Professional and Civic Experience
Athens Cultural Affairs Commission (2011-2014)
Board of Directors, Georgia Climate Change Coalition
Advertorial Editor, Athens Banner-Herald (2000-02)
Writer, Calendar Editor, Flagpole magazine (1997-2000)
Boulevard Neighborhood Association (steering committee, Preservation/Environment chair)
Donations: Donated to Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary of 2016.
Inferred Party: Democrat
Athens for Everyone has named Melissa Link the Athens Elected Official of 2017.
Issues: Living Wages
“I have a hard time justifying a raise across the board benefiting those at the top of the pay scale, while we’re not making a commitment to do the right thing and at the very least pay our year-round part-time employees a living wage.”
Melissa Link, May 17, 2016 Agenda-Setting Session
“Not only is it the right thing to do from a moral and economic standpoint, but it is the way things are going [nationwide]. We need to lay out the groundwork to get everybody in this community to a living wage.”
Melissa Link, June 7, 2016 Voting Session
“If there is any entitlement going on, it’s not on the struggling youth in our community who rely on this service. I am extremely excited about this program.”
Melissa Link, August 2, 2016 Voting Session
Melissa has been named “Complete Streets Champion” for 2016 by Complete Streets Athens.
Progress on Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan: YES
TSPLOST project list and referendum: YES
Re-zoning Mitchell Street: NO
(More information about 2017 votes)
Complete Streets Improvements for Chase: YES
Allow Sale of Growlers in Brewpubs: YES
Fare-Free Bus Rides for K-12 Students: YES
Bar Admittance and Civil Rights Committee: abstain
(More information about 2016 votes)
FY 2016 Budget: YES
Removing Wetland Buffers: NO
Delay repaving of Chase Street: YES
Adopt Securus Tech Contract: NO
Allow Food Trucks: YES
Keep Domestic Partnership Benefits: YES
(More information about 2015 votes)
Questionnaire ResponsesAn upcoming T-SPLOST program is projected to yield millions of dollars of additional revenue for ACC transportation infrastructure over the next five years. How do you believe we should prioritize the allocation of this revenue, assuming the measure passes?
“I’ve long been a die-hard advocate for so-called “alternative” transportation (i.e. walking, biking, and public transit). My husband & I are a one-car household & I do most of my getting around during the week via foot & bus & have always chosen the location of my home based on walkability & easy access to public transit. I was also a regular cyclist until three years ago when I was diagnosed with an inner-ear condition that causes unsteadiness & occasional bouts of vertigo. Because I could haphazardly veer into traffic even while riding in a striped bike lane, I no longer feel safe riding a bike on the streets of Athens and I miss it terribly. I dream of a day when I can ride my bike on a protected bike corridor in Athens and I hope such a project is made possible in the foreseeable future.
If Athens is to become a truly sustainable livable city as we face a future of uncertain fossil-fuel availability and increasing cost of living, we must firmly commit to a functional transportation network that focuses on sidewalks, crosswalks, protected bike lanes, and convenient bus routes. I believe TSPLOST dollars should predominantly be spent on projects that make getting around town safe and convenient for people, not simply for cars. It is not merely a matter of quality of life and environmental impact, but an economic justice issue as an in-town affordable housing crisis leaves more people with less money to spend on keeping cars running…”
“There are dozens of miles of streets throughout Athens that are in desperate need of bike/ped infrastructure improvement. In my own district, West Broad Street is a terrifying speedway that has seen multiple pedestrian fatalities just in the past couple of years—it needs a complete overhaul from Downtown to the River. Prince Avenue has gotten a great deal of attention and outcry from citizen advocates who live along this corridor that is often considered the most walkable area of our community. But because so many people here are committed to pedestrian & cycling lifestyles, the safety shortcomings of this corridor are all the more apparent. Prince Ave is wide, straight, and flat and is perfectly suited to be a direct cycling route into Downtown for thousands of nearby residents. Unfortunately the predominant auto speeds mean that very few will brave it on a bike. It is my dream to see Prince Avenue properly reconfigured to safely accommodate a proper bike corridor and regular signaled crossings with pedestrian islands to further reduce auto speeds & offer respite for pedestrians.
I also believe it is essential that we get a proper bike corridor through Downtown to encourage the thousands of new student residents to keep out of their cars and enable a safe, direct cycling route to the Greenway & future Firefly trail for the thousands more residents of the neighborhoods west of Downtown. Other priorities include Magnolia Street, a very busy pedestrian corridor connecting several neighborhoods directly to the ACC Library & Baxter St. that is in desperate need of a sidewalk, and Vincent Drive, a suburban speedway running through several very dense lower-income neighborhoods with an ACC park at one end which is utterly inaccessible to anyone on foot thanks to a lack of sidewalks on a road flanked by drainage ditches.
Places outside my district that could use a road diet, complete street treatment, or general ped/bike accommodations include North Ave, Oconee/Lexington, Timothy/Mitchell Br/Atl Hwy area, & Gaines School/Barnett Shoals Rd. I would like to see us readdress our Planning code to more clearly direct developers to make ped/bike safety accommodations & implement impact fees to cover the cost of nearby improvements made necessary by the traffic impacts of new development on existing neighborhoods as illustrated by recent situations on Yonah Ave. & Sylvia Circle.
There are many transportation-related projects that make their way through the system each year, and too often they do not optimally accommodate bike/ped & transit needs. This is why I’ve been continually advocating for the formation of an Alternative Transportation Commission to properly evaluate & offer recommendations on such projects & relieve staff of some burden in assisting in the design of such projects.”
“Protecting the environment for future generations should be a primary role of government. I’m heartbroken and shamed by the fact that our wetlands remain completely unprotected thanks to the failure of half my colleagues & the mayor to recognize the vital role these ecosystems play in protecting our water and enhancing our general quality of life. And the fact that the Green Building Ordinance has sat on the hold list at the bottom of the agenda for over 5 years while millions of square feet of new, questionably sustainable development have transformed our cityscape is shortsighted and dangerous. While I understand the ordinance as presented under former Mayor Davison had some problems, there is no reason not to bring it back before a qualified citizen committee for proper tweaking so that we can ensure that our built environment grows and changes in an environmentally sustainable manner. Current advances and incentives in renewable energy technology provide all the more reason for such an ordinance to be readdressed & moved forward—I would like to see us do so as we develop incentives for implementation of solar & other renewable energy sources & commit to utilizing renewable energy in ACC facilities.”
“The findings of the Workforce Housing Study are no surprise to me. For nearly a decade, I’ve seen my peers in the creative community increasingly struggle to find affordable housing in the in-town neighborhoods they essentially created—more and more have dispersed to the suburbs or outer counties & many have left the area altogether. I believe that an inclusionary zoning policy in Athens is an absolute necessity if we are to maintain the cultural & economic diversity of our in-town community and stave off the dangerous suburbanization of poverty that is quickly gaining hold in Athens.
Unfortunately, we cannot develop a truly effective inclusionary zoning policy without seriously reconsidering the density allowances of our Downtown zone. Inclusionary zoning only works when municipalities can offer density bonuses as incentives to developers allowing them to build larger than typically allowed projects to accommodate required percentages of affordable units. Our current downtown density of 200 bedrooms per acre is the maximum our infrastructure can handle & unless we are willing to downzone this most coveted place to build, we have no leverage by which to enforce or encourage such a policy.
I have been advocating for a moratorium on large-scale multifamily housing projects since before I took office. I believe it is long past time we took a break to truly assess our Downtown development & affordable housing situation & determined new design & zoning guidelines to properly guide the near future development of our community to accommodate the housing & economic needs of a greater diversity of our population. This is a recommendation that could be initiated via the Downtown Master Plan Implementation Committee & I’ve repeatedly begged fellow committee members that we take it up, but committee chair Commissioner Mike Hamby insists that we are tasked only with addressing the myriad individual projects outlined in the DTMP and are not to address any policy initiatives related to Downtown. A meeting of this committee has not been called since October.”
“Low wages are a terrible problem in Athens—especially as our housing costs have skyrocketed in recent years. Thanks to the UGA students & football tourists, the service industry occupies a significant portion of our economy—an industry that is notorious for low wages. And because so many young, educated college students are willing to work part-time at these jobs for meager spending $ while many of their expenses are covered by their parents, there is no incentive for employers to increase such wages. In the meantime, many of the higher-paid service industry positions tend to be taken up by overqualified college graduates who can’t find work in their actual fields in Athens, thus traditional residents are often left to compete with college students & trapped in the lowest paid jobs with little hope to advance.
ACC must focus on attracting New Economy info/bio tech & creative industry to Athens that will provide appropriate careers for all the bartenders, baristas, waitresses, & sous chefs with graduate degrees out there and open up better jobs for lower wage workers. ACC can also make a commitment to make life a bit easier for lower-income working class folks by investing in public transit, incentivizing affordable in-town housing, & committing to expanded & affordable youth programming via our Leisure Services Department to provide some additional childcare options for working-class families.”
“One of the first things we can do is make a real effort to get some handle on the out-of-control binge-drinking culture that predominates Downtown Athens. While I’ve been pointing out this dangerous situation for years, ACC is just now getting around to seeking a consultant to do a “health & safety” assessment of Downtown which I hope will offer a comprehensive analysis of contributing factors to what is clearly a dangerous and pretty disgusting cultural shift in our community.
Unfortunately, little action seems to happen in Athens without everyday citizens coming forward in significant numbers to demand change and the terrible stigma & culture of silence surrounding sexual assault means that the stories that the powers-that-be need to hear in order to implement some action are likely to go unheard. I hope that some brave young women will find some way to share their experiences & offer some insight into what the local government can do to help change the culture. I believe we can start by mandating sexual assault awareness training among all bar workers and also requiring that awareness info be predominantly posted in all bars in Athens. And we can make a clear plea to UGA powers-that-be to commit to educational programs on campus to demand a culture of consent.
Most importantly, we need to be certain that our police force are thoroughly trained to deal with all manner of sexual assault & harassment incidents while women are thoroughly empowered to report them and perpetrators are properly pursued & punished. It is a terribly sensitive topic, but it is a problem we cannot solve unless we overcome the taboo & talk openly about it.”
“Number one: We can pass a parallel ordinance decriminalizing minor marijuana possession. This is being done in cities across the nation and in Georgia (I just had a conversation with the Mayor of Clarkston last week where they are pursuing just such an ordinance). Considering the rampant alcohol abuse that takes place Downtown nearly every night, to continue to throw citizens in jail & ruin their lives with criminal records and thousands of dollars in fees & fines & lost work for possession of a comparably benign substance is utter hypocrisy.
We also need to take a long, hard look at the underlying causes of criminal activity in our community, not just what we do with criminals once they get in the system. We need to reach out to high-crime communities, identify community leaders, & involve such leaders in understanding community needs & developing & implementing strategies to overcome factors that lead individuals to turn to criminal activity. Of course this starts with providing jobs & youth activities that are interesting, educational, healthy, & conducive to the communities they serve.
Such an analysis hopefully will begin with the creation of a Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee as requested in our FY17 Goals & Strategies. I look forward to seeing the formation of this committee & I trust that the Mayor will see to it that it is properly inclusive of individuals with the knowledge, experience, vision, & connections to ensure success.”
“Of course! The only way to ensure an enforceable anti-discrimination policy in Athens is to establish just such a commission to properly hear & evaluate accusations of discrimination. We have made a commitment to not tolerate any kind of discrimination in our community via an Anti-Discrimination Resolution that was passed unanimously by the Mayor & Commission & read on the steps of City Hall before 400 protestors calling for an end to discrimination in our community. We must honor this commitment and move forward with an enforceable policy to ensure a truly equitable culture in our community.”
“I’m particularly concerned with economic issues as they relate to affordable housing, accessible transportation, inappropriate development, & cultural homogenization of our in-town community. These are complex, but interdependent issues that are strongly affected by the interrelationship between our persistent poverty problem and an ongoing drive to increase tax revenues in the public sector & profits in the private sector via rising property values. I feel we must readdress development guidelines, implement an inclusionary zoning policy as well as other zoning & design guidelines to encourage appropriate, affordable, & sustainable development while investing in a more accessible & sustainable multi-modal transportation infrastructure. I feel such moves will help stabilize our housing situation, encourage a more diverse & sustainable built environment, lead to greater quality-of-life, and attract New Economy businesses that are drawn to communities that demand affordable in-town housing & diverse transportation options and that provide decent living-wage jobs.”
Melissa has served on several boards and citizen councils and just over one year as County Commissioner.
“I am most proud of the hundreds of citizens who have reached out & spoken up to influence the workings of their local government. I am a staunch believer in participatory democracy & this is most achievable at the local level, but citizens can only participate when they are well informed. I utilize a public Facebook page to inform citizens of meetings, news, happenings, etc. on a daily basis & maintain regular contact with citizens advocacy groups to make them aware of initiatives as they make their way through what is too often a very complex & bureaucratic system, encouraging them to pay attention & offer input at the earliest possible stages of an initiative. Almost every progressive measure that has been accomplished in the past year was initiated via citizen outcry and this reaffirms my faith in the power of democracy, despite the hurdles to transparency that too often stand in the way.
If not for a handful of citizens offering input on tweaks to our Definition of Agriculture, chickens would still be illegal; It took a handful of young entrepreneurs stepping up to plead for the right to operate their businesses to enable food trucks to park Downtown; It took hundreds of citizens led by Athens For Everyone signing petitions, writing letters, & lining up at the podium to expand Athens Transit service to Sundays, transforming the lives of thousands who are now able to get to church or work, visit family, do their shopping, or take a day in the park; And it takes the ongoing activism of hundreds of residents led by BikeAthens & Complete Streets Athens speaking out regularly for safer streets & sidewalks for all to advocate for multiple improvement projects throughout the past year. I hope these voices will continue & grow so we can achieve our collective vision of an inclusive community that truly values the desires of everyday citizens.”