By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to change the way police officers give parking citations, and gave law enforcement officials more latitude to enforce fire-lane compliance. The board also signed off on grant funding which will add more Clayton County Juvenile Court staffing.
A series of code amendments adopted by commissioners Tuesday give police officers the ability to issue a parking citation without the owner of the car being present, and extend the no-parking zone in front of fire hydrants from 10 to 15 feet to match state law. Commissioners also voted to make it a violation of county code to park in a designated fire lane, and to give authorities the ability to take legal action against business owners who refuse to mark areas of their business as a fire lane, if they have been directed to do so by the fire department.
Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner said the changes will give officers more tools to fight illegal parking.
"It's quality-of-life issues in dealing with cars that are illegally parked," he said. "If somebody is parked in a handicapped space and that officer wants to make a case now, that officer has to wait until they come out of the store. If that takes 30 minutes, then that officer has to wait 30 minutes. It [the code changes adopted] gives us a means to expedite getting officers back into service."
While some of the changes were passed unanimously, the change to the section of code regarding the parking distance from fire hydrants passed 3-1, with Commissioner Michael Edmondson casting the lone dissenting vote. Commissioner Wole Ralph was not present. Edmondson said he feared businesses with fire hydrants on their property could be negatively impacted if made to comply with the new code.
"It seems like it could be a substantial impact if everybody had to repaint the curb," he said.
In another matter, the board voted unanimously to accept $670,806 of federal stimulus money through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program to fund staff positions in the Clayton County Juvenile Court.
Adolphus Graves, juvenile court chief of staff, said the federal stimulus money will preserve a critical full-time volunteer supervisor position in the Clayton County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, as well as create three additional part-time juvenile court officer positions, two part-time program assistants, and one part-time CASA volunteer supervisor position.
"This is recovery act money, so the whole purpose is to preserve jobs and create new ones," Graves said. "There will be seven total positions on both sides of the house, some on the child-delinquency side and some on the child-welfare side. I think its going to benefit the county as a whole because it will allow us to increase supervision and programing for the children. It will also allow our child welfare unit to expand."
Graves said having additional court officers will allow the court to be more visible in the community through visiting schools, attending community functions, and making house calls. He said he believes having a strong presence "increases community safety," and is better than "waiting in the courthouse for the kids to come to us."
In addition, Graves said the stimulus money will allow juvenile court to maintain a level of five full-time CASA supervisors, who manage volunteers who serve as "the eyes and ears" of the judge in child abuse and deprivation cases. He said for Clayton County CASA to receive vital state funding, having that many supervisors is necessary.
"We were going to lose that position," Graves aid. "If we lost that supervisor, it would put more stress on the other supervisors and we would fall out of compliance [with the Georgia CASA grant]. Being out of compliance would put the whole program in jeopardy. This allows us to continue our work to be the voice of children."