Athens-Clarke County commission approves vaccine policy for employees

Commissioners in Athens-Clarke County approved a new policy Tuesday that requires their employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

"When you're a public employee, you serve in the public's interest and we want to make sure that for fellow employees as well as for members of the public, we're doing everything we can to keep each other safe," said Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz.

Under the policy, employees must submit a signed affidavit and their vaccination card to human resources by Nov. 10.  There are, however, exceptions for disability or religious beliefs.

Athens-Clarke County will give those who comply a $200 incentive and an extra eight hours of paid time off.  The policy said those payments should go out Nov. 19.  

While officials labeled the policy a "mandate," Commissioner Jesse Houle argued it did not spell out consequences for those who violate it.  

"This policy, which is about vaccination, I feel is missing, confusingly, the one key element which is one happens if people don't comply," Commissioner Houle said during Tuesday's meeting.  "I think it's important for us to be up front with staff that we're expecting compliance with the mandate that we put forward."  

Commissioners approved the policy by a vote of six to one, with Houle being the only dissenting vote.

Mayor Girtz said the commission can amend the policy in the future.  

"I anticipate that as we move forward and as we continue to learn more about COVID-19 and its variants, that we may revisit this and there may be some other incentives and some other consequences for employees going forward," Girtz explained.  

The mayor said the county has about 2,000 full and part-time employees and a recent volunteer survey revealed that about half of them are already vaccinated.

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