Athens-Clarke manager, attorney recommend task force on discrimination

An 11-member temporary task force could soon begin working with the Athens-Clarke County Housing & Community Development Department and the county manager’s office to lay the groundwork for a “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan.”

 

Development of the plan is the centerpiece of recommendations formulated by County Manager Blaine Williams and County Attorney Bill Berryman pursuant to a November vote by Athens-Clarke commissioners directing them “to recommend a framework which can best address claims of discrimination … .”

Williams and Berryman’s 30-page report, filed on June 27, suggests that it could take months for the task force to do its work.

The county budget includes $50,000 for diversity, equity and inclusion planning. Commissioners will get a full briefing on the recommendation in August and will vote on it in September.

At the November 2016 meeting, where commissioners asked Berryman and Williams to come up with recommendations on addressing issues of discrimination, the commission also approved a set of amendments to local alcohol licensing ordinances requiring bars to post copies of their dress codes, information on private parties, and instructions for contacting the county attorney’s office with complaints of alleged discrimination. Running afoul of the amended ordinances could subject bars to suspension, revocation or denial of alcohol licenses.

That action came after an anonymous online survey conducted through the University of Georgia’s Student Government Association produced numerous anecdotes of downtown Athens bars using unevenly enforced dress codes, dubious claims of hosting private parties and outright denial of admission to keep minorities and homosexuals out of the establishments.

As discussion of alleged discriminatory practices moved forward, representatives of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement and Athens for Everyone, two local progressive activist groups, suggested that discriminatory business practices extended beyond downtown bars. Both groups, with the support of some commissioners, have pushed for creation of a government-backed civil rights committee that would develop data on discrimination in the community and make recommendations for action to the commission.

The June 27 recommendation from Berryman and Williams, however, suggests strongly that the county government won’t get directly involved in addressing discrimination complaints.

“The authority to adjudicate private discrimination claims is not afforded to the local governments by the State of Georgia, as it might otherwise be found in other parts of the nation,” the recommendation notes, before going on to state that “(t)here is a need locally for a thorough and frank assessment of the impact of discrimination in the community and its connection with equity and socio-economic issues.”

The 11-member temporary task force selected by the mayor would be chaired by Grady Martin, who serves on the board of the East Athens Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization working on economic development, housing and historic preservation issues.

Others named for the panel are Mokah-Jasmine Johnson, lead organizer of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement; the Rev. Abraham Mosley, a longtime local pastor; Scott Sheppard, pastor of Cornerstone Church; Terris Thomas of Family Connection-Communities in Schools; Robert Finch, chief diversity officer at Piedmont Athens Regional hospital; Fred Smith, co-chair of the Athens Area Black History Committee; University of Georgia linguistics professor Adel Amer of the Al-Huda Islamic Center; Humberto Mendoza, an auto mechanic currently serving on the Envision Athens steering committee; Michele Pearson, a local financial advisor, and Chris Sheats, an Athens barber.

 

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