Motion for a resolution on safe reproductive health care, pedestrian accessibility and 2023 budget discussed at Athens City Council — The New Political

Athens City Council discussed a draft resolution on access to abortion in the city and received an update from the ad hoc committee on pedestrian accessibility at its Monday meeting.

Councilor Sarah Grace presented amendments to a draft resolution that would make Athens a “haven” for reproductive rights. The impetus for this resolution came in August from Athenians for Bodily Autonomy (ABA), following the Dobbs decision.

The resolution is modeled on a similar adopted resolution Columbus and Cleveland.

This subject was raised for the third time at Monday’s meeting of the Committee of the Whole. The subject was first discussed on August 28, when there was a proposal to make Athens a sanctuary city, and then on October 17, when the council heard speeches of ABA members.

Councilman Grace pointed to changes made to the design to meet requirements recommended by the city’s law director and stylistic choices suggested by members of the council.

“All people are entitled to bodily autonomy, subject to their choices and control over private medical decisions,” Grace said. She further explained that reproductive health care and the right to abortion affects not only pregnant people, as suggested in an earlier draft, but also families and significant others.

The limitations of the council’s authority with regard to the resolution were also discussed.

Under current Ohio law, abortion would be treated as a felony. A crime charged by the prosecutor. The city council has no power over what the district attorney does, Grace said.

“The purpose of this resolution is to make a statement of our beliefs,” Grace said.

Loraine McCosker, an Athenian active with Abortion Access Now, said she thought the council would pass an ordinance, not just draft a resolution.

“Abortion is medical care, it’s a human right,” McCosker said in her speech.

McCosker further stressed the economic importance of Athens as a place where people can get all the health care they need. “Why would (students) come to Ohio (university) when they could actually go to jail for seeking reproductive health care?” McCosker said.

After her speech, McCosker debated with Councilman Jeffrey Risner, who served as acting council president while council president Chris Knisely served as acting mayor, why they did not further discuss the resolution tonight.

Risner explained that the safe reproductive health care resolution is a work in progress and Councilman Alan Swank added that there will be no vote tonight.

Grace said there are no facilities in Athens that perform abortions, so people seeking abortions would still have to leave the city.

“The city does not have the authority to say that some state laws do not apply here. We’re in the state of Ohio,” Grace said. “What you are asking of us is not something we have the authority to do.”

Other audience members were pleased with the design. United Campus Ministry Operations Manager Ari Faber, who is also a member of ABA, described crying when he first saw the resolution.

Despite supporting the resolution, Faber had some reservations.

“I’m more than a little disappointed that it’s a lot different from the ordinance we sent to the city council a month ago,” Faber said.

“I think there was a little bit of hope for the state as a whole to maybe be able to enforce the ban on abortion,” Faber said, discussing abortion rights and the resolution in the context of last week’s election. “But with the Ohio Supreme Court still holding a Republican majority, they will hear the case in mid-December. I think at that point the six-week ban will come back into effect.”

Another ABA member, Sara Quoia Bryant, also spoke at last night’s meeting. Bryant is also a member of the Ohio Community Rights Network.

“I came to speak before the council because health care and women’s reproductive rights are important to me. And I’m somewhat familiar with our process of getting legislation in place and we want to do something that’s going to have a little bit of teeth,” Bryant said. “You know, these guys, they want to write a letter saying ‘that’s how we feel about something.’ So we were here to kind of observe that process, which is a step in the right direction, but it’s not really what we hope to achieve.

During her speech, Bryant spoke about other projects she had been active on and asked the council why they could pass ordinances and vote against the state law in other situations, such as the Water Board Protection Act.

However, Bryant said the resolution is the best next step and she is confident it will pass in council.

Infrastructure was also on the agenda. The Transport Committee heard about the progress of the Ad Hoc Committee on Pedestrian Accessibility.

Commissioner Diane Bouvier presented the third update on the commission’s work, highlighting the importance of pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.

“Sidewalks are really more than concrete,” Bouvier said. “There’s a magic to them.”

The committee invited Athenian poet laureate Wendy McVicker, who read her poem “Sidewalks” to the council.

Commissioner Stefanie Hunter introduced the concept of SPACE to the public, stating that pedestrians need safety, proximity, accessibility, connection and convenience.

Council member Solveig Spjeldnes spoke as part of the committee about the findings of the survey that Ad Hoc conducted among Athenians.

“We feel like the community is committed to making the sidewalks better,” Spjeldness said.

The key findings of the study are the need for smooth, level sidewalks; there are not enough sidewalks in areas around Athens, such as on Richland Avenue; interrupted paths and a necessary balance between pedestrians and motorists.

The commission plans to finalize their investigation, continue to gather opinions and input from Athenians, and present a final draft to the Council in January 2023.

“This is what I like most about the city council, to see things like this. Engaging citizens to make the city a better place,” said Councilman Ben Ziff, noting that he was emotionally moved.

In other matters, the Planning and Development Committee discussed a lot split at Pleasant Hill Road and the Finance and Personnel Committee discussed the city budget for 2023. The salaries of elected officials were handled by the City Council, in particular the salaries of councilors and others will rise in 2023 and again in 2024. As of now, each council member would receive $8,918.78 in 2023 and $9,097.14 in 2024. However, these amounts may change if the council so decides.

Motion for a resolution on safe reproductive health care, pedestrian accessibility and 2023 budget discussed at Athens City Council — The New Political

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