Athens-Clarke County’s Board of Elections reported in a recent meeting the outcome of the voting registration booth at the University of Georgia’s Peabody Award event March 30.
Students arrived in the Tate Theater to get a sneak peak of HBO-produced shows and movies including early previews of the season premieres for Game of Thrones, Veep and the film Silicon Valley.
“We got a call from somebody with the Peabody Awards,” said Administrative Assistant Wanda Raley. “They called and asked that we set up a voter registration booth with their Veep presentation.”
The Board of Elections set up the booth at the event to tie in with Veep, a political comedy show. The booth attracted a handful of registrations during the event.
“A lot of people thought we were a prop,” Raley said. “But we did get a lot of comments.”
The regular monthly meeting of the board was held Tuesday. Supervisor of Elections and Voter Registration Gail Schrader met with board members Charles Knapper, E. Walter Wilson, and Alison McCullick for a brief update on the voters of the county.
According to an activities report produced by the board, 59 percent of citizens within Athens are registered voters. This percent accounts for about 57,000 citizens who are at least 18 years of age.
In the month of March, 149 new voters were successfully registered, according to the report.
The board estimates that 70 percent of the citizens of Athens are eligible to register, meaning around 10,000 people may vote but for whatever reason do not.
Schrader presented another issue involving the county’s electronic voting equipment. The LED monitors require batteries that have an average lifespan of four to five years. Schrader asked the board to approve funds to replace the batteries early – before they potentially burn out on an important election day.
Knapper, Wilson and McCullick all agreed to approve the funds. The board has a budget of about $21,000 according to their internal report.
The Board of Elections is responsible for serving citizens “by being fair, nondiscriminatory and informed on all election laws and legislative changes” affecting the people, according to their official website. As such, the board is also responsible for finding and stopping instances of voter fraud.
Schrader described a situation that the office had discovered involving around 20 people sharing the same Alps Road address. On investigation, the location turned out to be a delivery address for P.O. Boxes.
Schrader went on to explain that she believes it to be an error on the part of the voters in filling out registration forms. The form asks for the person’s residential address, and she believes some mistakenly placed a delivery address in the space.
“We just want to be proactive to have something if they want to come to the board,” Schrader said.
The board is free to challenge these voters at any time, however the notification would have to be sent to the Alps Road address, and it is unclear whether this would be an effective means of contacting these people.
The board would also be unable to change any labels on the registration form itself, as these changes are carried out by the state.
In other business, the board is doing away with hard copies of voter information stored in their offices. Past voter information will now be kept digitally. To facilitate this change, the office will begin auditing their records.
“I think it’s going to be a really good change,” Schrader said.
Raley, who is helping to carry out the audit, agrees about the benefits of digital over physical.
“I actually think the process is working well,” Raley said. “It makes the person entering the data be more careful, because you know someone is going to come right after and look at it.”
Over the course of March, the elections office picked up $525 in fines from voters.
The meeting concluded with no unfinished business on the agenda. The next meeting will be May 12.
“This office is hugely well-run,” Thompson said after the meeting, explaining that despite few citizens attend the sessions, the board carries out its business effectively.
“It’s pretty quiet now,” Knapper said in reference to voting issues the board is dealing with. “Next year there will be issues to deal with, but this year has been pretty slow.”
By Lauren McDonald
Pickle ball, a combination of badminton, tennis and ping pong, was the unexpected topic of discussion at the meeting on how to renovate Bishop Park.
And a new pickle ball court may be one of many changes soon to come to the park.
About 30 Athens citizens participated in a public input session on Wednesday night, to give feedback on the new master plan proposal for renovations to Bishop Park, one of Athens most popular community sites.
“We’re looking at the whole park,” said Kevan Williams, an Athens park planner heading the project. “And making sure that it’s meeting the community’s needs.”
Emily Carr, who comes to Bishop Park regularly to walk and to visit the Athens Farmers Market, completed a survey at the meeting, She said the new master plan seems feasible.
“I thought the changes were realistic,” Carr said. “They weren’t high in the sky, that we don’t have money for. They made some real improvements.”
Major changes proposed include parking lot renovations, an 8,000 square-foot Wellness Center, an expansion of the Gymnastics Center and new rental pavilions.
Park planners also proposed an 18,000 square-foot event pavilion and plaza, which would be the home of the Athens Farmers Market.
Carr, who has lived in Athens for 44 years, remembers visiting the park in 1968, when it was just a fair ground.
Bishop Park, located at 705 Sunset Drive, was built 40 years ago and has undergone no major renovation since the 1970s.
The growing Athens community has since then developed different needs from the park, Williams said. The use of the park and the neighborhood around it have changed significantly.
Also, many of the park’s structures are no longer up to code.
The 33-acre park is relatively small compared to others parks in the community. Trail Creek Park is nearly 100 acres, and Sandy Creek Park is almost 800 acres.
“But this is a very dense park in terms of the scale of activities,” Williams said.
“It gets almost 400,000 visits a year. So this is a big project in terms of its significance, even if it’s not big in terms of its physical footprint.”
The Athens Park Planning Department enlisted the help of the University of Georgia’s Center for Community Design and Preservation back in October 2014 to garner public input.
A team of UGA students and faculty conducted online surveys and in-park surveys. They also consulted park planning staff and the Bishop Park workers.
Jarrad Holbrook, a student who worked on the project, said the most glaring renovation needs when he first began were restructuring of the parking lot and updates to buildings.
“First and foremost, that whole parking lot was a mess. It’s set up kind of like a maze, the turns are too sharp,” Holbrook said. “We also saw that there were clearly issues with some buildings. One particular building looked like it had been built temporarily, and then temporary became 15, 20 years.”
The CCDP hosted a public input session last year to get initial suggestions from the community on renovations they’d like to see, and the park planners incorporated many of those suggestions into the new master plan.
“People liked that the park is easy to access, and there’s something for everybody,” Lewis said. “It allows non-traditional uses, like the Farmer’s Market. It’s more than just a sports park. So they liked that it was good for families, and people, whether they’re doing group activities or whether they’re just going solo to run or walk with the dog.”
The public also asked for an indoor aquatics facility and a dog park, but planners did not included those requests into the new plan, due to cost and space requirements.
Park planners aim to ensure that Bishop Park offers “a little bit of everything for all people.”
“If you come here at different times, you’ll see a lot of real diversity of people that use this park,” Carr said. “In Athens in a lot of places, even though we’re a very integrated town, you can live your life with only seeing people that look like you. When you come to parks like this, you see lots of different kinds of folks.”
Once Park Planning Department confirms the master plan, the focus will move to funding for the project. Williams said funds may come from a special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) or from donations.
“There’s a lot of interest right now in wellness,” Williams said. “So we’re hoping right now that through partnerships with different organizations we may be able to attract some support for parts of the park that might support those goals.”
The department hasn’t set a timeline for completion yet. The department will move forward with the plan based on the community’s feedback.
So far, the department has received over 500 survey responses, including those received at Wednesday’s session.
“The feedback’s been really good,” Williams said. “It’s always kind of exciting when you put a big idea out there, to see how people are going to take that and what things people will pick up on.”
And Williams said a new pickle ball court will be considered when they begin redrafting the master plan.
“We’ll look at ways to look at their ideas and make sure we’re not leaving anything out,” he said. “That’s sort of the point of doing this – to make sure that everybody has a chance to make sure that their voice is being heard.”
By Luke Dixon
Drinking alcohol in Athens could become less restrictive in the near future, at least the area where you are permitted to do so.
The Athens-Clarke County Commission is set to consider making consumption of alcohol easier and allowing additional outdoor portable signage at sidewalk cafes in Athens.
The original sidewalk café ordinance was adopted by the City of Athens in 1979 and has been amended three times since then in 1994, 2003 and 2011. There are two types of sidewalk cafes as defined by the Legislative Review Committee’s proposal. One is a common area café on College Square, Walker’s which have open space in front of the bar property.
The proposed amendment to the ordinance also states that “cafés attached to the building which are limited to 50% of the sidewalk width and must allow a minimum of 5 feet for a pedestrian path, alcohol is allowed, and dividers are required” according to the commission report and recommendation.
The current ordinance calls for required physical barriers and railings that are placed outside the cafés to mark the territory where patrons can consume alcohol on the sidewalk and patio area.
There are multiple parts to the proposed amendment of the existing ordinance. The first part would allow an option of a physical barrier to be put up or sidewalk cafés no that are not in downtown Athens proper, but rather outside the downtown district. The Legislative Review Committee has proposed two zones– one in downtown, one for the rest of Athens-Clarke County outside of downtown.
The major difference is bars outside downtown wouldn’t require a physical rail boundary. Instead they could use a non-physical marker throughout the sidewalk that would mark where patrons could and could not drink. This would allow sidewalk cafés like Go Bar, which is located on Prince Avenue outside of downtown, to not have to put up a physical barrier on the sidewalk drinking area of their properties since it would fall under the scope of the outside downtown cafés.
The second part of the amendment would allow a place like Creature Comforts Brewery, which is located at the intersection of two streets and has its property on both streets, to be able to apply for a sidewalk café permit on both streets.
The third part of the proposed amendment states that owners of the establishments will be responsible for enforcing the boundary at their particular establishment. This means that any obstruction of the boundary i.e. a person crossing over the boundary could result in a fine to the owner/permit holder of the café. The fourth part of the amendment would eliminate the required pressure washing of the sidewalk by each sidewalk café.
During their discussion, the commissioners agreed with many of the provisions and amendments to the sidewalk café structure in downtown, but some also had some reservation and concerns.
Commissioner Jerry NeSmith was wary about the new boundary requirements outside of downtown. He questioned who would be held liable for any misteps and making sure patrons would be made aware of the new boundary. NeSmith requested the city manager and others proposing the amendment clarify the exact boundary requirements for those cafés.
“I wonder if we should require a sign that tells [patrons] because otherwise if no one tells them, then they’re just not going to know,” NeSmith said.
Commissioner Andy Herod shared the same concern and asked Athens-Clarke Attorney, William Berryman, about the enforcement of the proposed policy.
“I still believe if the patron steps out on the sidewalk, with an open container, that patron is going to have full responsibility,” Berryman said in response. “The government might be able to take an administrative action against the owner of the establishment for not giving the warning, but it won’t change the responsibility of the person with the actual open container.”
From a business standpoint, Jake Fisher, the manager of The Cabin Room, formerly known as The Bury, thinks the physical barriers are necessary to most bars downtown. He said that more space could allow for a less restricting barrier and that if a café has the space, like Creature Comforts Brewery for example, to allow freer roaming drinking space, they should do so.
“I think it has its pros and cons as far as clearing up some sidewalk space and allow some of these bars to expand out for the people who do like to go outside and drink a beer,” Fisher said.
Customers and in particular University of Georgia students would favor expanded drinking space, especially in the warmer months, according to UGA students Brandon Estroff and Logan Booker.
Estroff, said the idea of having more space is great even though it likely won’t effect him following graduation in May.
Booker on the other hand was ecstatic to hear of the possible expansion.
“I think it would just be a more lively atmosphere,” Booker said. “Just being outside in general is more of a festive drinking, not just drinking, but more of a social setting. In spring and fall in Athens, it’s nice to be outside.”
The proposed change in the sign ordinance calls for wall mounted board signs and additional sign allowance for all Athens sidewalk cafés.
These are signs that include menus and drink specials among other information, according to the Legislative Review Committee’s (LRC) report. The LRC is recommending that sidewalk cafes be permitted to use mounted wall signs to display menus and specials outside that are currently on portable signs that are placed outside during a businesses operating hours.
Presently, the ordinance does not allow for mounted wall signs that do not count against a café’s allowed signage space. If the mayor and commission approved the proposed amendment to signage ordinance, the mounted wall signs would not count against sidewalk cafés allowed signage space. The mounted wall signs would be restricted to one per business, two per property if the businesses are stacked on top of each other like Taco Stand and Blue Sky was the example Girtz described during discussion. Each sign would not be able to exceed six square feet.
During the discussion, three commissioners raised concerns about the proposed sign ordinance proposal. Link wanted to clarify the difference between signs and posters under the sign ordinance citing many of the downtown business owners concern of not wanting to further hinder their business’ signage and display, with more upcoming construction in the downtown area.
“I’m hoping that we can tweak our ordinances or at least clarify what constitutes art and what constitutes a sign in the very near future because we are going to be seeing some big giant retaining walls popping up in our downtown area and I know that it would be nice if we had the opportunity to brighten them up a little bit without jumping through a bunch of hoops,” Link said.
Herod was concerned that the change in the downtown sign ordinance could affect the proposed café boundary or hinder the marking of the boundary and Girtz was concerned about the content neutrality of the signs.
“Legally speaking, if they allow one type of signage, they have to allow all type of signage in the public space because we have to have content neutral approach,” Girtz said.
The additional signage allowance would be welcomed by sidewalk café businesses, according to Fisher.
“Having a hanging sign would alleviate some of the problems because when it does get busy, sometimes those signs can get trampled and get in the way,” Fisher said. “It’s happened before where I’ve been to other places where it happens. I’ve seen it happen at our bar, other bars.”
If the commission approves these measures at their montly April meetin, it will allow sidewalk cafes with the space and ability outside of downtown additional space in the outdoor and patio area of their establishments. All bars will be able to hang additional signage without hindering the walkway. It will also give more freedom for their customers to enjoy an alcoholic beverage outdoors just as spring fully arrives in downtown Athens.
Both amendments to the ordinance were tabled for further discussion at the Mayor and Commission’s March 17 agenda setting meeting. They will continue to discuss the proposal during their April monthly meeting.
By: Patrick Adcock
It is broad daylight and Charles Bond is assessing the situation in front of him; he’s been here before. Four trash containers sit against the back wall of the parking lot behind a local grocery store. Four chances to hit the jackpot.
Bond has spoken with the employees of this particular store before. They would prefer that any scavenging take place after dusk, when there are fewer customers coming and going and so that day-to-day operations aren’t disturbed. It’s not dusk, but there aren’t too many people around either.
Unperturbed, Bond hops up onto the nearest container. The results are disappointing; the bin is empty.
Bond moves on to the next bin. He pulls back the lid and is immediately hit with the smell of rotting vegetables. This bin is obviously a no-go. It’s not a surprising situation; sometimes one has to go home empty-handed.
The third bin is opened to reveal more vegetables – fresh this time.
This is the experience of Freegans, a subset of people who “look outside of capitalistic systems” to obtain their food according to the movement’s website. This can include growing their own vegetables in gardens, but most commonly it means digging through trash thrown out by grocery stores.
Grocery stores have an obligation to sell fresh food to customers. The result is that a lot of food gets thrown out, either because it was damaged in shipping or has passed its legal sell-by date. A lot of this food is still edible or can be used for other purposes.
Freegans see this situation as an opportunity. Dumpster diving is not a new phenomenon; however, this is the first time divers have been part of a larger movement. For them, supporting Freeganism has a moral element.
According to the official website of the movement, “After years of trying to boycott products from unethical corporations, we found that no matter what we bought we ended up supporting something deplorable.”
Many have thus turned to diving in order to obtain the necessary food supplies while in turn not spending money on companies that they feel don’t have the customers’ best interests at heart.
A problem comes with diving, however. The legality around the practice is a murky at best. For example, there is no federal law that labels diving as illegal. At the same time, state laws can sometimes prohibit the action.
In the case of Georgia, diving is not illegal. Trespassing and entering private property, however, will result in a fine for the offender. Even diving in unmarked bins could result in being questioned by police.
University of Georgia Police Chief Jimmy Williamson is careful not to condone diving, but also acknowledges that nothing can be done about it.
“It’s legal in Athens, but a lot of problems can still come from it.”
There are also serious health and safety issues, the least of which can be broken glass shards littered on the bottom of some trash bins.
These are the issues facing Charles Bond as he rummages through the bins of the back parking lot of a local grocer.
Bond is a 21-year-old student of bioengineering at UGA. He lives off-campus on a plot of land that he helps to farm as part of an agriculture group. Chickens wander his backyard where he also grows his own vegetables. Bond plays drums for several local bands.
About once a month, Bond goes diving. He has a few hotspots, such as the Earthfare on Milledge and the Kroger on Baxter. These places, he says, are relatively nice to divers and will allow them to take refuse as long as they don’t disturb daytime operations.
“Earthfare is the best,” says Bond. “I’ve heard about Trader Joe’s but I’ve never been there to look.”
Bond goes diving about once a month and has so far never been caught by either management or curious police officers. Store managers for Earthfare referred this writer to the PR department for comment on this story; however, the department never returned any emails or phone calls.
Some stores will put up signs prohibiting diving, which will result in trouble for offenders. There are also others methods for to stores hoping to deter people digging through their trash.
“In a block of buildings, because it’s not easy to get around to the back, it makes it feel more sketchy,” said Bond.
A good piece of advice for all divers is to ask someone in the store about their policies around the practice before engaging. It’s ultimately the store’s prerogative to allow or disallow diving into their own trash containers.
Bond doesn’t care much for any stigma associated with people who dive. Many people assume that Dumpster divers physically dive headfirst into trash. Bond has a technique of balancing against the side of the container so that he can reach inside without actually entering the Dumpster.
“If you are adventurous and you like free stuff, then diving is for you,” said Bond.
Bond does not eat anything that he obtains from diving, however. He uses the vegetables he obtains to feed his chickens. He is also not too enamored with the term “Freegan.”
“It sounds like a mixture of foodie, animal rights, pseudo-Marxist kind of stuff,” said Bond. “I went to Occupy, so I’m kind of tired of people using that rhetoric and not really doing anything about it.”
He hasn’t seen any evidence of the Freegan movement arriving in force in Athens, either.
“You just put a name on it and then people will attribute more value to it than there actually is,” said Bond. He is a supporter of urban gardening, but for him that is far different from a loose movement of Dumpster divers.
Bond says that the Freegan movement can gain publicity by advertising their label but it would be more meaningful if the movement was actually accomplishing something tangible.
Despite all this, Bond says he will definitely be diving again soon.
“Dig deep, don’t be afraid to get dirty, but try to stay physically outside of the trash container.”
By Evelyn Andrews
Krysten Dryfus finishes a milk container, but walks past the trash can to her outdoor closet where she stores her recyclables. Dryfus lives at the Connection at Athens and she is not aware of any recycling at the complex, so she keeps her recyclables and takes them to a recycling center.
“I just want to help the environment and recycle, but it’s so difficult and inconvenient because I have to collect all my trash and take it to a recycling center,” said Krysten Dryfus. “I wish more apartments in Athens recycled like they do in the dorms at [The University of Georgia].”
Under an Athens-Clarke County ordinance that took effect on Jan. 1, 2014, businesses and apartment complexes are required to have recycling bins, educate residents and customers about their recycling program and have adequate recycling space.
It turns out that the Connection does have recycling bins, but residents seem to be unaware of them because the apartment has failed to educate their residents at the proper level, said Joe Dunlap, a commercial recycling specialist at the Athens-Clarke County recycling division.
“If an apartment complex installs a recycling Dumpster and doesn’t tell anybody about it, yes, they are recycling but they’re not compliant with the ordinance,” he said.
“All residents are given information on recycling the day of move-in and we do encourage them to utilize the resources provided,” said Melissa Brand, the bookkeeper at the apartment.
However, Dryfus said that she doesn’t remember receiving information and has not heard about recycling programs since moving in.
Apartments are also not compliant if they do not have adequate recycling space. The Connection has one recycling container, the same size as a typical garbage disposal container, Brand said. However, Dunlop said one container is not enough space for a complex of that size.
Dunlop said about one-third of all businesses in Athens, which includes apartments, comply with the regulations. The number is fluid, Dunlop said, but a January Red & Black article said about 74 out of 284 apartments comply. Many apartments that are not compliant do have recycling, but lack education.
“A lot of apartments have put recycling in place, but it hasn’t been promoted as well as I would like and there is not the education level that I would like for residents,” Dunlop said.
Other businesses or apartment complexes are either unaware of the ordinances or waiting to see if Athens-Clarke County will enforce them. The recycling division is now pursuing businesses that don’t comply with the regulations more aggressively since the deadline to comply was Jan. 1, 2014.
“We are now more aggressively going after those that are not compliant,” Dunlop said. “If we have been working with somebody for a while and they still do not have the recycling in place, then there is a process where we turn them over to code enforcement and they are issued a citation.”
The Club apartment complex is the most recent to be turned over to code enforcement, Dunlop said, but an apartment representative reported that they do now have recycling.
The county has a benchmark to reduce waste in 2015 by 40 percent from levels in 2010 and Dunlop said they are ahead of schedule. The county has reduced waste by 47 percent and is working toward their next objective – reducing waste by 60 percent in 2018 and 75 percent in 2020.
All of this work by the county was in jeopardy of being stopped before completion. Earlier this month, the Georgia Senate passed a bill, Senate Bill 139, intended to prohibit local governments from restricting the use of plastic bags.
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Athens Sen. Frank Ginn, also would have had significant consequences for Athens – it originally eliminated local governments’ ability to regulate recycling. This would have overturned the ordinances that require businesses and apartments to recycle.
However, work by Jerry NeSmith, the ACC District 6 commissioner, and Dunlop helped convince legislators to change the language so that local governments still had control over
regulations. NeSmith argued in an opinion piece for Athens-Banner Herald that the bill “does exactly the wrong things.”
Environmental factors also motivated NeSmith to try to stop bill, citing statistics that 24 million tons of plastic are disposed of every year and less than two million are recycled.
“My effort was, of course, to completely kill the whole idea of not allowing us to have ordinances regulating plastic bags,” NeSmith said, “but at the very least, don’t make us go backwards by making our existing recycling ordinances illegal.”
Although the part of the bill that would overturn the county’s ordinances has most likely been changed, it may still be included when it leaves the House Rules Committee.
“We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the Rules Committee, but I believe we have been successful in changing that part of the proposal,” NeSmith said.
Dryfus is grateful that the bill has been rewritten so that recycling will continue to become easier for her and others in the community.
“I’m glad the bill won’t make it so that Athens business don’t have to recycle,” Dryfus said. “I hope the Connection starts to make it easier to recycle and more businesses and apartments start to recycle.”