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 »

Advertisements

Hotel growth in downtown Athens

By Brittney Cain

With the University of Georgia’s growth and number of conventions being held in Athens, the downtown area is becoming a site of construction and further expansion for hotels to accommodate the increase of people.

The Holiday Inn on West Broad Street has submitted a permit application on the building for a renovation and expansion.

Modifications to the parking lot and driveway are included in the proposed work.

The hotel industry in Athens, according to Hannah Smith, director of marketing and communications at the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), is growing to meet the needs of increasing number of meetings and conventions.

In 2003, there were a total of 14 hotels in the Athens-Clarke County area, according to the U.S. Census. The most recent census data revealed that in 2011 the total number of hotels jumped to 22 in the area.

And the Convention and Visitors Bureau reported there are 10 hotels within one mile of the Classic Center.

Brands typically do better in the downtown area, said Mike Waldrip, President of the Athens Area Hotel Association (AAHA).

Because occupancies and rates are driven by this brand loyalty, past experience, service and location, he said hotels in the downtown district have to create originality to set themselves apart from others nearby.

According to Foundry Park & Inn‘s website, they “could have built 300 ordinary hotel rooms, but chose instead to create a warm, welcoming Inn that feels like a home away from home.”

In addition to hotels’ vision of creating a new experience for customers, Hotel Indigo’s website said they “offer a unique experience that reflects the culture of its neighborhood.”

Hotel Indigo instilled “green features” for guests such as natural light and views and thermal controls powered by energy-efficient systems in each room. In 2011, Hotel Indigo was nominated for North America’s Leading Green Hotel.

Other hotels try to set themselves apart by providing meeting and convention rooms for business or football “game-day” additions for fans.

Waldrip noted that expansion and renovation of the hotels in the downtown area is based purely on demand.

“City-wide occupancy is above 55 percent but hotels operate on such slim margins that for most hotels this number needs to be above 60%,” Waldrip said. “When occupancies reach around 65percent expansion may be warranted.”

Construction costs, Waldrip said, range from $70,000 to $100,000 to build a mid-level hotel room. And in the last 10 years, the market has added about 475 rooms.

“A new Hyatt Place is planned for construction later in 2014,” Smith said. “[It] will be the first connecting hotel to the Classic Center.”

And, Smith said, the Holiday Inn is not the only hotel attempting to upgrade its facilities. Foundry Park Inn & Spa is preparing a massive renovation this summer.

With the culture of the University and the tradition of football games, it is not surprising that hotels are more occupied during the fall semester.

Georgia Gameday Center is specifically designed to create a “home away from home experience that is perfect for a UGA football weekend,” with all 133 units tailored to any UGA fan with a sea of red and black furniture.

Meetings and conventions are also frequently held in the downtown Athens area. Smith estimated that each meeting attendee spends on average over $219 per day.

“Tourism brings in $246 million per year to Athens-Clarke County and supports 2,450 local jobs,” Smith said. “Due to tourism spending and tax collections, each Athens-Clarke County household saves almost $400 per year in taxes.”

Hotels pay an additional 7% hotel and motel tax, which funds the Convention and Visitors Bureau and parts of the Classic Center.

“It is likely that over the next two or three years there will be some expansion of the number of rooms available downtown,” Waldrip noted. “This will be driven by the University’s growth and the expansion of the Classic Center.”

 

 


Student campaign for arch accessibility moving forward

By Clay Reynolds

Senior Khaled Alsafadi heard a lot about the tradition of passing underneath the arch after graduating from the University of Georgia at his freshman orientation nearly four years ago.

But Alsafadi, bound to a wheelchair, will be unable to take part in that rite of passage when he graduates unless a ramp is built through the structure, which is currently impassible for students who, like him, are mobility impaired and can’t walk up or down the stairs in front of it.

Last month, he and two other UGA students, sophomore Marquise Lane and junior Carden Wyckoff, organized a movement to make the arch accessible by building a ramp through it.

The group is now making its first set of strides toward bringing their proposal to fruition. They will take their ideas before the Student Government Association on Tuesday, and bring with them the apparent support of thousands of students.

Though not the first to come forward with this idea, the team’s case for a change and widespread support of their cause could make them the first to win many of the battles that stand in the way of accomplishing the goal – especially overcoming opposition to the proposal that still exists from top officials.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure that all alumni have equal access to the tradition,” Wyckoff said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, governs standards of handicap accessibility in public facilities, and prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities by limiting their access to or mobility within “places of public accommodations” – for example, buses, courthouses and doctors offices.

The arch does not fall under the category of a public facility in which accessibility is required, according most experts, since it serves no more than a symbolic function in the university’s day-to-day operations. Alternate access points to north campus are also available nearby for those unable to walk by or through the arch.

The need for a ramp comes in such times that students like Alsafadi, Lane and Wyckoff would want to return to campus and pass through the arch as alumni, particularly after graduation and at football games in the fall.

That sentiment has led some UGA officials to propose installing a temporary ramp during those significant times of year, though the students are pushing for a more permanent solution.

“I’m not just coming back for graduation and not just coming back for a football game,” Wyckoff said. “We want to have access to it at any point in time, regardless of when and where.”

They say a proposal similar to this one has come up and gained popularity among students once about every four or five years in the last several decades, according to what they’ve learned in research and through interactions with UGA’s disability resource center.

In about a month’s-worth of organizing the campaign, the three have mostly worked to organize support and gain publicity through petitions, social media and local and national news outlets.

As of March 19, the group’s Facebook page had received 2,136 likes, and a change.org petition to make the arch accessible had garnered 1,185 signatures.

“It’s mind-blowing to me,” Lane said of the support he’s seen for the movement. “I never really thought 2,000 people could like a page that just three people were a part of.”

Social media, a tool many groups who took on this issue before them didn’t have, could end up making a difference in whether or not the movement gains traction and sees results.

“It’s our main point of access,” Wyckoff said.

The group has discussed their ideas in detail with the Disability Resource Center, University Architects and Student Government Association. Those meetings have produced three design proposals, all which feature a ramp being put in place through just two of the arch’s three pillars, but only one providing direct access to and from the sidewalk on Broad Street.

Photo gallery: design proposals

In communications with many higher-ups about the campaign, they have experienced some pushback.

“We’ve gotten some resistance from top administration,” Alsafadi said. “But we’re not going to take no for an answer. We’re going to keep going with it until it’s done.”

The counter-argument to theirs is not one of cost. Alsafadi said the representatives of the DRC believes cost of improvements wouldn’t be an issue, and even if it were, the group would be willing to raise the necessary funds themselves.

“We would raise money in a heartbeat,” Wyckoff said.

The primary issue many administrators have deals with aesthetics, and preserving the current look of the arch in accordance with procedures for making improvements to historical sites. The project would also require cooperation of the Athens-Clarke County unified government, which owns the sidewalk in front of it.

The students insist they’re concerned with maintaining the arch’s appearance as much as they are about creating equal access to it.

“We don’t want to do anything that’s going to mess up the appearance and make it look not as appealing,” Alsafadi said.

An accessible arch would perhaps be even more in keeping with history than the current arch is. Wyckoff has uncovered photos from before the 1900s that prove the original arch was on level ground with the rest of north campus. Stairs were not added until after the turn of the 20th century.

Alsafadi, Lane and Wyckoff are optimistic that their campaign will produce results several months down the road, although the immediate outlook for their plan is uncertain.

Their case for making the arch accessible is one of equality, but it’s not as much about convenience as tradition – enabling everyone to take part in the simple, yet meaningful tradition of passing through the arch.

“The pillars, on their own, they stand for moderation, wisdom and justice,” Alsafadi said. “You have to give justice to all your students, not just the able-bodied ones. We all go through the same work and even have to go through more obstacles that we overcome, so we should be able to partake in the tradition.”


UGA Professor concludes term as national president, no plans to slow down

By Ashton Adams

The gathered crowd at the annual American Meteorological Society meeting in Atlanta rose to their feet for a standing ovation as Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd stepped down from the stage, and his presidency.

A standing ovation is something AMS staffers say they have never seen given to a former president.

“That moment was so surreal for me because as I came off this huge stage surrounded by thousands of my colleagues, a standing ovation is not what I was expecting,” said Shepherd. “In that moment, it became clear to me that in the time I was president I must have made an impact in some way.”

Dr. Shepherd, who is also director of UGA’s Atmospheric Sciences program, completed his year-long term as president of the American Meteorology Society in February. The society serves as the nation’s mouthpiece on atmospheric sciences.

As president, Shepherd was frequently sought as an expert on weather and climate change, appearing on the Today Show, CNN, Larry King Live, Face the Nation, the Weather Channel and a number of other broadcast outlets.

In his most controversial role as President, Shepherd found himself putting out fires between two well-known power houses.

When Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called last month’s snow and ice storm a “leftist, global warming conspiracy” and made claims that the popularized term “polar vortex” was created by liberals that week, White House advisers fired back in a YouTube video claiming that the extreme weather was indeed a sign of global warming.

That’s when Shepherd intervened.

In his blog, Shepherd corrected Limbaugh stating that the term “polar vortex” had been used in meteorological reports since 1940 but called the White House “heavy handed” on the issue in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

One audience Shepherd won’t soon satisfy are the far-right critics who deny climate change and who Shepherd calls “zombies.”

Shepherd explained in his Tedx Atlanta talk last year that “zombies” were critics of his whose Conservative ideas on global warming could not be killed no matter how viable the scientific evidence.

 “I quickly learned as President that to be an effective leader, you can’t waste valuable time trying to appease the extremists. As they say, ‘it is what it is,’” said Shepherd.

Shepherd’s AMS presidency was just one of many salient roles he held. Considered a catalyst in the African-American community, Shepherd says breaking barriers in his field is long over-due.

The first, and only, African-American to graduate with a PhD in meteorology from Florida State University and only the second Black president of the American Meteorological Society, Shepherd was even spotlighted on The Weather Channel for a piece on noteworthy meteorologists in honor of Black History Month.

  “It’s an incredible honor to be labeled as a ‘first’ at something but it is also disturbing at the same time,” said Shepherd. “Here it is 2014 and it is somewhat sad that I am the first to accomplish some of the things I have done.”

Holding professional titles at NASA, the University of Georgia, the American Meteorological Society and a number of other esteemed panels and organizations is what Shepherd calls “normal,” and he has made no plans to slow down.

 “Ultimately my success can’t be measured by my presidency, my job at NASA, or anything else I’ve done thus far. Success should be measured by how well you balance all qualities of life,” said Shepherd. “I am active professionally and I am active with my family and that will never overwhelm me.”

The former president will join the advisory board at Climate Central this month, a non-profit organization dedicated to researching climate change and its impact on the American public. 

As far as his role at UGA goes, Shepherd plans on using his expertise and notoriety to further build the university’s relatively new atmospheric sciences program.

To hear more from Dr. Shepherd, visit his blog “The Mind of J. Marsh”: https://www.blogger.com/profile/06173530773221005727

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 


Town and gown relationship strong under UGA President Michael Adams

Video

On his first day as president of the University of Georgia, Mike Adams stepped through the Arches, crossed into the downtown, climbed the hill to City Hall, ending up at the desk of the Athens-Clarke County mayor.

Many saw that action as testament to the new president’s commitment to the UGA-Athens relationship.

Now, 16 years later, many agree the relationship is better than ever.

Interviews with Adams, Mayor Nancy Denson, and others show the mindset, the projects and the systems that propelled the improvement.

Relationships between college towns and the colleges they contain can be tenuous amidst the clash of university administration and city government, local and student. Denson said before her time in Athens government, there was a “wall” between the school and the city. Now, the relationship is much improved, thanks in large part to Adams. That improvement, though, doesn’t mean smooth sailing. It means fostering awareness and mutual respect despite the disagreements.

“That tug and pull between different interests makes us arrive at the best interests for everybody,” Denson said.  “Because if you’re just running along smooth and everything’s going great, you don’t look at your processes very closely.”

A collaborative attitude

Director of Community Relations Pat Allen said it is important for the University to be mindful of the importance of its relationship with Athens. Attracting the ideal students and faculty requires a “solid town,” he said, in addition to all of UGA’s qualities.

“I guess we have a self interest in ensuring that we have a vibrant economy in our community,” he said. “That it’s a safe place, and it’s a place that people will want to come for four years or for 40 years.”

The University also has a responsibility to the state, which incorporates its responsibility to Athens.

“And of course as a state institution we have a commitment to the state of Georgia, including Athens-Clarke County, to bring the resources of the University to bear on the biggest problems in the community,” he said.

Denson and Adams both acknowledged that they encounter Athens residents who bemoan the amount of land the University owns but doesn’t pay taxes on. Both, coincidentally, used the term “short-sighted” to describe this mindset, and counter with their own.

Adams pointed out that comments of this type are “potentially harmful to our state support base.”

“They contribute to a negative feeling in Atlanta, not widely shared by our funding partners, who still believe that sending some $400 million of taxpayer money every year to Athens is a pretty strong level of commitment,” he said.

Denson disagreed with these complaints on an even more fundamental level.

“It’s important to note that the University wasn’t just plopped in the middle of town. The town and the university grew together. And basically, without the university, Athens would just be a sleepy little village,” she said. “If we didn’t have all those taxes in property taken by the university, there would probably be just raw land sitting there and it would not have much tax value to it.”

Instead of “raw land,” she said having the University in her city brings a variety of positives – including a more “cosmopolitan” attitude and business growth.

“The University is more of an asset than anything else to the community, but it’s not a uniform asset to every member of the community,” she said.

Allen’s job, created in 2003, is a product of this collaborative attitude.

“It’s called a liaison, it’s called a lot of things, but my role is to assure that we communicate with local government and community groups on issues and opportunities for us on issues that we might be having,” he said. “As self-serving as it may sound to you, him recognizing that we needed someone focused on this every day, that’s a commitment of the University’s resources to the issue.”

Project-based collaboration

Adams’ tenure has seen a variety of projects that strengthened the relationship between UGA and Athens. Project-based collaboration. just one part of the complex relationship, has increased dramatically while Adams was in office.

The University contributed $3.6 million to ACC’s new water treatment plant for odor control in 2011.

“You remember the terrible smell over on East Campus? That impacted the University and our quality of life,” Allen said. “So we recognized first that a lot of the products they processed in that plant comes from campus, so we partnered with them and helped them with some odor-control technology.”

Part of that contract also dedicated UGA resources to helping expand the College Station Road bridge. The bridge expansion will also provide better access to the University’s Veterinary Medicine Learning Center that will be built beyond it.

The University also gave the city land for a fire station adjacent to the plot of land designated for the new Veterinary Medicine Learning Center.

Allen said these are examples of mutually beneficial exchanges.

“We also worked with the city on the bridge at college station road that goes across the Oconee River, to connect not only with that plant but to connect with property that the university owns past that plant,” he said. “We can have much better access to our own property, but at the same time are able to provide another access point for the sewage treatment plant.”

He said the fire station helps both communities as well.

“What that does for the county is it saves them the cost of buying property to build a new fire station,” he said. “What it does for us is it gets us assurance that we have close-by, adequate fire protection on the south part of our campus, especially now that we’ll be building a $90 million building next door to that fire station.”

Another prominent collaboration between the city and the University was made over a building built two decades before the Civil War. The Wray-Nicholson House has flipped between University, city and private ownership over its long history. The antebellum home traces its roots with UGA back to 1825, when it served as the dining hall. It then returned to private ownership in 1845.

ACC saved the house from demolition in 1994 as part of a $64 million sales tax referendum vote. The house took up $4.4 million of that referendum. The city bought the property for $860,000 and spent the rest of the money to renovate the house and the four smaller buildings nearby.

The University, with approval from the Board of Regents, bought the house in 2000 for $2.3 million. It is now the home of the UGA Alumni Association.

The University subsidizes the Athens Transit bus system, “which is what’s kept this city bus system alive,” Adams said.

The University pays 86 cents per rider today, which Adams said puts the University support of the system between $800,000 and $850,000 annually.

A commitment to long-term partnership

Partnership means more than occasional project collaboration. Cooperation on longer-term, issues-based initiatives deals with the broader relationship between the town and University. Allen said this has been one of Adams’ priorities since before his job was even created.

“Since the mid-90s, a group of University administrators and the senior staff for Athens-Clarke County have breakfast once a month, and we talk about those very types of things,” Allen said. “So we look for things, and communicate openly about what projects that each of us have and how me might compliment each other with those.”

the University has a neighborhood relations roundtable, composed of “of Athens-Clarke County elected officials, Athens-Clarke County staff, neighborhood leaders and University folks,” Allen said.

The committee used to meet regularly to address issues of ACC citizen concern. A neighborhood leader chaired the group. Allen said the chair eventually told the group that the major issues had been addressed. The neighborhood leaders suggested meeting on an as-needed basis.

“To me, that is a very good example of improving town and gown relations,” he said. “We have the group that was formed to fix the problems saying we’ve come so far that we can just meet on-call. And there hasn’t been a meeting in several years.”

Denson and Allen individually lauded the UGA College of Education partnership with ACC schools.

“We’ve really invested our faculty and staff in assisting the Clarke county school system,” Allen said. “And we help them operate what we call professional development schools, every school now has some type of relationship with the University, though at different levels, some have on-site faculty some have more of a consultative relationship.”

This collaboration began in 2007, but Denson said she hopes to see even more done to solidify the partnership.

“It’s something that has begun to happen but I’d like to see it happen to a much larger degree,” she said. “So it’s a great benefit to those student-teachers that are coming in because they’re getting hands-on, real world experience with students, but it’s also expanding the faculty of the school because you’ve got more people working with those students. So that’s a perfect example of how you mutually help each other. I think it’s just as beneficial to the university as it is to the elementary schools.”

Allen also noted UGA’s involvement in Partners for a Prosperous Athens, an organization that broke ground in 2005 to address poverty issues in Athens. The organization was a collaborative effort on the part of UGA, ACC government, the Clarke County School District, the Athens Chamber of Commerce, and various local nonprofits.

“We formed a group called Partners for a Prosperous Athens where we had a major initiative to identify and address poverty issues here and develop strategies to try to deal with that, understanding that the poverty level of this county, being whatever the numbers show now, is just an embarrassment to a county with the flagship institution of the university system located within it” he said.

He said the University’s ability to collaborate is important to ventures like this one.

“We got involved and partnered with these other people,” he said. “We didn’t come in and say we’re the university we can fix this for you, what we said is let’s work together and we’ll bring our resources in terms of facilitators and office space and back-room support to help our community address what we think is the major social problem here.

PPA spent time and resources fact-finding and adopting an action plan to address poverty in Athens. It then transferred their findings to a nonprofit called OneAthens. This organization has addressed a variety of needs in the community – most recently helping to develop the Athens Health Network.

Bumps in the road

This positive relationship has had its bumps along the way.

A highly publicized scuffle occurred at Sanford Stadium beginning in 1999. The teams weren’t composed of athletes, but rather of administrators – the University versus ACC.

Before the 1999 football season, UGA workers noticed a brown liquid that looked and smelled like sewage bubbling up from that sacred piece of grass between the hedges and causing patches of grass to die. UGA brought in the company that installed the field to determine the cause of the problem. That company brought in an environmental consulting firm, which concluded that leaking sewage from an ACC line was the crux of the problem.

The cost of repair to the field, the University said, could be in excess of $1 million.

The University took the report to ACC officials and indicated they may be at fault and liable to pay for repairs to the field. ACC responded by hiring their own consulting firm. This firm’s report concluded that the smells and liquid could not be sewage due to the depth of the line beneath the field.

A third report concluded that the smells and liquid was indeed sewage, though the sewage leaks weren’t as bad as in the past. It said the death of the grass was due to old age.

UGA and ACC retained lawyers. The threat of a lawsuit was eminent. But Adams and then-mayor Doc Eldridge announced a solution to the problem in April 2000.

The city agreed to remove a discontinued sewer line discovered beneath the field during investigation. The project cost approximately $40,000. The University agreed to bear the cost of installing new turf and restoring the field before the 2000 football season began.

The relationship has grown since.

Allen said community relations is about bigger questions than periodic projects, whether they be successful or not.

“It’s not just helping build a bridge or a fire station, but it’s helping to address issues that are more long-term and not project related, and might have a long-term impact to the University and the community,” he said.

For richer and for poorer

This isn’t a perfect marriage.  When times get tough, the relationship is strained. But Adams and Denson have worked hard to fulfill their primary responsibilities, despite the dwindling dollars.

“We would like to help in more [ways],” Adams said. “But there’s just not been that much venture capital over the last three to four years to do anything new.”

The University must stick to its “core functions” of teaching, research and public service when money gets tight, Adams said, “and probably in that order, if you look at the budget.”

In his State of the University address this year, Adams said “some have forgotten that the University of Georgia is a charity, not a donor.”

He praised the collaboration on “mutually beneficial” projects in the past, but he reminded the audience that UGA is “a nonprofit educational institution” whose “resources have been more limited in the past three years than at any other period in my 16 years here.”

Adams said it’s important to remember that UGA’s commitment is statewide, not just to Athens.

“I get up every morning thinking, ‘OK, how do I serve the state of Georgia?’ I don’t ignore Athens, I love Athens, I live in Athens, I’m going to continue to be in Athens going forward, but my job is a statewide mission,” he said. “So sometimes I have to balance what’s the request from Athens versus what does the whole state need. And that’s not always a perfect answer.”

Denson said there’s a fundamental imbalance, but the right attitude helps maintain a good relationship.

“Of course the university’s core responsibility is educating its students, and our core responsibility is providing for the safety and welfare of everyone here, including the students,” she said. “So when money gets tighter, that gets to be harder for both of us. But I think that we can make that easier to both groups by having an attitude that we are responsible for each other.”

Looking forward

 When Adams steps down July 1, current Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Jere Morehead will take his place. Denson said she thinks Morehead will be “a real asset to the community.”

The mayor praised his academic background, but said “the fact that he was the first person in his family to graduate from college” will give him the sensitivity to understand the people of Athens.

“He’s going to have the sensitivity and understanding of regular people,” she said, “that people in academia in previous generations may not have had.”

 

 

 


Audit finds pretrial program to be successful

A University of Georgia student, age 18, nervously stood in front of the municipal court judge’s bench with a host of peers. The student had been arrested for the first time and charged with minor in possion a month prior. Others surrounding the judge’s bench shared similar experiences. Now, the first time offenders were all being placed on the Athens-Clarke County pretrial diversion program.
In pretrial diversion, first time offenders under the age of 21 are given the opportunity to have the charges against them dropped after paying fees and completing a meticulous checklist of requirements. Pretrial began to be strictly enforced in 2008 when the government took away control of the probation progams from private sectors.
“The pretrial program is a way for students to avoid a record with consequences through fines and community service,” said Eric Eberhardt, a partner at the Eberhardt & Hale, L.L.P. law firm in Athens. The rigorous program is expensive and time consuming, but it does produce a long term benefit for both the participants and the community.
The student, who entered pretrial diversion, faces costs of approximately $600 minium for completing the program. The fee to enter pretrial is around $300. The student will then pay $30 per month probation fee. An alcohol and drug awareness course is a requirement of the program and costs $115 through the university health center.
Many participants of the program and students are under the impression the Athens-Clarke County government uses the program as a method of exhorting money from first time offenders.
“I could’t believe how expensive it was to go through the probation process. I have had friends receive tickets for minor in possession that cost half of what I paid. I think this is just how the poorest county in Georgia makes its money,” said an anonymous student, who completed the pretrial program.
Athens-Clarke Auditor John Wolf completed an audit report on the program which showed this popular belief to be untrue. The probation program collected $922,000 in total fees last year, according to the audit. The program is government-run and required $804,000 to run leaving a $116,000 profit for the general county fund. That profit is equal to only about two percent of the county’s revenue. Superior Court Judge David Sweat even told commissioners the program should not be a revenue generator for the local government at a May 2009 budget hearing, reported the Athens Banner-Herald.
Hours of community service and probation meetings are another aspect of the pretrial program. The student must donate time to working for a specific charity or organization that is recommended and approved by the court system. The community service projects include volunteering with the homeless and animal shelters or beautifying public areas such as parks and highways. The student will also meet monthly with a probation officer to report the progress in the pretrial program. The student could be subjected to random drug testing during these monthly meetings. The student must also follow the strict rules of probation which include avoiding venues which sell alcohol and keeping out of legal trouble during the probation period. Failure to follow these guidelines result in removal from the program, and the student would again face charges.
The number of community service hours completed by probationers has more than doubled since 2008 when the government began running the probation program, according to the audit. The percentage of people completing the program has also increased from 70 to 90 percent.
“Certainly, with the large number of cases we have, they are handling it beautifully,” said Clarke County Solicitor C.R. Chisholm, who prosecutes misdemeanors. “We are seeing increased compliance and increased accountability on the part of the probationers.”
If the student completes the program, they have the charges dropped. The arrest can also be expunged off the student’s record in a few years at the age of 21 as long as the student does not get into trouble with the court again.
“Pretrial gives students the ability to avoid consequences that could keep them from getting a job or a chance at other future opportunities,” said Eberhardt.
So far, the rehabilitation pretrial program of the court system seems to benefit both probationers and the community. “Most people complete it and most people we don’t end up seeing again. We’re not trying to get the conviction as much as trying to change the behavior,” the Solicitor General told the Red & Black.
“It is a relief not to have one mistake hanging over my head for the rest of my life,” said the anonymous student, who went through pretrial. “Although the program was a pain, I am happy to have the incident behind me and a clean record.”