November 1, 2016 - Commission Takes First Step Towards Athens Civil Rights Committee Creation

The momentum throughout the year from all of the marches, speeches and pleas to the Mayor and Commission climaxed on this day at the November voting meeting of the Mayor and Commission. After taking off the “bar-admittance,” or limited anti-discrimination ordinance, from the agenda, Mayor Denson finally brought it to a vote. The Civil Rights Committee was not present in the original ordinance, but activists applied enough pressure to force it to be added through a commission-defined option (CDO), or amendment to the original bill.

Photo by John Roark/ Athens Banner Herald

The meeting began with residents speaking from the podium to the Mayor and Commission. “We are just continuing the fight for justice that was started by civil rights pioneers before us”, said Broderick Flannigan, one of the more than 40 people speak in favor of the creation of an Athens Civil Rights Committee. Once the deliberation began the meeting became contentious and at times odd, with many attendees showing frustrations.

Steadfast support for an Athens Civil Rights Committee from Commissioners Kelly Girtz, Melissa Link, Jerry NeSmith, and Jared Bailey was shown in a CDO created by Commissioner Girtz weeks in advance. Commissioner Link offered a slight revision more than a week in advance requiring “public input” be utilized in the process of creating the Civil Rights Committee. A third CDO was then dropped just 4 days before the meeting date by Commissioners Andy Herod, Harry Sims, Sharyn Dickerson, and Allison Wright that was similar to Commissioner Girtz’s CDO. Girtz, Link, Nesmith, and Bailey offered their support for this CDO with the caveat that Commissioner Link’s addition of public input be included. Commissioner Herod refused to support that compromise and offered his language alone (seconded by Sims). After great discussion on the importance of taking public comment, the Herod CDO passed 6-2 (NO: Bailey, Nesmith; Abstain: Girtz, Link).

This was a confusing vote, one that left some uneasy and feeling distrustful that the local government would carry through without public input into the process. The Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, led by Mokah Johnson, accepted this as a first step towards the victory they had worked so hard to achieve all year.

Athens for Everyone and the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement look forward to ensuring that the Athens Civil Rights Committee sees the light of day and that the local government follows-through with this plan.