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Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz takes notes at a Mayor and Commission meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Photo/Jason Born)

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday encouraging residents to continue to shelter in place after Gov. Brian Kemp announced that certain businesses would be allowed to reopen Friday.

Kemp’s executive order overrides any local ordinance, meaning the county cannot enforce rules that contradict the governor’s order. District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards said the resolution is only a recommendation, but it is important for the Commission to “echo the expert opinions” and continue to provide guidance to citizens.

Health care experts have said testing should be much more widespread than current levels. In an interview with The Red & Black Tuesday, Mayor Kelly Girtz criticized Kemp’s order for not considering current testing efforts.

Edwards said commissioners are still concerned that testing and contact tracing have been “substandard” and the northeast Georgia area still needs more robust treatment. He said people should shelter in place to prevent overwhelming medical facilities.

The resolution also recommends citizens wear face masks when in public to hinder the spread of the virus, Edwards said.

District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson said the state of Georgia has not met federal criteria to remove shelter-in-place orders, including downward trends in COVID-19-like cases and a robust testing system for at-risk healthcare workers.

“It is dangerous for us to be moving forward on the path that our governor has placed us on,” Denson said. “I think it is very important that we raise a flag that says we are not over this yet.”

Commissioners also unanimously passed a resolution to create a joint development authority with the city of Winterville to provide low-interest loans to businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Girtz said many businesses have had difficulty getting loans through federal programs, and the goal of the authority with Winterville is to create a local option that’s easier to apply to. The resolution itself does not create the loan framework, but Girtz said he anticipates a draft loan program to be delivered to the Commission in the next “couple of days.”

The joint authority will consist of seven members, four appointed by the ACC government and the other three by the city of Winterville. Members will serve terms of about four years, and must be taxpayers of the jurisdiction that appoints them.

Denson said the county cannot give grants to businesses due to state government restrictions, but said he’d like to see these loans be given to businesses with no interest.

Commissioners also discussed possibly allowing Verizon Wireless to build a new cell tower at 855 Nowhere Road. Commissioners denied a request to build the tower in December, and Verizon filed a federal lawsuit against the county on Jan. 3.

Chuck Palmer, a lawyer for Verizon, said the company would reduce the height of the proposed tower by 30 feet and plant trees around the site to settle the case. Denson read comments he received from 10 of his constituents urging commissioners to deny the tower. Commissioners unanimously voted to move the matter to a May 19 meeting.

At its next voting meeting on May 5, commissioners will vote on amending industrial wastewater pretreatment limits, a Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax project for a pedestrian and bicycle path called the Firefly trail, and a grant to fund programs for the Juvenile Court to help minors who would otherwise be committed to the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice.

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