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Avondale Estates City Commission provides update on police department review

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Avondale Estates City Commission provides update on police department review

From http://www.avondaleestates.org/

By Zoe Seiler, contributor

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission continued the ongoing conversation about the city’s police department during the work session on Wednesday, March 10. The department is currently seeking accreditation and the city is considering hiring a consultant to review the department.

Numerous high-profile incidents involving Black people dying at the hands of police officers opened up a national conversation about policing last summer.

The Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice called on the City Commission to have an independent, third party review the police department and adopt the 21st Century Policing Implementation Guide.

The City Commission agreed in June 2020 to evaluate the city’s police policies and procedures and has made some strides along the way.

The city is on track to receive state accreditation through the Georgia Association of Police Chiefs and that process will include a review.

“Just the fact of getting that state-level of accreditation would put our department in the top 20% of all the police departments in Georgia. So just that step by itself ensures that we’re above average,” Assistant City Manager Paul Hanebuth said at the Aug. 19 work session.

However, COVID-19 has delayed that process and the city is still waiting for the Georgia Chiefs to conduct an audit, City Manager Patrick Bryant said Wednesday night.

“Unfortunately, COVID has delayed their ability to conduct audits in a timely fashion,” Bryant said. “They’re only meeting once a quarter to set those dates and establish audit timelines. We’re expecting to be done by the end of the second quarter of this year.”

“As a staff, we still recommend to the board the same things that our two consultants recommended, which is making it through completion of this accreditation process before releasing a [request for proposals] for a third party review,” he added.

In September 2020, the City Commission interviewed two consultants to conduct a review of the police department.

“I applaud, again, the police department and the chief for suggesting the accreditation and appreciate the consultants’ recommendation to wait until that’s complete,” Mayor Jonathan Elmore said.

The City Commission also continued discussions on the zoning code rewrite and the future of the Architectural Review Board. City staff is recommending the board be dissolved and removed from the zoning process, and instead have the Planning and Zoning Board make recommendations to the City Commission, Bryant said.

Thoughts on dissolving the ARB were split among the commissioners. Commissioners Dee Merriam and Lionel Laratte were concerned about dissolving the ARB.

“I think that they have provided some very good insight into projects in the past and I think that removing them from the process is a loss,” Merriam said.

“I remain unconvinced that getting rid of the Architectural Review Board is a good move. I don’t buy it,” Laratte added. “I do think there is a place for it. I do think there’s a function for it.”

Elmore and Commissioners Brian Fisher and Lisa Shortell were both in favor of removing the ARB.

“To me it goes back to, I think there’s a lot of things [that] have changed since we originally instituted an architecture Review Board. I think first and foremost what we’re doing right now is we’re taking our zoning and matching it to what the downtown master plan has said,” Fisher said.

Shortell agreed and added that when the ARB was implemented the city didn’t have a city planner.

The recommendation to dissolve the ARB also came from multiple consultants and the zoning audit, which suggested putting the architectural review guidelines into the zoning code, Shortell said at the Feb. 24 meeting.

Avondale is one of the few cities that has an architectural review board as others use planning and zoning boards, Fisher said.

“A big point of the zoning rewrite is to incorporate these elements into our zoning like a lot of other cities do,” Elmore said.

Thoughts were also split on how many seats the Planning and Zoning Board should have as a suggestion was made to add two positions for those with architecture experience, expanding the board from five members to seven members.

Merriam and Laratte were supportive of adding two seats if the board was dissolved and Laratte described that action as a reasonable compromise. Shortell was also in favor of exploring how to add positions to the board.

“I also think it’s valuable to have some of that expertise on the planning and zoning board, so that they can, when things come before planning and zoning they can be reviewed in the context of zoning,” Shortell said.

She was concerned about losing the architecture expertise if seats aren’t added to the PZB and the city waits for the current positions to turnover.

Elmore and Fisher, however, do not want to expand the Planning and Zoning Board.

“I think as you start adding more people to it, it becomes harder to come to a decision, but I do think that’s a good in between so that we don’t lose some of that expertise that we do have in our community,” Fisher said.

Elmore also would like to change the name of the board to be the Planning, Zoning and Architecture Board and is fine waiting until seats become available.

“I think we do have, I think, at least one person on planning and zoning currently that does have a design background,” Elmore said.

A final decision has not been made about the Architecture Review Board and the City Commission plans to discuss it further.

— In other business, during the regular meeting the City Commission adopted the new residential sanitation fee. The city will continue the same level of service. The city also accepted a new recycling contract and needs to cover all of the capital expenditures within the sanitation fund, which was being subsidized by the general fund.

The fee is increasing from $508 to $567 per household which will roughly cover a $32 increase for recycling and the remainder will cover the capital equipment, Bryant said.

— At the Feb. 10 meeting, the City Commission expressed their intent to move forward with eminent domain to acquire the property at 2950 Franklin Street. The property, which used to house Lifeline Animal Adoption Center, is needed in order to connect Washington and Parry Streets as part of the new street grid.

However, the city and the property owner were able to come to an agreement and are finalizing the contract for the sale of the property for $1 million.

— Avondale Estates is also welcoming a new business as the City Commission approved a conditional use permit for a screen and device repair business to be located at 8 N Clarendon Ave, Suite 200. Beth Wheeler, the applicant, repairs cell phones, tablets, bluetooth devices and game consoles.

The City Commission will meet next on Wednesday, March 24, at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom.

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