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By JIM THOMPSON
A resolution calling for recommendations from the county attorney and the county manager on local action to halt alleged discriminatory admissions practices in downtown Athens bars, possibly through revisions to the county’s alcohol licensing ordinance, got the unanimous approval of Athens-Clarke County commissioners Tuesday night.
The resolution asks that the attorney’s office and the manager’s office “study and make recommendations to the Mayor and Commission foractions that may be taken at the local level … including but not limited to the ongoing consideration of possible revision to the county alcohol licensing ordinance to make a violation of local, state or federal anti-discrimination or civil rights ordinances or laws a basis for the denial, suspension or revocation of an alcoholic beverages license.”
The resolution, largely the work of Commissioners Andy Herod, Kelly Girtz and Mike Hamby, with assistance from the manager’s office and Mayor Nancy Denson, comes just a matter of weeks after an anonymous survey conducted through the University of Georgia’s Student Government Association produced dozens of anecdotes regarding the use of dress codes and private party claims to keep people out of a number of downtown bars on the basis of their race or sexual orientation.
Denson called the resolution “a statement of values in our community.”
It’s not yet clear when Athens-Clarke County attorney Bill Berryman and other county government staff members will present their recommendations to the commission. Berryman has said that he believes it is possible to craft an ordinance meeting the commission’s goals, but he told commissioners Tuesday night that one issue to be addressed will be the question of how the county goes about establishing the veracity of claimed discrimination in admission to downtown bars.
A few downtown bar owners attended Tuesday’s session. During one of the public comment periods at the meeting, Mark Bell, owner of downtown bar 9e’s, cautioned commissioners that any ordinance they might put in place as a result of the Tuesday resolution should apply to all businesses in the county, not just to downtown bars.
In comments after the meeting, Bell and another downtown bar owner, Mitch Jordan of Jerzees, said dress codes are common at any number of bars, and not just in Athens. Both men also said they had been denied admission to bars on the basis of their dress.
The two men also said that some of what the public might see as discriminatory practices is simply related to capacity issues at downtown bars. According to Jordan, the county fire marshal’s office is particularly strict about occupancy limits, and conducts regular checks of downtown bars.
“What you don’t hear is all the white people turned away,” said Bell, whose mother, Diane, is an Athens-Clarke County commissioner.
And, the two bar owners said, some of those denied admission to downtown bars are people who have been identified repeatedly as sources of trouble for the bars.
“We’re not discriminating against a color,” Bell said. “We’re discriminating against a class of people.”
During discussion of the resolution, a number of county commissioners expressed some sadness that the county found itself dealing with discrimination issues decades after the civil rights movement.
But Jesse Houle, a member of local progressive activist group Athens for Everyone, told commissioners, “This is not sad, this is wonderful,” because the issue was being discussed openly and addressed by the local government.
“What a New Year’s resolution!” Houle told commissioners.SHARE THIS STORY