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ACC lawmakers pass $500K public safety spending measure

Members of the Athens-Clarke County Commission and Mayor Kelly Girtz at a commission meeting on March 5, 2024.
Members of the Athens-Clarke County Commission and Mayor Kelly Girtz at a commission meeting on March 5, 2024.

During a brief meeting on Tuesday night and with little discussion, Athens-Clarke County commissioners voted unanimously to spend over half a million dollars in new public safety measures.

The new spending will go towards expanding the county’s Real Time Crime Center, adding two mobile surveillance trailers for large events, extra cameras, and all-terrain vehicles for the county’s trail network.

Mayor Kelly Girtz told commissioners that the improvements were already in the works, but that Tuesday’s vote would speed them through the process.

"These were items that were already in motion," Girtz said. "We, as many local governments do, often line up projects and activities over a multiyear cycle. We benefit from good management here, and so we have some operating contingency, and so we want to get these project done earlier than they would have otherwise."

The debate over the quartet of proposals was short, and was briefly interrupted by a protester, who was removed by police officers.

In public comment after the vote, a number of people criticized local lawmakers for the county’s response to the murder of former University of Georgia student Laken Riley on the UGA campus last month. Riley’s accused killer is an undocumented migrant from Venezuela.

Representatives of the group SafeD Athens proffered a draft ordinance to spend some $5 million on a package of initiatives, including beefed up police patrols, more cameras, homeless outreach, and cleanup of public areas.

Some speakers criticized the local government for its approach to immigration, repeating the charge that Athens is a “sanctuary city,” something denied by Girtz and other local officials. That criticism seems to primarily stem from a 2019 resolution passed by the ACC Commission expressing support for the immigrant community, regardless of status.

Resolutions are generally used to allow lawmakers to express their sense on particular issues, but do not create binding policy.

Some speakers called on Girtz and other local lawmakers to resign their posts, while others spoke up to support the city’s migrant community. One of those speakers was Board of Education member Tim Denson.

"Why are innocent, undocumented Athenians being targeted for Laken's death?" Denson questioned. "It's illogical to blame every single person who might be undocumented for that."

After about an hour of public comment, commissioners had a chance to weigh in.

"I am as disgusted by the crime as I am by the hysterical glee with which so many have seized upon this tragedy to promote division, bigotry, and hate," said District 2 Commissioner Melissa Link.

Several commissioners passed on the opportunity to speak at the end of the meeting.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.