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City Council grants emergency power to Service Safety Director

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Athens City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Monday allowing the current city service safety director the authority to close city streets if necessary.

The ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Peter Kotses, called to grant the special emergency power to the city service safety director, a position currently held by Chief of Police Tom Pyle. The ordinance is intended to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 if crowds gather outside in public spaces in ways that violate city health guidelines.

City Council is typically responsible for closing down streets to vehicular traffic, according to Kotses. This resolution gives the city safety administration a quicker way to control the streets in the event of a crowd not respecting social distancing rules or safety measures.

The temporary authority will be granted through the end of the year, until Jan. 31, 2021, according to Kotses.

The ordinance may also be used to address Halloween parties, as well as protests that might happen after Election Day if there is not a peaceful transfer of power, Kotses said.

“I don’t believe the [service safety] administration is going to use it in any type of situation, unless it becomes a dire last resort to take control of a public right away.” Kotses said.

The council also passed another ordinance allocating federally allotted CARES money to the installation of a broadband line to the Arts West building on West State Street.

The ordinance will allocate up to $120,000 from the city’s CARES Act fund to install a physical broadband line from the city building to the Arts West building. The money will also be used to purchase any necessary equipment to provide virtual programming from the building.

Arts West, which has been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, could be open to virtual programming as soon as November, according to Councilmember Sarah Grace. She added, however, a more realistic timeline might be by January since the city still has to contract the installation of the broadband line.

In other business:

  • Mayor Steve Patterson announced the Richland Avenue bridge will be open to vehicular traffic this week once the asphalt is laid down, after being delayed due to inclement weather
  • Patterson also announced the upcoming closure of North Court Street from Rose Alley up the Carpenter Street intersection from Oct. 21 through Oct. 22 to install a new water line
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