With former City Council President Ronnie Marks’ first meeting as mayor of Athens, the council approved a measure that he set in motion more than two months ago.
Marks had requested that Councilman Harold Wales research a texting ordinance and Wales came back with an ordinance patterned after those approved by the cities of Huntsville and Madison.
Monday, after the swearing in of Marks as mayor by District Judge Jerry Batts, the remaining four council members unanimously approved the texting ban. While the agenda listed “wireless telecommunication devices,” the ban does not cover the regular use of cell phones.
Many emergency services and city departments depend on the use of cell phones in their daily duties.
As outlined by City Attorney Shane Black, the ordinance exempts cellular phone calls; however, it would ban the use of devices to send or receive photos or music, e-mail or text messages.
The fine for a first violation would be $100; for the second, $200 and not more than 30 days in jail; and third, $500, and not more than 90 days in jail.
Police officers cannot stop a motorist simply because he “suspects” texting, but if he actually witnesses the texting, he or she may pull someone over. Being pulled over for texting does not constitute authority for an officer to do a complete vehicle search.
GPS systems may be used if they are pre-programmed before the vehicle is in motion, but the driver may not program the device while driving.
In a separate measure, the council approved signage, warning motorists of the texting ban.
In other business, the council:
• Vacated property at Ninth Avenue and a part of Crutcher Street for a proposed subdivision;
• Tabled for further discussion an appeal by property owners Dwight Billions and Bland Allen of $875 each impact fees for property on College Street that the owners have already paid $8,400 to connect to water and sewer lines;
• Voted to appoint Harold Wales as council president pro tempore from Jan. 1, 2011 to Oct. 30, 2012;
• Set a “weed lien” of $2,625.78 as cost of cleaning up a public nuisance in Watercress Subdivision. The amount will be payable by the owner by Oct. 1, 2011;
• Approved a Special Use Permit for Clearwire to co-locate equipment at 154 E. Elm St.;
• Approved by a 3-to-1 vote the purchase of property along Market Street and Lucas Ferry Road of $60,000 to owner Chris Shindorf to be used as a turning lane. Councilman Harold Wales voted against the measure, saying he agrees that the turning lane is needed for safety, but he is opposed to the city purchasing anymore property until it formulates a long-range paving plan for the entire city;
• Approved Wing Zilla Grill (formerly Limestone Tavern) for a beer-only alcohol sales permit;
• Declared surplus property for Water Services, among which are a 1992 Ford Explorer with 206,000 miles; and a 1997 Ford F250 with 160,000 miles to be sold on GovDeals.com. Other surplus equipment will be offered for sale to other water departments;
• Saw a skit by Sherry McCune’s eighth-grade Civics Class at Athens Middle School about recycling, at the conclusion of which the class requested that the city place recycling bins at all of the seven public parks.