Home City Demonstrators on Court brigade City Council Zoom meeting, Council deliberates towing restriction

Demonstrators on Court brigade City Council Zoom meeting, Council deliberates towing restriction

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As Athens City Council met virtually Monday night, around two dozen community members gathered at the Athens County Courthouse to join the community speakout portion of the meeting via Zoom and demand the Council investigate instances of racism in local policing.

Many demonstrators were also members of Athens County Copwatch, a collection of community activists that focus on police misconduct in the county, according to their Facebook. 

Members of the group claimed over loudspeakers they have conducted research that proves racist and corrupt motivations by police. Last month, a Nelsonville police officer resigned the day she was sworn in after Athens County Copwatch reposted an insensitive comment the officer had made on Facebook, according to WOUB.

When the public speakout portion of the meeting was set to begin, many of the demonstrators pulled out their phones and joined the City Council meeting. 

None of the demonstrators’ concerns were addressed immediately by the Council — members of Council are not required to respond to the citizen speakout session — but one member asked those speaking out to try and reduce audio interference.

Damon Krane, former Athens mayoral candidate and Copwatch member, addressed the City Council first and said actions taken by Council in the summer were not substantial enough. He said he believes more action to combat racism is needed.

Krane referenced a July 8 article in The Athens NEWS, which reported Athens city officials were not interested in defunding or reducing funding for the Athens Police Department. Krane said the Council is hypocritical because in June, Athens City Council voted to declare racism a public health crisis, but he believed they did not take any action beyond that.

“What it is we’re demanding is that city officials don’t just condemn racism, but they also work to end racism,” Krane said.

Krane claimed the Copwatch was investigating the local police because the city and county government are unwilling to.

Former Ohio University LGBT Center Director and Copwatch member delfin bautista also addressed Council during the speakout. bautista, who uses they/them pronouns and the lowercase spelling of their name, also said they were frustrated because they believe Council has not lived up to the promise of declaring racism a public health crisis.

“Words are great, but words are not enough,” bautista said. “Words will not prevent Black members of our community from being profiled and harassed by the police, words will not dismantle systems of injustice that minoritize (sic) and marginalize individuals in a city that prides itself on inclusion.”

Before the speakout portion, City Council discussed an ordinance to amend a towing lot restriction in Athens.

The ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Peter Kotses, recommends that the Council allow towing lots to be within a five mile radius of city limits. Kotses noted that this ordinance was driven by a request made by Melville Towing and that Athens Chief of Police Tom Pyle agreed with the proposal. 

Kotses said that the type of towing lot in question has a 25 mile radius, as per the Ohio Revised Code. This proposal would allow for better use of property within city limits, he said.

“At the same time, though, less modes of transportation to these remote lots could be a hindrance for people retrieving their vehicles,” Kotses said.

Councilmembers Sarah Grace and Beth Clodfelter suggested including a stipulation that the towing lot be near a bus stop. Councilmember Chris Fahl said that the proposal would cause issues for commuters. 

“I’m somewhat uncomfortable changing our code for just one business,” Fahl said. “We deal with a lot of people who are right on the edge of not being able to afford something, and this is another thing being put in their way.”

Another introduced ordinance proposed reducing the vendor’s license fee, a license required to operate a business, for the rest of 2020. The fee, which normally costs $125 a month, would be reduced to $62.50, with the intention of helping businesses during COVID-19.
Council also continued its discussion of parklets — the ordinance would create guidelines for businesses looking to get their own parklet.

Cole Behrens contributed to this report.

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