The Athens-Clarke County Legislative Review Committee continued its discussion on an anti-discrimination ordinance in a livestreamed meeting Thursday. This ordinance would expand the existing ordinance that applies to bars in downtown Athens.
In the committee’s May 21 meeting, District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker asked about making the proposed ordinance public, as members of the public are currently not able to see it. In Thursday’s meeting, county attorney Sherrie Hines said a public memo that addresses public concerns and maintains attorney-client privilege was not possible at this time.
Hines also addressed District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton’s previous question about including criminal background as a protected category. Though there is a growing movement to “ban the box,” — take the box asking about criminal history off of job applications — Georgia has not been part of that movement, Hines said. In Georgia, it is legal to use criminal history to decide who to hire.
Municipal Court Judge Ryan Hope said that both ACC and the state of Georgia governments are “ban the box” employers in regard to their own hiring practices, but there is no law requiring private entities to do so.
County Inclusion Officer Krystle Cobran, along with Hines and Hope, looked into how other municipalities with non-discrimination ordinances handle complaints in order to find a model for the ACC ordinance.
Hope said he reached out to Decatur’s clerk of court and Atlanta’s Municipal Court Judge JaDawnya Baker and found that neither had a single discrimination complaint go to court.
Hines said this might be an issue with reporting, since cases will never reach courts if they are not reported. Hope also said that if the complaint system is “burdensome or cumbersome or hard to find,” the courts will never hear about it.
District 4 Commissioner Allison Wright said that the county government’s own dress code violations process is hard to find and navigate, so any reporting process for the anti-discrimination ordinance would have to be improved.
Cobran said the Inclusion Office has been looking at discrimination complaint processes around the country along with ACC’s own exisitng processes to report discrimination. She said the county’s current procedures are not accessible to everybody.
In order to make a complaint, the person must have internet access to find the form, a printer to print and fill it out, and a scanner to submit it, Cobran said. The form also does not explain the next steps in the process which might discourage some people from filling it out.
County assistant manager Deborah Lonon also spoke about discrimination experienced by county employees.
In January, a new hire in the Solid Waste Department allegedly experienced discrimination from patrons of a bar downtown. Solid Waste Department director Suki Janssen held a staff meeting to address the experience and discovered that this type of discrimination was common from white patrons downtown. Lonon said staff was under the impression that this was the norm and that nothing could be done about it.
The ACC Police Department and Hines provided legal advice for the Solid Waste staff at the time, Lonon said. ACCPD Chief Cleveland Spruill said that there are laws that prohibit this type of behavior but it depends on what is said and is difficult to enforce. Spruill said it was important to immediately report discrimination to the police.
Hines said that there are no new laws concerning discrimination against government employees that need to be written because the ACC government has a responsibility as an employer to protect their employees.
The Legislative Review Committee agreed to continue the discussing the anti-discrimination ordinance in their next meeting on Aug. 20.