Athens’ code officers are writing 100 trash warnings daily

Emily Bohatch | For the Post

Controversy surrounding Athens City Council’s proposed revision to the Garbage and Rubbish Ordinance has spilled out of council chambers, into city neighborhoods and even online.

According to John Paszke, the city’s Director of Code Enforcement and Community Development, code officers have dished out about 100 warnings on a daily basis since last Monday — about 400 warnings in all, as of last Friday.

Some Athens residents have taken to Facebook to complain about the crackdown, even comparing the code officers to North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

Paszke added that he expects his four code officers to sweep through the entire city by week’s end.

The warnings are for residents violating the city’s Garbage and Rubbish Ordinance, which some Athens City Councilmembers have sought to revise over the past month.

An ordinance introduced by Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-Fourth Ward, would increase the violation fine from $20 to $50 while specifying exactly where trash can be stored and allowing certain residents to apply for a waiver.

Currently, the law states that trash cans only have to be behind the front corner of the residence; amendments to the law state that the cans must be completely out of view from the street.

After saying he would veto Fahl’s ordinance at council’s Sept. 22 meeting, Mayor Paul Wiehl added that he

would start pushing for the city to more diligently enforce the current law already on the books.

He’s guessed that about 30 percent of Athens residents comply to the law.

“If we’re going to be robots about this, we might as well be robots,” Wiehl said in council weeks ago regarding enforcing the law.

But some online posters targeted Fahl’s ordinance, and urged council members to drop it from their agenda.

One man called the proposed ordinance a “mistake” and said it has “nothing to do with health and safety.”

In a letter Paszke sent to city councilmembers that Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, posted to the “Athens West Side” Facebook group on Friday, he mentioned that the code office has received more than three dozen phone calls.

Papai has replied directly to some of her constituents’ concerns online.

On Sunday, Papai, whose son Will Drabold is campus editor for The Post, posted a letter from Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, on the group page.

In the letter, Fahl said that there are two issues with the current influx of warnings. “One is the enforcement that is currently occurring. That was initiated by the administration. I am not sure what the aim is.”

In an interview Monday night, Fahl said that if the ordinance would’ve been properly enforced over the years, people would actually obey the law — or even know that it exists.

“The code office hasn’t been doing their job,” Fahl said. “They’re just going out of their way to be extra tough.”

Fahl still is tweaking her ordinance’s wording, which she called the second factor in Wiehl’s decision to enforce the current legislation.

Wiehl, who is on vacation this week, was unable to be reached for comment.

Despite her push for an Athens free of excess trash, Fahl doesn’t agree with the code office’s actions.

“There should be no reason why so many warnings are needed if the code (which has been in the city code for a number of years) had been adequately enforced over the years,” Fahl said in her letter, adding later that the code office’s approach to the situation was “heavy-handed.”

Papai was a little more optimistic.

“It has generated excellent conversation about the economics and vitality of this community and the quality of life factors,” she said.

Fahl also urged those with concerns to come and speak before council on Oct. 20 at the next reading of the amendment.



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