Council Continues Trash Talk, Mayor Threatens Veto

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After another lengthy discussion regarding storage of trash cans, Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl told City Council that he would likely veto the ordinance if changes proposed during Monday’s meeting are adopted.

Over the past month, Council has been discussing changes to the city’s law regarding placement and storage of trash cans and recyclable containers. Some Council members and city residents are trying to alter the language of the law in order to keep trash and recycling receptacles out of view except when they are placed at the curb for collection.

Last week, some Council members expressed concern regarding a proposed waiver system that would excuse those who are unable to hide their trash cans due to “age, disability or extenuating circumstances.” Specifically, Councilwoman Michele Papai said she thought the phrase “extenuating circumstances” was too vague and could lead to residents using a multitude of excuses for not properly hiding their trash receptacles.

On Monday, Councilwoman Chris Fahl brought additional changes forward, including removing the waiver system altogether. She also proposed that the language be changed to state that solid waste and recyclables must be: “stored out of view or screened from view from any public right-of-way. Under no circumstances shall containers be stored in the front of the yard of a residence unless containers are fully concealed from view by solid fencing or other adequate and appropriate screening…”

This means that those who have an alley behind their home could not store their trash cans behind their house unless hidden behind a fence or other structure.

Service-Safety Director Paula Horan Moseley stated that between 30 and 40 percent of city residents have their trash cans in view, although she said most of the visible trash cans aren’t overflowing or unsightly. She said the changes proposed by Fahl on Monday would affect a large number of city residents and would require them to build some sort of structure to hide their receptacles.

If passed, the ordinance is slated to go into law on Jan. 1 to give residents time to learn about the new law and get structures in place to hide cans. Councilman Steve Patterson suggested that the implementation date be pushed back so that residents don’t have to construct structures during the winter.

The proposal would also increase fines for violations.

Patterson and Councilwoman Chris Knisely said they are in favor of reinserting some sort of waiver for the elderly and those with disabilities.

Wiehl also expressed distaste with the proposal to not include exceptions for some residents.

“As it stands now, I would probably veto this. It’s not that I have a problem with the fines, it’s the lack of discretion that has been removed at this point,” Wiehl said. He then instructed Horan Moseley to have the code enforcement office begin in one week to strictly enforce the existing law, which states that trash cans must be stored behind the front edge of a home.

“If it’s in the front setback, if you can see it from the street, I want code (enforcement) to violate it. If it’s over 30 gallons, I want it violated,” he told Horan Moseley.

She responded that such strict enforcement would be “quite an adjustment from what is occurring right now.”

“At this point we may as well enforce the law without discretion,” Wiehl added. “After all, if we have to be robots, we can be robots. And like I said, unless it changes, it’s going to be vetoed.”

Papai asked Wiehl what changes would he support to prevent a veto.

“We’ll think about it,” Wiehl said. “We have one week to think about it and then the hammer comes down.”

Athens West Side Neighborhood Association Beautification Committee member Joan Joan Kraynanski said she thought the language proposed by Fahl is more than adequate. She also told Wiehl that she was holding him to one of his early campaign promises.

“When you ran for your first election in your first campaign for mayor one of the very issues you ran on was let’s get the trash out of view and I’m holding you to that and I’m holding your staff to that,” she told Wiehl.

Wiehl said research needs to be done regarding building a structure in the front setback to hide trash cans and also pertaining to the issue of fences as city code limits the height of fences. He said the proposed changes might require many city residents to get a variance in order to hide their trash cans.

Councilman Kent Butler said he thinks the majority of residents are in compliance with the current law and he didn’t see the need to make major changes to the ordinance.

“I’m all for keeping Athens clean. I get that. I guess I’m confused by our intent to completely rewrite and rework the legislation when the majority of Athens was in compliance,” Butler said.

Papai replied, “We do not want to drive down a street and see a trash can. I think the values and what this community is asking for is … we just don’t want to see it. We don’t want to see the can.”

Fahl said that Council will discuss the issue again at its next committee meeting prior to introducing the ordinance. Council will not meet next Monday