Illegal tire dumping: a problem without a solution

By David Schick

Paul Martin didn’t see the hidden closing costs when he purchased the property where the old Omni Club sits. A quick survey of the ends of his property would reveal an illegal tire dump close to Briarcliff creek. What he soon realized is that the cost of disposing tires properly is exorbitant and often falls on the property owner.

Scrap tire disposal isn’t just an Athens-Clarke County problem.

In the early 1990s, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources created a Scrap Tire Program designed to clean up and recycle about 12 million tires that were housed in illegal stockpiles around Georgia. The landfilling of whole-sized tires has been banned since Dec. 31, 1994.

Read the rest of this entry »


LGBT Community Working Within UGA and Athens-Clarke County

Athens, apart from being recognized as a college town, is known for being a culturally diverse place with a progressive society. The downtown Athens area even has a reputation for having a bar or club for every social “scene.”

But what about the Lesbian, Gay, bi-sexual, and transgender community, commonly known as the LGBT community? Athens has a large and active LGBT community, but has no official place to gather outside of the LGBT Resource Center on the UGA campus.

Athens-Clarke County and the University of Georgia both show support for the LGBT community, but there seems to be some sort of disconnect between the community and the two institutions. Athens-Clarke County offers full domestic partnership benefits for city and county workers, however the University of Georgia does not. The university has an official LGBT resource center, whereas Athens-Clarke County lacks any official center for members of the LGBT community and has not had an official “gay-friendly” establishment in 5 years. Read the rest of this entry »


Downtown Police Substation Brings Reassurance Four Years Later

 By Ashton Adams

When an incompliant man began pounding on the glass windows outside the Smoker’s Den on College Avenue last week, employees didn’t bother calling the authorities.

Instead, manager Tonya Thorne walked next door and the situation was handled in less than two minutes.

The Smoker’s Den shares walls with the downtown police substation, a building whose presence alone has brought security back to downtown.

Read the rest of this entry »


Athens Area Chamber of Commerce makes global connection

By Emily Curl

While located in opposite sides of the globe, Athens-Clarke County and the City of Greater Geelong in Victoria, Australia have much more in common than one would suspect.

In hopes to improve downtown development and bring additional business to Athens, officials are researching and discussing new ways to help Athens’ businesses develop and succeed.

On February 8th, officials from the two cities met to discuss mutual interests in opportunities for economic development and signed a “Memorandum of Understanding to acknowledge the strategic relationship between the two cities,” as stated on the Athens-Clarke County website. Read the rest of this entry »


The Road to Legalization of Medicinal Marijuana is not over

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The road to legalization of medicinal marijuana is a bumpy road. At one point, it seemed like the possibility of legalization was going to happen. Senator Allen Peake was pushing hard for House bill 885 which would have legalized the use of cannabis for the treatment of cancer and glaucoma. House Bill 885 did not pass because the General Assembly did not have the chance to deliberate the bill. Another bill, Senate bill 397, which would have reformed medical treatment for autistic children in Georgia was a last minute addition to HB-885 and this attachment did not fair well for both bills.

Georgia HB 885, titled Haleigh’s Hope Act was passed in the Senate 54-0 only to later have it shot down on the floor of the General Assembly. A few people though, were skeptical of this bill without some changes.

The director of Georgia C.A.R.E Project saw this coming.

“We supported HB-885 with the hope that the committee (House Health & Human Services) would identify the issues and modify the bill’, said Bell. “Without this reform the bill is dead!”

According to James Bell, a component of House Bill 885 would have given smugglers immunity from prosecution to anyone who smuggles cannabis extracts into Georgia. He claims the proposal encourages swindlers and patients to violate federal laws that could land someone in federal prison for minimum of ten years to life.

“HB-885 sets up yet another black market and jeopardizes the freedom of those seeking legal medicine’, Bell said. “We need to legalize cultivation of cannabis in Georgia. We need legislation that removes cannabis from the criminal elements.”

James Bell, a lobbyist for marijuana law reform, resentfully supported HB-885 but now will turn his attention to the 2015 legislative session and will begin to work on a new bill that allows for “legal cultivation, dispensing and doctors recommendations for cannabis use.”

Medicinal marijuana reform has gained some muscle in the past few years. Some of that muscle has came from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, an important advocate for medicinal marijuana and an influential individual being a CNN correspondent who has taken numerous trips to hospitals and laboratories hoping to understand the science behind marijuana.

“It is about emerging science that not only shows and proves what marijuana can do for the body but provides better insights into the mechanisms of marijuana in the brain, “ said Gupta. “This scientific journey is about a growing number of patients who want the cannabis plant as a genuine medicine, not to get high.”

Dr. Gupta went onto release a sequel to “Weed” entitled “Weed 2: Cannabis Madness.” In the sequel, Dr. Gupta looks at United States federal laws that contemplate marijuana as a drug with no medicinal value and provides voices from scientists who say the federal laws are wrong.

In other words it is the “politics of pot – the politicians vs. the patients.”

So who are these politicians that some are pro medicinal marijuana and others who are against medicinal marijuana.

Nathan Deal, Governor of Georgia expressed his interest in legalizing medicinal marijuana after HB-885 did not follow through.

“I will be talking with all of our state agencies who have any kind of involvement in dealing with that issue to see if there is something we can do to make this treatment possible, “ Said Deal.

Marijuana has been called the “gateway drug” and one of the many reasons why it is still illegal is because of the THC level in the plant. The THC in marijuana is what gives you the “high” but in marijuana there is cannabidiol.

Cannabidiol “is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits.”

Some of the few benefits of CBD (cannabidiol) are that CBD can offset the carcinogens found in metastasis of cancer. CBD is also an anti-psychotic medicine that can treat schizophrenia as well as other brain related concerns.

So why is medicinal marijuana still ILLEGAL?

One of the reasons why it remains illegal in Georgia can be unfortunately thanked to Senator Renee Unterman who attatched Senate Bill 397 to House Bill 885 which would have “reformed medical treatment for autistic children in Georgia.”

“She had an agenda important to her, but it needed to stand alone. She didn’t need to hijack another bill to push her piece of legislation”, said Rep. Allen Peake, the main sponsor of HB 885.

Therefore adding SB 397 to HB 885 it predicted failure.

This failure puts a speed bump on the road of legalization to medicinal marijuana and it affects everyone from patients to politicians because of how important a reform like this is in present American society.

“These parents don’t understand how the General Assembly works but this building is nothing but politics”, Unterman said in an interview with WSBTV.

Now it seems like the year 2013-2014 the legislative session failed to pass two important bills for autism and medical marijuana reform.

Nonetheless, if each bill stood alone then we might now be in an era where medical marijuana is legalized.

The road to legalization of medical marijuana started on a high note, and then ran into some problems; but the road continues and might just end in a high note.

State Senator Curt Thompson has filed State Bill-432 (Controlled Substance Therapeutic Relief Act), which will address many of the issues such as the quality of how medicinal marijuana will be served, the safe and legal access to cannabis oil.

(Regarding the State Senators busy schedule, he did not have the time to sit down with me to talk about his act)

His controlled substance therapeutic relief act will do the speaking for him.

The C.S.T.R act will ensure patients a safe way of receiving cannabidiol – this substance will help patients. People who comply with this act will not put the State of Georgia or their patients in violation of federal law.

For patients, SB-432 will allow two ounces of marijuana for use. If the qualifying patients registry identification card states that the qualifying patient is authorized to cultivate marijuana, then eight marijuana plants contained in an enclosed and locked facility will be provided. However, if the patient is moving living locations then the marijuana plants will not have to be in an enclosed and locked facility for travel.

Locally, the people of Athens and its GOP heard some good news about legalization of medicinal marijuana from Governor Nathan Deal.

Governor Deal has been in constant communication with the state pharmaceutical board, composite medical board, and the state medical school as well as the Georgia Regents University in Augusta all about testing on volunteers with cannabinoid oil.

Governor Deal will be looking over this reform very carefully in legalization of medicinal marijuana.

“This is not something we want to open the floodgates on,” Deal said. “It has to be done in a very controlled manner.”

If the trails were successful, the General Assembly could take up medical marijuana again.

State Bill 432 will do what House Bill 885 couldn’t do – pass. So lets hope for the best for the patients who are suffering from cancer, glaucoma, and other diseases that can be cured by medicinal marijuana.

 


Automated Garbage Trucks might be Coming to Athens-Clarke County

Athens-Clarke County might be replacing its current fleet of garbage trucks with new fully automatic trucks for $1.9 million.

The Solid Waste Department estimates that the overall savings for purchasing the new trucks, primarily in personnel costs and workers compensation claims, will add up to $500,000 per year. That amount suggests the city could recoup its losses in four years.

One of the key differences between these trucks and the ones currently used by Solid Waste will be that the new vehicles will be identical as opposed to the current ones, which have a range of ages.

The reason that is cost effective is that it is far easier to only need one brand of car to be fixed. Since the parts can be purchased in bulk, which can, but not always, reduce costs, and maintenance is much easier when there is only model that needs to be repaired.

In addition, since these will be new trucks they will not need to be repaired as frequently as the older models.

The primary reason for the savings is that the fully automated trucks will require fewer people to man them. Jim Corley, the director of solid waste for the Athens-Clarke government, said personnel cuts would likely be achieved through attrition.

“We currently have six vacancies and typically have a turnover of 8-12 per year,” Corley said. “We will use temp labor to fill in until the conversion is made. Also I think we can shuffle around the employees to other posts in the government so layoffs will not be needed.”

Although Corley thinks the commission will approve of the new trucks, he acknowledged that one of the biggest obstacles would still be the cost.

“The trucks will cost double that of the standard versions,” Corley said, “and in addition the commission will have to decide if it is worth it to wait for the economic benefits.”

However, there are other benefits to getting the new trucks. Two of the bigger ones are that they will be faster and more efficient so they will save some money that way.

Currently, the garbage trucks patrolling Athens are semi-automatic, which means the collector on the truck has to move the can to the back so the garbage can be dumped in. The newer trucks will use a claw to tip the can directly into the back.

However, in order for the claw apparatus to work, the garbage cans have to be placed at the correct spot in the curb or the claw will not be able to collect the trash, the New Haven (Conn.) Register reported when that city made a similar conversion. The Register also noted that due to the automation, uniform trash bins would have to be provided for the garbage trucks.

Since this is different it will be necessary to educate the people of Athens that the system has changed. If the plan is approved, Corley said, citizens will be informed ahead of time through such means as mailers, water bill inserts, door hanger tags and a notice on the government web site.

Although the policy for garbage pickup would change, residents such as the disabled or the elderly would not need to worry about having to adapt, as the current policy allowing them to place their garbage at a more convenient location, such as their backyard, would remain the same.

Another obstacle that has been in Solid Waste’s way for a long time has been getting funds. Corley has noted that his staff has shrunk over the years and previous proposals, such as around-the-clock garbage pickup and garbage corrals, have been shot down, although part of the later was because they might offend the eyes.

Despite that, Corley said he is optimistic that the cost savings offered by the new plan will make it attractive to commissioners, who he said have offered positive feedback.

The proposal is going to come to a vote in June, said Corley, and will be implemented late this year or early next year.


Patrolling the streets of Athens

By: William McFadden

Each week downtown Athens plays host to crowds of people trying to blow off stress, celebrate an occasion, or enjoy a night on the town. In order for those men and women to fully enjoy their night, they must feel safe and secure. The Athens-Clarke County Police Department are focused on providing that security for the downtown crowds.

To the ACCPD, a night downtown is just another night on the job; according to assistant chief of police Fred Stephens, the main focus of an on-duty policeman is the protection of the citizens enjoying the nightlife.

“The mission is to eliminate the fear of crime, policing is a shared responsibility so every individual can assist,” Stephens said. “When visitors and citizens are obeying the law and minimizing risk, we believe that is the most successful night.”

In a college town, many of the bars are occupied by underage students who are drinking illegally.
A WSB-TV article stated that, on average, 1,000 underage drinkers are arrested each year in Athens-Clarke County.

“The police officers downtown are very high-visibility,” Stephens said. “We understand that in a college town underage drinking is likely to happen. We try and intervene when it may lead to criminal activity or endangerment of an individual.”

One such student, junior Jackson Ruck, has had conversations with the ACCPD before and described them as reasonable.
“I was walking home with a friend and we were approached on a street corner by two bike cops,” Ruck said. “They asked us if we had been drinking and we told them yes. Then they asked if we were 21 and we told them that we were 20; the cops told us to be safe on the way home and didn’t cause any problems.”

During nights involving higher quantities of people, such as football or concert weekends, the assigned police receive additional support.

“There is a special downtown unit that is assigned only to downtown Athens,” Stephens said. “During busier weekends, additional officers from the West Precinct are brought in to help with crowd control.”

“I have definitely noticed more police officers during the weekends,” Ruck stated. “They usually have six or seven bike-cops on Clayton Street that keep the long lines and crowds at bay.”

Not all people view the increase of police as a deterrent; “I don’t think that having more cops outside of the bars is a good thing,” one UGA student exclaimed. “They are just looking to make more arrests and they know we are easy targets.”

According to the WSB-TV article, police have the discretion to hand out a citation and avoid an arrest unless the subject is clearly intoxicated.

Police Sgt. Derick Scott had a different sentiment, “If the person in question is underage, we will always issue an arrest instead of a citation.”

This is troubling news for undergrads at UGA.

“A person who is issued a citation must attend a court hearing where they will have a punishment determined, but they are free to go after the citation is issued,” Scott said. “A person who is arrested is taken to the sheriff’s office for processing and must pay a bond.”

Many students that have gone through this process describe it as a tiring and complicated process.

“I was taken into custody and had to get a bond company to pay my bond,” one UGA student said. “After I was released I had to report to court, pay a $200 fine and attend probation classes.”

For those who wonder if money is the driving force behind the arrests, Sgt. Scott says that is not the case.

“The police department makes no surplus money on arrests, the money goes to the courthouse and the state,” Scott said. “Our only reason for arresting somebody is to get them off of the street and out of danger.”

While the police will not make money on arrests, there is no cost incurred on the department to arrest someone.

“When a person is arrested and sentenced to stay in jail for an extended period of time that is the only time it will cost money, but the state is responsible for that payment,” Scott said. “The police do not spend any money on arrests, but do not make any either.”

According to the WSB-TV article, there are an average of 20 arrests per week in Athens. Sgt. Scott believed that to be an accurate number.

“I would say that 20 is a good average,” Scott said. “Obviously on the weekends there are more people and more officers watching, but every Monday and Tuesday we make arrests.”

“The weekends are definitely a busier time, and that is when I go out the most,” Ruck said. “I’ve gone out early in the week before too and the police arrested someone on a Wednesday when there were very little people out.”

The ACCPD are assigned to protect those who decide to enjoy a night in downtown Athens, a job not many respect, but the police take pride in.

“We try to be good ambassadors and hosts for the city of Athens,” Stephens said. “If an individual is able to enjoy their night without criminal activity, and I don’t mean drinking a beer, we are more than happy to leave them in peace.”