make the decision if they were listening to the people. It’s crazy right now; everything happened so fast.”
Correction: A previous version of the article indicated there was 1 vote "no." There were in fact 2 votes "no." The Red & Black regrets this error.