Friday, November 2, 2007

Just Some Food For Thought

As I was perusing the Unified Government’s Code researching some things for an upcoming post (I know – that in and of itself pretty much forever consigns me to “nerd” status), I noticed Section 3-4-5 et seq. under Title 3 concerning Public Safety.

“So . . .why wound that be of interest?” you ask. Being the libertarian-leaning, ever suspicious-of-government type that I am, I let my mind wander just a bit – and in so doing realized how much power even the folks down at City Hall have over the lives of me and my family.

States the Code (just hitting the high points):

Whenever, in the judgment of the manager, it is determined than an emergency exists within Athens-Clarke County as a result of riots, riotous conduct or threat thereof, or other civil disobedience causing danger of injury to or damages to persons or property, he or she shall have the power to impose by proclamation any or all of the following regulations necessary to preserve the peace and good order of Athens-Clarke County

To impose a curfew upon all or any portion of Athens-Clarke County, thereby requiring all persons in the designated curfew areas to forthwith remove themselves from vacant premises, public streets, alleys, parks or other public places

To order the closing of any business establishments anywhere within Athens-Clarke County for such period, such businesses to include, but not be limited to, those selling alcoholic beverages, gasoline or firearms

To designate any public street, thoroughfare or vehicle parking areas closed to motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic

In the event of man-made or natural disaster, actual enemy attack upon the United States, or any other emergency which may affect the lives and property of the citizens of Athens-Clarke County, the manager may declare that an emergency or disaster exists and thereafter shall have and may exercise for such period as such emergency or disaster exists or continues, the following powers:

To seize or take for temporary use any private property for the protection of the public

To sell, lend, give or distribute all or any such property or supplies among the inhabitants of Athens-Clarke County

To perform and exercise such other functions and duties and take such emergency actions as may be necessary to promote and secure the safety, protection, and well-being of the inhabitants of Athens-Clarke County

The proclamation of an emergency . . . shall become effective upon its issuance and dissemination to the public by appropriate news media.

Any emergency proclaimed . . . shall terminate after 48 hours from the issuance thereof or upon the issuance of a proclamation determining that an emergency no longer exists, whichever occurs first; provided, that the emergency period may be extended for additional periods of time as determined necessary by resolution of the mayor and commission of Athens-Clarke County

Yikes. I realize verbiage such as that contained in our Code is probably routine boilerplate in county and municipal codes all over the country and that the likelihood of the Unified Government ever invoking such measures is minuscule. However, given situations such as those associated with Hurricane Katrina and the recent California wildfires, not to mention potential local situations such as an impending water shortage or an terrorist attack on whatever bio-research facility may end up here, one cannot rule the possibility out completely - and I think that it should give one pause.

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Billy Merck said...

The lack of government action that exacerbated the loss and lawlessness in Katrina is what gives me pause.

If things got bad enough for ACC to invoke these powers, I'd probably be worried about my physical survival, not my abstract freedoms.

Adrian said...

It is worth asking how these emergency powers are established and invoked. This also reminds us how important it is for the M&C to carefully select a county manager, and we might ask whether we are comfortable having this power resting with an appointed rather than an elected official.

Anonymous said...

"and we might ask whether we are comfortable having this power resting with an appointed rather than an elected official"

Though, of course, should the answer to this question be "No" then the Charter will have to be changed and we'd probably have to go to full-time Commissioners, each responsible for a govt department.

Anonymous said...

If you don't own a gun, buy one (a shotgun, not a handgun), and plenty of ammo.

Anything less is downright irresponsible, particularly if you have a family, given the current political climate.

(anonymous to protect my innocence)