Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Athens City Council Adopts Ordinance on Sexually-Oriented Businesses

Meryl Swiatek

Citizens Silent During Public Hearing

The much-debated city ordinance restricting sexually-oriented businesses went entirely un-debated at last night's city council meeting. Because of public interest surrounding the ordinance (Athens Code Enforcement Director Steve Pierson said there were days he received up to 50 e-mails about the ordinance from concerned citizens), the council amended the agenda to add a public hearing devoted entirely to the subject at 7:00.

At 6:55, Mayor Paul Wiehl commented that he was "unfashionably early" as he entered the near-empty room of two reporters and two Athens citizens. Video cameras were set up in every corner to capture the proceedings and broadcast them to the rest of Athens; there were as many cameras as humans.

The room slowly filled over the next few minutes and the hearing was brought to order. Councilwoman Debbie Phillips from the 4th Ward (pictured here talking to Athens Midday's Micah Brown) explained that the hearing was held as an opportunity for the public to speak to council before the ordinance had its third and final reading. Outlawing sexually-oriented businesses is illegal, she said, but imposing restrictions on them is well within the city's right. Those restrictions mainly concern limitations on location, such as being 1000 feet from any school, place of worship, library, residential area or park.

The floor was opened for questions, but the public was silent. Phillips asked again, as did City Council President Bill Bias, saying he wanted to be sure the public had a chance to speak, but the room was quiet and the public hearing was declared complete. When the ordinance came up for its official vote during the meeting, again the council asked whether the public had any questions or comments, but no one raised a hand except the reporters scribbling in their notebooks. The ordinance was adopted unanimously among council members.

Asked after the meeting why no one had anything to say about an issue that seemed to elicit such community response, Phillips said that most citizens had already contacted her or another council member and probably felt like they'd had their say on the matter. She said the ordinance was not about censorship, but about preserving property values and character of the city, and that she was glad to do that for the 4th Ward.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: A link to a television interview with an Athens business owner has been deleted at her request.]

City Council Roundup: Cars, Parties and Car Parties

Other ordinances of note at the meeting included a request by the Service-Safety Director to buy a Chevy Malibu hybrid to use as a police vehicle. Mayor Wiehl said he liked the idea of starting to bring more energy-efficient vehicles to the fleet, but Councilman at Large Elahu Gosney noted that the Malibu hybrid is inefficient compared to others on the market. The council approved buying a police vehicle of some kind and said that Gosney could work later with the department to determine the best vehicle choice.

Councilman Kent Butler from the 1st Ward was the meeting's party animal, introducing three ordinances for social events in Athens. One was an accidental reprint of a "Boogie on the Bricks" ordinance from the previous meeting, another for a "Great Bicycle Race and Family Fun Cycling Challenge" was withdrawn, but Butler's request to close portions of Court and Washington street on three dates this summer for a Cruise-In passed the first of its three readings.

Councilman at Large Jim Sands introduced three financial ordinances declaring emergencies because the money was needed before the council would meet again and there would not be time for the standard three readings. The council unanimously adopted all three, but President Bias asked that the councilmembers make a effort to be aware of these matters before the last minute so council rules would not have to be suspended in the future. After all ordinances were read, Bias asked the council for any announcements. "I may have… a miscellaneous… finance issue next week," Sands reported. "Kinda cryptic over there," said Bias, "but OK."

The meeting was adjourned.

No comments: