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City Council debates police department agreement and upcoming road projects

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City Council met Tuesday to discuss road upgrades through the Ohio Department of Transportation and continued discussing cooperation between the Athens Police Department and Ohio University Police Department.

The Transportation Committee discussed an ODOT project affecting U.S. 33, State Rt. 550 and State Rt. 13. This project would involve replacing the pavement from Columbus Road to the Ridges — a stretch of 2.28 miles — according to Mayor Patterson. This project would also include the entrance and exit ramps between U.S. 33 and East State Street.

Moving into the regular meeting, Council did its first reading of an ordinance that would create an agreement between the Athens and Ohio University police departments. This agreement, which was discussed at a committee meeting two weeks ago, outlines the two police departments’ and their respective administrations’ responsibilities when providing aid to one another in the future.

“This mutual agreement has been in existence for probably over 30 years,” Councilmember Kent Butler, D-First Ward, said. “We’re guessing since the start date was in October that it probably was initiated with the concerns regarding Halloween.”

Councilmember Patrick McGee, I-At Large, voiced concerns that the city would be losing money by not being reimbursed for providing additional services to OUPD during events.

“I think the chief had entered into an agreement that the city would basically forgive $10,000 worth of reimbursement because police are supposed to cooperate with each other,” McGee said. “And I think that the citizens need to know that that’s what’s happening … and I see no justification whatsoever for that.”

McGee also mentioned his skepticism over whether the trade of hours between police departments was comparable. Other councilmembers asserted that because much of the payment to officers is being handled by the Fraternal Order of Police — and because the city will be paying its officers in overtime hours — the ordinance would change nothing other than making the agreement official.

Councilmembers Peter Kotses and Jennifer Cochran, both D-At Large, said they thought providing additional police services to the university would simply be the neighborly thing to do.

“This is being neighborly and working together for the mutual benefit of our community, but I would also point out that it is an unequal relationship because we’re the little neighbor,” Cochran said. “Our population pales when compared to the university population. People talk about our city being a community of 25,000. We are not a city of 25,000 all the time. So the city, without the students, is not the same.”

The police collaboration ordinance will undergo two more readings at future council meetings.

The meeting ended with an executive session to discuss collective bargaining and pending litigation.

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