Wiehl tired of trash talk

Controversy has surrounded Athens City Council’s attempt to push through changes to the Garbage and Rubbish Ordinance, a law that some councilmembers argue is woefully out of date.

City law currently makes it illegal for a resident to allow trash to accumulate anywhere except in trash cans, and the cans must be stored out of view from the street, at least behind the front corner of the house. 

The proposed amendments implement the same concepts, but clarify, in the case of corner lots and through lots, the trash can’t be seen from the street on which the house is addressed. Also, the amendments would raise the fine from $20 to $50 on the first offense.

City statistics show that code enforcers wrote 745 violations of the garbage and rubbish ordinance in 2008, compared to about 3,200 in 2013. Athens Director of Code Enforcement and Community Development John Paszke has said he expects this year’s total will exceed those from past years.

If residents are unable to find a place to put their cans that is compliant with the code, Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-Fourth Ward, said residents should create screens to conceal their trash. 

“We do not want to drive down the street and see a trash can,” added Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-Third Ward, at the meeting. “We all know there’s trash. We just don’t want to see it.”

Papai’s son, Will Drabold, is campus editor of The Post.

Though Fahl and Papai said that’s a simple solution, Mayor Paul Wiehl has already poked holes in the plan. He threatened to veto the ordinance Monday night.

Wiehl said at his Wednesday news conference that creating a screen or any structure to conceal trash near the front of residences would be in violation of various zoning codes. 

“Are you permitted to put up a structure when it’s running over zoning code?” he asked.

Although Wiehl guessed 38 percent of Athens residents are in violation of the current law, he still isn’t in favor of amending it — at all.

“I thought the problem was fixed as best as possible,” Wiehl said, adding he’d support increasing the fine. He thinks it’s large enough to deter trash from piling up.

“Twenty to fifty dollars isn’t that big of a change,” Fahl said.

Wiehl disagreed. “When you go to dinner, a difference in a 20-dollar check and a 50-dollar check isn’t that big of a change?” he said.

And after Wiehl’s news conference on Wednesday, Paszke’s estimate may hold true. 

Wiehl announced the “administration will review and reboot the law” and start to more strictly enforce the law in the upcoming weeks, and added that he is bound to “follow the letter of the law.”

That includes houses notorious for their weekend exploits. Freshman Phil O’Brien spent part of his Saturday morning out front of a house on Mill Street cleaning remnants of a Friday night party off the lawn. 

Wielding a trash bag stuffed with red plastic cups, O’Brien said he knew about the ordinance but wasn’t worried at the time.

“The trash man came by and helped me out so I didn’t get a violation,” O’Brien.

According to O’Brien, the trash collector had passed by early that morning and told him what he needed to clean to avoid getting a fine.

The amendment hasn’t yet had a second reading at council, and Fahl intends on revising the wording before bringing it back in the next few weeks. If the law is passed before the end of the year, the changes won’t be enforced until January 1.

Wiehl hopes it doesn’t get to that point.

“I think we’ve talked enough trash.”





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