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Merchant seat on city film-policy committee in works
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Conyers City Council heard another earful of complaints about filmmaking's impact on Olde Town businesses on May 6, and some changes are in the works-likely including adding a merchant to the city's film-policy committee.

"We probably should bring another merchant on, and we probably will," Councilman Vince Evans, who chairs the committee, told the News.

Mary Blount, owner of the Escentually Yours boutique, last month complained to the council about crews on an "Alvin and the Chipmunks" movie hurting her business by closing streets. She returned at the May 6 meeting, but this time with several other business owners. They said filmmakers fill up the Olde Town parking lot, drive carts down Carter's Alley and scare off customers who want to avoid hassles.

"The disrespect and disregard we're getting as merchants, I'm disgusted with it," said Clay Amyette, owner of Treasures and Trash antiques.

While the film producers are offering some compensation to local merchants - Evans declined to divulge the amount to the News - Amyette said the amounts differ and come on "take it or leave it" terms. He said the film's location manager told him he would not be compensated for a recent week of impacts.

"I'm really angry about it," Amyette said. "I'm really thinking I'm going to pull out."

"The objective is to make it a thing where it enhances business, not hinders business," said Mayor Randy Mills. But business owners did not seem to be reassured.

Councilman Cleveland Stroud said he visited the scene recently and saw "an inconvenience" that looked "quite disconcerting."

"We probably need to look at this [film policy] again," Stroud said.

The city's film policy has undergone many changes, including recent fees to discourage multi-day shoots, and will undergo more discussion, Evans said.

"We don't let the film people do everything they ask," Evans said. "They may ask for everything, but we try to restrict them."

But, under questioning from Blount, Evans acknowledged that the film policy committee does not have any business owners as members. She said no official has visited her store to ask about impacts. Evans later told the News that adding a merchant member is a "good suggestion."

The committee's members include Evans; city Chief Operating Officer David Spann; city tourism director Jennifer Edwards; Gina Hartsell, the filmmaking liaison with the Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Authority; and Conyers Police Sgt. Guy Sanders.

Evans does work in Olde Town at Beasley Drug Company, which he formerly owned. He joined the committee in that capacity, and ironically was originally among the strongest skeptics of filming in Olde Town before becoming more supportive of its economic benefits.

In other council business:

-Conyers Police officers will start wearing body cameras soon, as Chief Gene Wilson ordered 80 of them that will arrive by the end of June, Stroud announced. Stroud said the cameras will protect officers and people they stop by documenting encounters. The purchase was made with federal drug-forfeiture funds, not city funds, Wilson said.

-The council approved a contract for the long-planned Irwin Bridge Road improvements, including resurfacing, new bicycle lanes and upgraded sidewalks. Peach State Construction Co. LLC will be paid $2,773,991.65 for the work. There is no specific start date yet, but the work must be done within a year.

-The council reapproved its agreement to provide a School Resource Officer at Rockdale County High School for school years 2015 through 2018. The county school board now will pick up half the salary and benefit costs, saving the city about $27,000 a year, Chief Wilson said. In addition, the city's security camera system will be integrated with the Conyers Police system for use in emergencies, Wilson said.

-The council approved an ordinance allowing the county to run the city's municipal election this year, as it usually does. City attorney Carrie Bootcheck said a contract to reimburse the county's costs will come later, but should be "minimal" because the county will be holding its own special election this year.

-Alcohol licenses were approved for neighboring businesses owned by Sushma Ketan Patel/Suryakanta, Inc. at 439 Sigman Road. One is a new license for beer, wine and liquor retail sales at Sigman Bottle Shop in Suite A. The other is a license for beer and wine retail sales at Sigman Wine Tasting in Suite C.

-The council recognized new police academy graduates Officers Kashawn Lenhard and Chris Camp. It also recognized Police Department employee Bill Connell for five years of service, and Planning and Inspections employee Kerry Caldwell for 10 years of service. Mayor Mills also read a proclamation declaring May as Lupus Awareness Month.

-Following the meeting, the council entered executive session to discuss litigation.