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Private security for Athens City Hall, what about the rest of us? (Part 1)

By Michael H. McLendon

City Hall is leaving citizens and business owners on their own to deal with the problems created by the increasing  homeless and panhandler population while hiring a private security firm to protect ACC employees at City Hall due to similar problems. The people who run City Hall are concerned about their own personal safety while creating the illusion of a safe Athens. This situation exists because City Hall leaders have been timid and weak in dealing with the problem. Aside from the substantive issues here, these optics are not good. 

The action by City Hall to use private security beginning in December 2023 to enhance safety and security for employees and visitors is not the issue. The City Manager would be irresponsible if he failed to act this past December following incidents that occurred at City Hall. Even the Athens Downtown Development Authority uses private security for its parking decks. One might argue this is an inherent ACC Police Department (PD) task, but that is another discussion for another day. 

The issue is the double standard at work in City Hall. One standard applies to government employees and a different one applies to regular citizens. The City Hall standard means government employees deserve to be shielded as a priority to mitigate safety and security risks. The citizen standard means citizens must accept City Hall’s policy of unlimited tolerance for the homeless and panhandler problem. This means citizens and business owners are on their own when it comes to providing for their increased safety and security.

Hiring private security for City Hall signifies ACC has set a zero-tolerance policy for the behavior of the homeless and panhandlers in and around City Hall and its campus. So, why are ACC employees more important than the rest of us? Don’t the rest of us have a right to feel as safe and secure as government employees? Citizens and business owners deserve a public answer to that question. 

For more than a year citizens and business owners have demanded City Hall take action to eliminate the myriad of safety, security, and health problems created by some in the growing homeless and panhandler population. Their pleas to City Hall resulted in the nodding of heads followed by a big yawn of indifference.

There is good reason for anxiety about the safety and security situation due to the growing homeless and panhandler population. Calls to the ACC PD about these problems increased from about 1900 in 2019 to about 4200 in 2022. Data for 2023 is not yet available, but City Hall employees have been uneasy because the problem arrived on their door- step finally warranting action in 2023 so it is clear this problem still persists.

Citizens have a question City Hall must answer: Why do you deem yourselves more important than the rest of us? 

(Part 2 coming soon)

Michael H. McLendon resides in Athens-Clarke County Commission District 7.

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Athens is a hot mess. I work on the Old Hull Rd. The police told my boss there's at least 75 homeless individuals living on this road, and onto North Ave., I'm sure. Just ride down through here and look at all the trash. They trash an area in the woods, then move to a different area to trash. They sometimes sleep in our delivery trucks. How would you like to leave out early and find someone asleep in your truck. Not me.

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Then help them. You aren’t offering solutions for your fellow humans struggling. Homeless camps always have trash because they can’t afford trash service like those that have the privilege of having it. Instead of complaining, take them some trash bags. Food. Hand warmers. Water. Anything helps, but not doing anything when you SEE and are aware of the problem everyday isn’t how we should be treating our fellow humans. Imagine if this was one of your loved ones.

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It’s really quite funny to see all of these comments made without one solution to the problem. You can’t arrest your way of the poverty issues. You have to tackle poverty and addiction BEFORE they become adults. This problem didn’t start with the current government, it’s been stirring for decades. The status quo is the problem. You can’t criminalize poverty and hope it goes away…

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Gee, don't they trust the ACC police? We live in Winterville and just don't go downtown anymore. Nothing there we need. Or even want. Since the mayor and commission are so proud of being a sanctuary city why don't they move the homeless camp to the courthouse lawn? Or provide housing for the homeless in spare bedrooms in their own houses? Perhaps we need to file a class action lawsuit for misuse of public finds for using the taxes they extort from property owners to actively attract the panhandlers.

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We lived in Athens for many years and we tried to improve things. We volunteered to help others and we voted. But over time the leaders became more and more accepting of crime and panhandling. The school system became more violent and the students suffered as the school system continued to fail the students and the administration continued to grow.

After years of financial struggle and hard work we able to leave...a long story.

We still give time and treasure to help those in need. We still have hope for the city.

We now only come to Athens when we have to. About a year ago we parked downtown and were getting out of our car to do some local…

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I work in downtown next to city hall. It's an embarrassment for a prestigious university city to allow aggressive panhandling. Just going to Chick fil la is a hassle. The homeless literally sit there in your face while you are trying to get food. They assault the traffic lady all the time. I have watched cops walk away from screaming homeless people outside of shops scaring customers away. The article is 100% correct.

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