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FRIDAY, MAY 11, 2007
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Athens litter ordinance will include warning for homeowners

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

ATHENS — Saying they want to be fair to homeowners and businesses, a City Council majority will amend the junk and litter ordinance to require warning tickets for certain violations.

But if officers have already issued you a citation, you will have to settle the matter in municipal court.

For almost two hours at Thursday's work session, city leaders here discussed what City Attorney Shane Black called a "streamlined" ordinance.

"Basically what the council has charged me with doing is drafting an ordinance that the public and police officers can understand," Black said.

"This ordinance shouldn't be difficult," he continued. "A person should be able to read it and know they are in violation."

What the council didn't discuss is whether Athens is violating its existing ordinance by not issuing warning tickets.

The problem is that there are two ordinances dealing with litter, junk vehicles and overgrown weeds, and the council never repealed the old one that requires warnings.

Repealing ordinances

Black said the proposal he put on the table Thursday morning will repeal the old ordinances. As to whether officers were required to issue warnings when they started issuing citations April 2, he deflected questions to the city prosecutor, who was not available for comment.

Mayor Dan Williams said the current ordinance requires a warning. But he conceded that Athens officers have issued at least 177 citations with no warnings.

"About 45 of them have paid court costs," he said.

The fine for junk vehicles is $30 plus $146 in court costs. The litter fine is a minimum of $200 plus court costs.

Council members Ronnie Marks, Millie Caudle and Johnny Crutcher lobbied for the warning clause, except for people who litter.

If you throw trash outside a vehicle window, for example, the proposed ordinance does not require a warning.

"They can ticket the driver or/and owner of the vehicle," Black said.

But, people with overgrown yards or junk vehicles in driveways should be warned first, the council majority said.

"Unless they are warned, it just doesn't seem right in my gut," Marks said. "It looks like we're coming down too hard. We need a five- or 10-day warning period."

"I agree," Crutcher said.

"I've said publicly we ought to give people at least one warning," Caudle said.

Council President Harold Wales and Councilman Jimmy Gill said they can't imagine anybody in town not knowing about the city's stepped-up enforcement efforts.

"Everybody don't know about it," Marks said.

"This stuff has been all in the media," Wales said.

Gill argued that officers have discretion about warnings and they sometime use it.

"That's the problem, they use it sometimes," Caudle said.

Police Chief Wayne Harper said it's difficult for officers to enforce an ordinance that's not specific.

He said officers issued citations without warnings because "that's what the council told us to do."

In the first week of enforcement, officers issued 104 citations, mostly for junk vehicles. Williams said some recipients threatened litigation because they were not warned.

The council agreed to discuss the ordinance at another work session before passing it.

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