The Athens-Clarke County Legislative Review Committee discussed anti-discrimination and noise ordinances at a livestreamed May 21 meeting.
The committee discussed a county-wide anti-discrimination ordinance that would extend beyond the current ordinance that applies to bars in downtown Athens. The public is not able to view the proposed ordinance at this time, county attorney Sherrie Hines said. Hines said it would be difficult to draft an ordinance that would encompass the material but be releasable to the public, but the county would try.
The Athens ordinance was written based on anti-discrimination laws in Brookhaven and Decatur. The ordinances of those cities outlaw discrimination based on a number of categories, including race, religion and gender identity.
Hines said the Decatur ordinance places a “substantial burden” on municipal court judges, who must have preliminary hearings on whether an anti-discrimination case has probable cause. The judge also has to determine whether cases are preempted by state or federal law, in which case the county ordinance no longer applies.
Hines noted that although the local government should take steps to address discrimination, Athens residents have other ways to report discrimination that don’t go through the government. Hines said the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are resources for filing discrimination complaints in employment and housing.
District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker asked if the commission could put links to those departments and other resources on ACC’s website. She said that would make it easier and more accessible for residents to report discrimination. Parker motioned for the commission to begin the process of putting these resources on the website. The motion was unanimously passed and will be considered at the commission’s next meeting.
District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton asked if the ordinance could include criminal background as a protected category. Hines said she would look into that possibility.
Parker and District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards said they would like to see examples of how discrimination complaints are handled in Brookhaven and Decatur. Hines said there weren’t many complaints to look at because the two city ordinances were implemented last year, and county attorneys had not received many complaints. She said Athens has a similar trend with its downtown anti-discrimination ordinance — only three complaints have been made since its adoption, Hines said.
The committee also discussed revising the existing loud noise ordinance that would extend punishments for loud noise to the owners of properties, not just the inhabitants. Renters are already able to be cited under existing rules, and the goal of the revised ordinance is to hold owners accountable for repeated loud noise incidents.
The maximum punishment for most ordinance violations in ACC is up to six months in county jail or probation and up to a $1,000 fine, county attorney Michael Petty said. The noise ordinance would use these same guidelines.
The committee unanimously approved to move the ordinance out of committee for consideration by the mayor and full commission, amending the language of the ordinance from “loud noises” to “any noise in violation of our current noise ordinance.”
The Legislative Review Committee will continue to discuss the anti-discrimination ordinance in a June 18 meeting, District 4 Commissioner and committee chair Allison Wright said. The Mayor and Commission has a work session on May 26.