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City Council opposes closing streets for fests

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Students petitioning for the closing of streets during their respective fests have gotten the attention of city council members.

While not on the agenda for Monday night’s Athens City Council meeting, Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, brought up the petition. Mayor Steve Patterson was quick to share his opinion.

“We are not in favor of surrendering our streets for a party,” he said. “Halloween is a different animal.”

Patterson noted that he did not want the city to appear to condone fest behavior by closing streets.

Although most council members seemed to agree with Patterson, Councilman Patrick McGee felt differently. McGee suggested that safety should be placed over perceived acceptance of party behavior, as it is a city and safety service concern.

“I think we should at least pretend to be treating this as a safety issue,” he said. “These areas are incredibly crowded by students who are just stumbling through the streets. Students believe, and rightly so from my point of view, that we should have these areas closed off.

“It is a degree of how you want to allow your citizens to express their own enjoyment of their neighborhoods,” McGee said. “I am not one for the fest season necessarily, but I am one for our student’s safety. I hope the city will consider the issue.”

Patterson didn’t feel there was any reason for the conversation to continue, however.

“I haven’t seen anything materialize yet, so I don’t know that there is a conversation to be had,” he said.

According to Service Safety Director Paula Horan-Moseley, the mayor’s office hadn’t been directly contacted about the petition.

Patterson was more excited to discuss possible renovations surrounding Bobcat Lane.

Plans are being made to replace the sidewalks and add decorative lighting from South Shafer Street to Oxbow Trail to “improve safety and aesthetics in the area,” Papai said.

An island will also be added to Bobcat Lane to “keep people from making left turns where they shouldn’t be,” Patterson said.

Patterson explained that in cooperation with Ohio University, the city of Athens will pay for the lighting renovation, while the university will pay for the sidewalk replacement and island construction, which should be significantly more expensive.

“This is a needed project moving forward,” Patterson said. “The island near Bobcat Lane will be significant, just from a safety standpoint”

Butler brought up Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle’s ongoing cooperation with Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers to implement Lexipol into police training.

According to Butler, this is an attempt to be “proactive in implementing the best practices.” Among those practices are the increased documentation of police activity and increased preparation for specific responsibilities and situations.

Council members seemed to agree that “more education is always helpful” during police training, as Papai said. Although Councilman Jeffrey Risner, D-2nd Ward, wasn’t convinced of Lexipol’s practices necessarily.

“What makes (Lexipol’s policies) the best?” Risner asked, who admitted he hadn’t looked into Lexipol but felt that some of Athens Police policies might be more effective than a minimum requirement for all police departments.

Patterson said he was not sure how much flexibility there would be in regards to adding higher standards beyond Lexipol’s training policies. He agreed that there are some things the Athens Police Department does differently, but also stated that Lexipol is a highly regarded and nationally adopted program.

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