2018 Local Candidate Questionnaires


Athens for Everyone sent a questionnaire about local issues on our 2017 Platform to all candidates for mayor and commission in all districts across Athens. We have published their responses here, unedited and in-full. Any candidate who has not yet responded is free to do so at any time and their responses will be posted as well.

There are two types of questions: Yes / No and short response. The Yes / No questions allow a 140 character optional clarification, whereas the short response questions have no limit.

Note on links: Two candidates used their 140 character optional clarification in the first section to link to a longer response. We did not anticipate this, and will allow it this time. For future questionnaires, we will disallow the practice, but we may increase the character limit.

Transportation

Do you support fare-free bus service?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “See http://bit.ly/2rakhcV for additional commentary.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor: No
    “It’s an important aspiration but costs would be a serious concern.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1: Yes
    “If access to transit service is made available equitably throughout ACC.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1: Yes
    “Absolutely, we have seen in other cities how this benefits the community. Especially in a community like ours that is highly impoverished.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2: Yes
    “Fully accessible transit systems are a basic human need that should be guaranteed to all.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3: Yes
    “Anything we can do to increase ridership & get cars off the road.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3: Yes
    “We have multiple bus systems in the smallest county in GA; it’s time to look at consolidation.”
  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “Fare-free transit will make transportation accessible to all and will advance economic development and also economic & environmental justice.”
  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “Only if it is done in a fiscally responsible way. We would need a subsidy partner, perhaps UGA, that would commit to long-term funding.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “A fare-free bus would boost the quality of living for innumerable Athenians.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “Please see http://bit.ly/2sLcpiP for a detailed response.”
  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “I support for: youth, elderly and those working for low wages.”
  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “Transportation is a human need. FFBS would ensure that need is met for all – including the poor – while also reducing traffic and emissions.”
  • Do you support expansion of transit service (e.g. increased frequency, more locations, longer service hours)?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “See http://bit.ly/2rakhcV for additional commentary.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “It’s good for our economy. It improves the everyday lives of our residents.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1: Yes
    “If transit service is available equitably throughout ACC.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1: Yes
    “One of the many issues I hear is that the bus service is not suitable for workers due to inadequate times. More frequency.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2: Yes
    “Expansion of transit is critical, most of all in areas of great need which are often overlooked in discussion of transit expansion.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3: Yes
    “See above.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3: Yes
    “It will take systemic change to make it happen.”
  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “Every school, voting precinct, & park in ACC should be accessible by bus. I’ll work to expand transit throughout District 5 & all of Athens.”
  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “Again, only if it can be done without burdening Athens taxpayers. Strong evidence must be offered to prove the value of this investment.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “Yes, within reason.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “Please see http://bit.ly/2sLcpiP for a detailed response.”
  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “It will allow people to have more options for mobility.”
  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “Transit is a vital public utility and social right. It should be accessible to all, from Bethel Homes to Pinewoods, from Hwy 29 to Pulaski.”
  • Do you support increasing the budget for bike and pedestrian infrastructure from the general fund?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “See http://bit.ly/2rakhcV for additional commentary.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “Sidewalks are a key to safety. Paths of all kinds reduce traffic and improve quality of life.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1: Yes
    “If bike and pedestrian infrastructure is equitable throughout ACC.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1: Yes
    “More pedestrian and completed sidewalks.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2: Yes
    “It is critical that we strategically invest in expanded, sustainable transit options, particularly in underserved areas of our county. “
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3: Yes
    “Bike & ped infrastructure improvements should be at the forefront of consideration for all capital improvement projects.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3: Yes
    “ACC is way behind on funding bike/ped infrastructure. TSPLOST will help alleviate the backlog, but we need annual funding to get ahead.”
  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “Bike & ped is a priority. Areas like Tallassee Road or Vincent Drive at the Holland Youth Sports Complex must have sidewalks or bike lanes.”
  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “As a mom, I know how important it is that parents can take kids safely around Athens on foot. We should be more pedestrian/bike friendly.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “Texting and driving has made car lanes dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. We need more infrastructure separate from car lanes.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “Please see http://bit.ly/2sLcpiP for a detailed response.”
  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9: No
    “This I don’t know enough about to have an opinion. I know pedestrian infrastructure is a need I have heard in my district. But maybe TSPLOST “
  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “All residents pay local taxes, regardless of their transportation method. Therefore, cyclists and pedestrians deserve municipal investment.”
  • Criminal Justice Reform

    Do you support marijuana decriminalization?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “See http://bit.ly/2rakhcV for additional commentary.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “When you incarcerate the number of people we do for marijuana-based crimes it’s both very costly and more importantly, immoral.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1: No
    “Not as long as DEA lists as a Schedule I drug along with heroin and LSD, and CCSD continues to teach kids not to use these drugs.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1: Yes
    “No brainer here.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2: Yes
    “The drug war has torn apart poor communities and communities of color for long enough and we must decriminalize to see it end.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3: Yes
    “Yes. We should follow the lead of Georgia cities including Clarkson & Atlanta as well as many entire states across the US.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3: Yes
    “It costs money/resources to enforce a law that needlessly disrupts lives.”
  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “It is unjust that black people are 4.7x more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite nearly equal usage across races. “
  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “We must coordinate with Athens police and UGA law enforcement to get their input before implementing marijuana decriminalization.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “Jailing offenders for simple possession drains our county’s resources and wrecks lives.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “Please see http://bit.ly/2sLcpiP for a detailed response.”
  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “I support decriminalization of marijuana to address the disparity in prosecution of minorities and health issues.”
  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “Marijuana arrests are costly, harmful, & skewed by race. Decrim. & reduced sentencing for past offenders is critical for restoring justice.”
  • Environmental Sustainability

    Do you support a ban or fee on single-use plastic bags?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “See http://bit.ly/2rakhcV for additional commentary.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor: No
    “This is a regressive policy that targets our low-income residents unnecessarily.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1: No
    “A fee would disproportionately affect the poor and send shoppers elsewhere, and there’s currently a Georgia Bill designed to prohibit bans.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1: No
    “I recycle and most people in Athens do a good job recycling. I constantly reuse plastic bags.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2: Yes
    “I fully support a bag ban, so long as measures are taken to ensure such policy does not hurt low income families.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3: Yes
    “Our landfill is rapidly filling up. We need to act quickly to reduce or waste stream or face costly consequences.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3: Yes
    “I’d also like to explore ways to reduce consumption of other single use plastics.”
  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “They’re harmful to our waterways, ecosystem, & recycling machinery and costly to tax-payers. A bag-fee is environmentally & fiscally prudent.”
  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5: No
    “No. This decision should be made by retailers. Consumers would end up paying for this as well with little demonstrable benefit for Athens.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “Single-use plastic bags are the top driver of sewer and stormwater system maintenance expense.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “Please see http://bit.ly/2sLcpiP for a detailed response.”
  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “I don’t support a fee on plastic bags but I could support a ban much like Aldi grocery store. Good for the environment.”
  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “Anti-bag policies, with accommodations for the poor, can reduce pollution, decrease stormwater burdens, and protect our community.”
  • Racial Justice

    Do you support an Athens Civil Rights Committee established through the county government?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “See http://bit.ly/2rakhcV for additional commentary.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “Yes.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1: No
    “State law prohibits. More can be accomplished without the restrictions that would be required of a committee, if established through County.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1: Yes
    “Discrimination of any kind has no place in any society.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2: Yes
    “The establishment of a dedicated Civil Rights Committee is a critical step toward full civil rights protections for all Athenians.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3: Yes
    “Racial inequality is a scourge in our community. It’s not just about bar access but housing, education, social, & financial access.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3: Yes
    “It’s obvious that we need to address discrimination locally and a Civil Rights Committee would be a good place to start to the conversation.”
  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “It’s a start to fighting discrimination, fostering inclusiveness, & building a diverse bench of experienced community leaders.”
  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “This committee would need to be as diverse as possible so that it represents all of Athens. All perspectives would need to be welcome.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “I have pushed strongly for an Athens Civil Rights Committee. It is unfathomable why this issue won’t move forward.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “Please see http://bit.ly/2sLcpiP for a detailed response.”
  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “I strongly support an Athens Civil Rights Committee be established with real authority.”
  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “As an activist, I was proud to fight for a permanent, municipal Civil Rights Committee. As a Commissioner, I won’t rest until we have one.”
  • Do you believe that Athens-Clarke County should move forward with comprehensive non-discrimination legislation?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “See http://bit.ly/2rakhcV for additional commentary.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “Yes.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1: No
    “Challenging state law would require huge amount of resources that could otherwise be directed toward addressing widespread community issues.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1: Yes
    “Yes.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2: Yes
    “The civil rights struggle in our city will persist for generations unless we pass legislation protecting all Athenians from discrimination.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3: Yes
    “Discrimination can not be tolerated in a free society.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3: Yes
    “The details of which I would defer to the Civil Rights Committee’s recommendations.”
  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “We must, so that Athenians are protected from discrimination & have a way to pursue justice in a state that lacks civil rights legislation.”
  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    “This legislation should be contingent on the findings of the Athens Civil Rights Committee and conform to state law.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7: Yes
    “Yes.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7: No
    “Please see http://bit.ly/2sLcpiP for a detailed response.”
  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “This is long overdue.”
  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “Athens has a history defined by racial barriers and intolerance. We must pass protections on race, age, gender, LGBTQ, & immigrant status.”
  • White people still hold a hugely disproportionate amount of economic and social power in Athens-Clarke County. If elected, what will you do to help fight this structural imbalance, increase the economic security of, and ensure the equal treatment of Athenians of color; especially black Athenians who continue to be most targeted by past and present systems of oppression?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor
    “The systems that have limited access for Black Athenians to housing, employment, wealth creation, and power in this town are echoed across the nation, and well documented. The first step is acknowledging the roads that got us here: intentional segregation and discrimination from private and public players alike, including in housing policy through much of the 20th century (designated poverty zones, “urban renewal” plans that reduced wealth, exclusionary sales contract language, etc.), criminal justice system operations (from virtual slavery by jailers to discriminatory patterns of prosecution), banking, and employment discrimination. Despite the transition in employment sectors for Black working poor in Athens over the last 100 years — from agriculture to low-wage manufacturing to service work, we still have a vast segment of Black poverty here. Our response now needs to be as broad-based as the problems that led us here:

    -housing that is well-operated, integrated, and builds individual wealth to help young and old alike
    -revisiting the county’s own contracting language, as the minority contracting policy of the government has not been significantly examined in decades
    -vastly expanding programs like the Great Promises partnership to build skills and social capital in young people, which should be an underlying principle of future capital project operations for ACC
    -working with community partners to support mid-career supports for those stuck in low-wage positions (this is among the toughest prospects, but cannot be ignored)”

  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor
    “Enacting an anti-discrimination ordinance will be one of my first acts as mayor. Further, I think it’s critically important that a government reflect the constituency it represents. That’s why I will factor consideration of diversity into all of my staffing recommendations, from senior positions on down. It’s important to have empathetic leadership and to provide role models for every demographic.

    I’m committed to making it happen.”

  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1
    “I will continue to find ways to grow community wealth by supporting investments in our community that not only support workforce development but also bring jobs and tax dollars into Athens-Clarke County. A project currently underway which has my full support and has the ability to begin to address these concerns is the West Broad Initiative. I envision this project to be similar to the Green Opportunities (https://www.greenopportunities.org/) effort in Asheville, which I visited last fall as a guest of the Athens Land Trust. This singular effort could serve as a catalyst to transform the entire West Broad neighborhood; serving not only to empower our citizens, but also beginning to break down the systemic issues that impact our community.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1
    “As a black man, it is easy! Work together. We all have to work together. We cant in this day and time be divided. We all have to understand that we are ALL in this together. Some things work and some things don’t. But if we can work together and bridge the gap, we all will all be better off. We have to stop discriminating and oppressing minorities. We must eliminate and desist the practices of discrimination. But we also have to understand that there are problems, but working together, understanding the needs of our community, and building on successes, that we all can be equal and one. Let’s quit talking about change, and be that change. We are all different. But we are all in one accord.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2
    “Since emancipation, my people have been disenfrachised by Jim Crow law, redlining and other barriers to capital accrual, urban renewal and the destruction of local African-American neighborhoods, segregation, discriminatory hiring practices, state-sanctioned violence, mass incarceration and barriers to public accommodations. Similar state-sanctioned harm has been meted out on working women and LGBTQ communities– groups to which I also belong– as well as on Latinx, immigrant communities, and the disabled. We must pass legislation which uplifts all these groups with specific attention to our grim history on race. Comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and the establishment a permanent, dedicated municipal Civil Rights Committee serves this end. Municipal policy of investing in minority owned businesses and contractors serves this end. Strategic investment in local adult education programs, job skills training programs and youth development programs targeting underserved communities serve this end. Fighting for our right to pass a living wage, ensuring prosperity for all regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation, and ability, serves this end. Deprioritizing marijuana arrests, which disproportionately harm poor communities and communities of color, serve this end. All in all, we must make facing discrimination and poverty the top concern of our local government and community and in every decision we make as local legislators.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3
    “We must pass a dedicated policy to increase minority employment & entrepreneurship opportunities. And it is extremely important that we increase homeownership opportunities for African-Americans in Athens. I would support a “legacy” fund/program that offers home rehabilitation assistance to low-income Black families to encourage them to stay in their homes &/or keep homes in the family where they can appreciate & build wealth–as well as financial assistance to purchase homes in rapidly gentrifying working-class neighborhoods. It is most important that those of us in positions of power make a consistent & concerted effort to inform & include members of the Black community in political & social discourse & create opportunities for empowerment within the Black community. There is also a great deal of work to be done in the school system. ACC government must act in active partnership with CCSD to overcome the massive problem of inequality in our schools–a problem that is rooted in social inequalities.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3
    “I think that reversing years of discrimination/segregation will require building a pipeline to expand minority power and leadership in Athens. Envision Athens made a point of touting the demographic diversity of their Steering Committee. Regardless of the success of the overall effort, I believe it provides a model for what public involvement in Athens should look like. Our boards, authorities, and senior government staff need to be similarly diverse.

    In addition to my support of a Civil Rights Commission and an effort to increase affordable housing opportunities and transportation equity, I believe we need a process to assist neighborhoods in their efforts to organize. Predominately African American neighborhoods in Athens often face the danger of displacement through revitalization. We should listen to neighborhood residents and provide for them the tools to enhance stability and foster economic development that serves the residents of the neighborhood. Organization provides a mechanism to give the neighborhoods the voice to define those tools.

  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5
    “Systemic racism is a result of choices made by real people with access to political power. I will tirelessly dedicate my service on the Commission to dismantling systems of oppression and advocating for policy changes that tackle deep-rooted poverty and racial injustice. Our County Government must pursue racial justice and declare that Black Lives Matter.

    From a policy perspective, I will advocate for policies that support black-owned businesses and black employment. I will fight to establish comprehensive civil rights legislation at the local level that includes an Athens Civil Rights Committee. For too long, Athens residents have faced discrimination and inequality with nowhere to go to seek justice. This Committee can also serve as a way to build a new generation of diverse leaders in Athens. In that same way, I hope that the policies found in my Open-Door Democracy platform will help put black Athenians in the seats of power that they deserve to be in. The under-representation of black Athenians in all levels of our County Government is a problem that has gone on for too long.

    Further, I will work to reform our criminal justice system, starting by decriminalizing marijuana. It is unacceptable that, though marijuana usage is virtually the same across races, black people are 4.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. I will advocate for the creation of a Criminal Justice Task Force to assess our justice system’s practices. I will work to ensure that our criminal justice system puts fewer people behind bars and stops disproportionately targeting people of color, especially young black men. I will call out and work to end any practices that profit off of the imprisonment of Athenians and fight for bail-reform in our local courts.”

  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5
    “I will work to give everyone in Athens equal opportunity through easier access to quality education, child care, and good jobs. No matter where someone is born or what they look like, I believe they should have the same chance of success.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7
    “Athens has GA’s highest poverty rate yet lowest unemployment rate. That fact proves poverty wage jobs are the problem. Our government should promote good-paying jobs, not just any job. Poverty wage jobs trap workers in cycles of poverty where they inevitably come to depend on government assistance. Oddly, most of these poverty wage jobs are offered by some of the richest corporations in the world. Most local businesses pay living wages, along with our local government. I think momentum is moving in the right direction with passage of recent local legislation providing living wages for county employees.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7
    “Having lived in Athens for almost 30 years, the most striking thing to me is the pattern of systematic exodus of most of the best and the brightest young African American men and women who are born and raised in Athens. They graduate high school, go to college and after obtaining their degree(s) they just don’t come back home. The lure of cities with large populations of African-American young professionals like Washington D.C., Houston, and (of course) Atlanta is just too strong.

    This has become a viscous cycle to the point that in Athens we now have a disproportionally small black middle class – certainly nowhere near as prominent as in the aforementioned cities. Of course, it doesn’t help that at UGA white students outnumber black students approximately 10 to 1. So not only are we losing our brightest and most ambitious young minds to more socially and economically diverse cities like Atlanta, Houston and Washington, DC., we have a extremely limited population of black college students to draw from as well.

    Honestly, I don’t know what can be done to reverse this trend and to have a truly diverse Athens, along the entire socio-economic scale. I’ve been having some version of this conversation with a variety of long-time Athens residents, black and white for several years now, and no one has been able to come up with an easy or obvious solution. I think encouraging minority entrepreneurship is certainly one avenue that needs further pursuit. I don’t know what sort of effect the ACCUG could have on influencing UGA to become more diverse, but that is another avenue to explore as well. I haven’t figured out an answer, but I’m committed to keep asking questions until we do.”

  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9
    “Trust is something you earn. It is not enough to have blacks in figure head positions without any power or in position to carry out a white agenda. I encouraged African Americans to serve on school and local government committees whenever. This gives a different voice, but to hear other voices and build new relationships. I try to promote African Americans on committees that I serve on ( usually I am one of maybe two blacks). I try remind other committee members there are other qualified African Americans willing to participate if asked.

    Without being discriminatory, we need to find ways that qualified Afro-Americans and Hispanics are visible in our classrooms and in local businesses and institutions. I personally do not want white people translating my situation for me. While I appreciate the support, the best support you can give an African American is the same opportunities and respect. This may also need to be taught. This is even a greater problem for black women.

    I would ask the power players the question; do you really want to change the structural imbalance, increase the economic security? If yes, step out of your comfort zone, let’s reevaluate policies that have oppressed black Athenians and change them.”

  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9
    “Let us put this simply: Athens is designed to prevent the creation of a African-American middle class. That is our history. That is our present. There will be no better future without acknowledging that past and passing intentional, restorative policies to reverse that trend.

    Before the dawn of the civil war, 50% of our local population was enslaved. After emancipation, many of those families stayed. Unfortunately, we were not kind to our newly-freed neighbors. African-Americans have been forced to endure Jim Crow, redlining, urban renewal, inadequate access to capital, the destruction of local African-American neighborhoods, segregation, discriminatory hiring practices, violence, and barriers to public accommodations that continue to this day.

    Meanwhile, our white citizenry have enjoyed the privileges of the New Deal, investments in white neighborhoods and adjoining amenities, and a social system that was designed to promote prosperity. This privilege has been wielded – and continues to be wielded – over each and every minority group that fuels our local community. That privilege has extended over African-Americans, immigrants, all people of color, the LGBTQ community, refugees, and local immigrants.

    As acknowledged by Flagpole in May of 2017, our campaign’s central thrust has been a reckoning with this history. (“Athens-Clarke County Commission candidate Tommy Valentine made a similar point recently that Athens has a dark side, one we’ve collectively chosen to gloss over in favor of an image of ourselves as a welcoming, inclusive community, snug in our bubbles in Normaltown and on West Washington Street.”) There are several steps needed to remedy our imbalance of privilege. We must pass comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. We must create a permanent, municipal Civil Rights Committee. We must adopt a municipal policy of investing in minority owned businesses and contractors. We must increase local education options and invest in job skills training programs. We must pass a fair and living wage. Above all, we must make facing discrimination and poverty the top concern of our local government and community.”

  • Affordable Housing

    Do you support repealing the single-family ordinance?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “See http://bit.ly/2rakhcV for additional commentary.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor: Yes
    “It’s an outdated law. Diversifying housing options is a major part of my platform. The ordinance unnecessarily ties our hands.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1: No
    “Helps affordability by keeping people from turning homes into investment properties and charging higher rent. Also affects quality of life. “
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1: Yes
    “Yes.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2: Yes
    “Single-family ordinances block working people from supporting one another by any means they can and such laws have no place in our city.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3: Yes
    “The government should not define “family”. Instead property owners should be more accountable for tenant infractions.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3: Yes
    “We need to examine every possible angle to increase the stock of affordable housing.”
  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5: Yes
    ” It can inadvertently harm non-traditional households. We have other existing ordinances we can use to maintain family-friendly communities.”
  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5: No
    “This ordinance ensures residents and homeowners can enjoy their property free of potential nuisances. Athens is more than a college town.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7: No
    “Without this ordinance, 5 Points might become one large Fraternity row.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7: No
    “Please see http://bit.ly/2sLcpiP for a detailed response.”
  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “While the ordinance is understandable, this is really an unenforceable policy. Until we address homelessness this ordinance is not equitable.”
  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9: Yes
    “Families and communities come in different shapes, types, and sizes. All deserve access to affordable housing options.”
  • Rising rents and the proliferation of luxury student apartment complexes has been a major issue in town for the past several years. What will you do to promote affordable housing in Athens for its current residents?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor
    “A mix of public investment, and requirement and incentive for private investment is among the mechanism that will bring new safe, quality, affordable housing in Athens. Athens is but one example of our nation’s decades-long trend toward greater distance between those across the economic spectrum, but a commitment to economically integrated affordable housing can reverse this trend. As mayor, I will propose a SPLOST program for affordable housing, including infrastructure and utility connection support for private providers, use of Tax Allocation District proceeds to include similar support, density bonus opportunities for private developers, and inclusionary zoning requirements for developments of a certain scale. This can include redevelopment of areas that have become distressed or functionally obsolete. In addition, continued work with nonprofit providers and the Housing Authority is necessary, along with use of the General Fund Affordable Housing program.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor
    “The housing conversation is a perfect example of why we can’t afford a career politician in the mayor’s office. To achieve progress, we need someone who can sit down with developers and talk through practical incentives to grow our non-student housing. As someone who has spent his entire career in the private sector, I’m confident that I can make that happen.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1
    “I will continue to serve on the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH) committee to which I was appointed by Mayor Denson. We have been working over the past two years to pinpoint and address the affordable and workforce housing issues that exist within our community. Key to our efforts will be identifying a sustainable way to fund the Housing Trust Fund which can help support the housing initiatives we determine to be viable solutions for our community. In fact, on December 5, 2017, I led the effort on a vote, unanimously approved by the full Commission, which directed the proceeds from the sale of the Athens-Clarke County waterworks dam property located off Commerce Road to the Housing Trust Fund.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1
    “College students are examples of temporary tenants who inflate the cost of rent for Athenians. What I mean by Athenians is the people who live, work, and make their lives here. For example, there is nothing wrong with a luxury apartment for students, but there are too many luxury apartments for college students which displaces the Athenians who make Athens, Athens. Residents who call Athens home shouldn’t be displaced because of temporary residents. It is bad planning. It isn’t sustainable. Athens should work with developers in ensuring that property development is balanced to meet the needs of all residents, not just students or wealthy. The working class of Athens are being pushed because of the lack of affordable housing and zoning. Athens can do better with proper planning, zoning, and adequate input from residents.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2
    “Researching, creating, passing and implementing comprehensive affordable housing legislation which disrupts and ameliorates our local history of racialized housing discrimination – including redlining and other racialized barriers to capital as well as the effects of urban renewal- is of high priority for me as commissioner. Most urgent is inclusionary zoning which ensures that construction of new properties contains a certain percentage of affordable units (“affordable” meaning accurately reflecting our local median income). In addition, ending the single family ordinance, emphasizing housing discrimination within the role of a dedicated civil rights committee, researching and funding public/private partnerships, reverse red-lining, demographically-driven property tax freezes and rent stabilization, and tax incentives for businesses whose employees live in the county are other solutions under consideration.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3
    “I have been advocating vehemently for an inclusionary zoning policy in Athens. This is just one of many, many tools we should be utilizing to increase affordable housing in our community. We must also consider changes to zoning & design guidelines to protect existing affordable housing and mandate or incentivize private developers to properly meet the needs for a diverse selection of affordable housing in areas with proper access to jobs, services, & transportation choices.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3
    “There is no silver bullet to change market forces – luxury student apartments are what banks will finance at this time. I do believe however, that for a long while, ACC has been “giving away” our leverage to address a variety of issues – affordable housing and alternative transportation infrastructure come immediately to mind. Perhaps we fear the “not business friendly” moniker?

    Downzoning downtown and then providing density bonuses to developers that include or fund affordable housing is one way to harness that market to serve the greater community. Beyond that we need to increase housing opportunities for Athenians, relaxing rules on “granny flats”, rehabilitating distressed properties through the Land Bank, further support for alternative models such as the Athens Land Trust and Habitat will all need to be employed. We need to provide permanent funding for our Affordable Housing Trust Fund and I support appointing a task force including commissioners, staff, local developers, Land Trust, Habitat and homeless advocates as representatives to provide momentum and focus to the issue.”

  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5
    “I will work with Athenians to implement affordable housing policy. I will not only support the work already being done by groups such as the Athens Land Trust and Habitat for Humanity but will also push for an Inclusionary Zoning policy to increase the amount of affordable housing being built. I will also advocate for the creation of Community Trust Funds so that communities can protect themselves from gentrification and create/maintain the communities they want to see in their own neighborhoods. We must amplify the voices of working-class and low-wealth Athenians so that their needs are heard, valued, and addressed.”
  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5
    “We must simplify our regulatory structure by streamlining rules and minimizing excessive fees to attract smarter homebuilder investment. If we can foster a friendlier business environment that attracts those investors, we will end up with a higher supply of housing which will drive costs down.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7
    “Poverty wage jobs in Athens make it impossible for some families to continue living in our town. Wages have remained stagnant while rent prices have soared. I do support affordable housing incentives that compel large-scale residential developments to include affordably priced units in their plans. Also, our community should explore more public-private partnerships like what created Columbia Brookside, a mixed-income development that has met success.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7
    “I reject the premise that rents are too high. Athens rents are generally at or below the Georgia average, which is below the national average. For example, the 2BR, 2BA apartment I paid $600/month for in 1992 currently rents for $1000/month. Given an average inflation rate of 2.21% per year since 1992, that’s slightly less than the rate of inflation during the same time period. Given that the neighborhood is much safer than when I lived there 25 years ago and property values have likewise increased, I don’t see an that as an egregious increase in rent.

    The perceived problem of “rents are too high” may be more accurately defined as “wages are too low.” We need to address economic development, REAL economic development to raise wages so that our technically affordable rents actually feel affordable.

    My evidence is purely anecdotal, but the average single 29 year-old young professional in Atlanta would LOVE to pay Athens rent. Of course, his or her job – the one paying them a high five-figure salary – is in Atlanta. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, my Atlanta friends were envious of the rent I paid in Athens, but were a lot less envious of the opportunities for mid to high-wage jobs here.

    The “luxury student apartments” issue is a tricky one. I’m not a huge fan of the recent student housing projects, but I would rather have private investment in additional student housing than additional dorms form which we receive no property tax revenue.

    As for low-income housing, I have been encouraged with the success of the Columbia Brookside project on Hancock. We need to pursue more public/private opportunities such as that project and move away from the highly flawed section 8 public housing model. Bethel Midtown Village is a prime opportunity for such a project and we should take a look at the potential of that site right away.”

  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9
    “Utilizing resources from Department of Community Affairs such as Community Housing Designation Organizations (CHDO’s), Georgia Advancing Communities Together (GACT) which provides technical assistance to families with limited housing choices, HUD Community Development and Section 3 program. We must better support Athens Land Trust and Habitat for Humanities.

    While some of these programs may be in jeopardy under the current administration, they are all worth advocating for to promote affordable housing in Athens. The local government can not work in silos, we must work with banks and to remove financial and credit barriers. This could be done in creative use of the Community Reinvestment Act.

    The government must work with community groups to educate people at an early age that home ownership is a “wealth builder”.”

  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9
    “Our campaign platform was born from a series of Lay Park community meetings that began in Fall of 2016. From the beginning, it was clear that Athens desperately needs increased access to affordable housing. We have carried that need with us throughout this campaign, from private conversations to the podium, from social media to public festivals, from living rooms to front doors.

    Now, we are actively working to develop solutions and promote awareness of affordable housing. Over 1.4K people have viewed our recent Affordable Housing Virtual Townhall, which contained 15 steps we want to take on affordable housing. View it here: bit.ly/affordablehousing. Our next event is an Affordable Housing Potluck & Discussion, to be held at First AME Church, within walking distance of Bethel Homes: https://www.facebook.com/events/546552862381384/

    Our goal is to develop, pass, and implement comprehensive affordable housing legislation. Such legislation must contend with and alleviate the history of local racial housing discrimination – including redlining and racial barriers to capital – and the effects of urban renewal. In addition to the other steps we have discussed (Single family / Co-Living, Space efficiency; municipal trust funds; Syndication; Civil Rights Committee; Quantitative approaches; proper public land usage; public/private partnerships; reverse red-lining; demographic-driven property tax freezes; rent stabilization; ownership vs. renting policies; tax incentives by employers for local residence; granny flats), our most urgent need are areas of inclusionary zoning, where new construction must contain a certain percentage of affordable units, where “affordable” is properly tied to local median income.”

  • Challenging Unjust State Laws

    County Attorney Bill Berryman has recommended inaction on certain issues in order to avoid, in his view, potential conflicts with state law. These issues have included operational funding in TSPLOST, marijuana decriminalization and comprehensive non-discrimination legislation. Citing his interpretations, the Mayor and Commission have elected to take little to no action on these and similar issues. Do you support a different approach, even if it may lead to Athens-Clarke County challenging state law?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor
    “There exists a spectrum of challenges for localities in Georgia state code, some of which are open to interpretation and reasonable challenge, and some of which are more explicit in their language. When the legal landscape is unfavorable, it is better to acknowledge that circumstance than pretend otherwise. For example, TSPLOST law is very clear on the matter of operational costs for the single-county program approved by ACC voters. On the other hand, lower-scale responses to marijuana possession reflect the layers of responses possible, as witnessed recently by Atlanta’s reduction in penalty. There are always potential pitfalls in localities working counter to state code, particularly when some elements of state leadership have made direct efforts to limit local autonomy (through “bag ban ban” effort, for example). Broadly, when we set a community goal, such as an environment of non-discrimination, we should be able to outline a variety of routes to our goal, including local and statewide efforts, as well as education and direct action. Always continuing to push for improvement is the key need.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor
    “We live in a time where cities are being asked to lead. I welcome the challenge. I propose a two-pronged approach. First, we can absolutely pass our own civil rights legislation and marijuana ordinance. That said, the next mayor has to do more to successfully work with the local legislative delegation to push our city’s agenda to the state. Take marijuana as an example. A county ordinance wouldn’t apply to state or university police. That means whether or not you get arrested is basically a game of roulette based on who pulls you over. Clearly, that’s not a lasting solution.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1
    “No. Challenging state law would expose our community to litigation that would require a huge amount of financial resources that could otherwise be directed toward addressing widespread community issues such as poverty, workforce development, and affordable housing.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1
    “One of the tenants and foundations of a democracy is for those who oppose government action to speak out, take action and make suggestions. It is our First Amendment right. Also, to challenge government when it is overreaching or unfair. Always remember, elected officials work for the people, not themselves. We can work with our State legislators in demanding our voices be heard and our issues examined. Athens has great working relationships (in some respects) with elected state officials who can make the necessary demands that are needed. But I am all for challenging a law that needs to be challenged. We need government officials who listens to the demands and needs of the people.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2
    “The recent failure of Amendment One strongly evidences the nonpartisan support for local governance. Even when justice runs contrary to state law, our city attorney should defend and protect essential our right to govern ourselves.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3
    “Yes, the state has shown little initiative in challenging other communities that have implemented such legislation, why would they start with Athens?”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3
    “I think these would need to addressed on a case-by-case basis.

    I don’t agree with including operational funding in TSPLOST projects – operational expenses and even maintenance costs should be funded through more stable revenue streams.

    The city of Clarkston, GA has shown that marijuana decriminalization can work.

    We need a Civil Rights Commission with members who understand the mechanisms of discrimination within our community and any legislation that we enact should conform to the findings of that commission.

    Further, as we look for a replacement after Mr. Berryman retires, I believe we should hire an attorney that, while providing sound council, understands the progressive nature of our community and supports its goals.”

  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5
    “I believe that the Athens-Clarke County government needs to feel legally empowered to do what is best for the people of Athens-Clarke County. When there seems to be a hindrance from State or Federal law in doing so, I believe we need to research both why that is and how other communities who have similar constraints have found levers for change despite limitations. If we find that laws or policies put in place by the State of Georgia are unjust, I believe it is up to all of us to stand on the side of justice.

    Specifically speaking to TSPLOST or marijuana decriminalization, other Georgia communities have interpreted those policies differently in a way that has allowed them to include operational funding in TSPLOST and decriminalize marijuana. These communities have not been challenged on such interpretations. So, I believe that this shows that there is room for Athens-Clarke County to similarly interpret laws to advance solution-oriented action.”

  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5
    “These issues must be examined case by case to determine Athens’ response, not lumped together for an easy, but ultimately meaningless, answer. T-SPLOST, marijuana decriminalization, and non-discrimination legislation are all very different issues, and Athens should carefully consider whether hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars should be spent fighting the state.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7
    “Yes, within reason. In some cases, like marijuana decriminalization, other communities like Clarkston and Atlanta have shown it can be done.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7
    “As a practicing courtroom attorney for over 15 years, I have never been one to shy away from a legal “fight” when the situation demands. And I have disagreed with several decisions advised/made by the County Attorney’s office in the past. For example, pursuing a case AGAINST Nuci’s Space tax exempt status was a waste of resources – regardless of one’s personal opinion of whether they “deserved” that status (I think they do, BTW).

    On a case-by-case basis, we need to be willing to “pick some fights” that we can win if it means better local government. But, we also need to recognize that, as a a local city/county government, we are the lowest rung of legislating in the state. We often simply don’t have the power or authority to “fix” things with local legislation, as much as we might want to. And we don’t need to waste resources on fights we can’t win.”

  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9
    “Under the new leadership of the school board, we work together to deal with the difficult issues. Our workshops and training has allowed us to view situations from a different vantage point. Decision makers must always be willing to be comfortable in a position to learn from others, especially if their decisions are having a negative impact on others. It is ok to disagree but all parties should agree to resolve…or the status quo will continue.”
  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9
    “Our attorney was selected not only to advise us, but also to defend our right to govern locally. When justice demands, they must challenge the state. The results of the governor’s attempt to take over local schools (the failure of Amendment One) demonstrate the broad bi-partisan support for local governance. Our city attorney has a duty to protect this essential right.”
  • Childcare and Early Childhood Education

    Lack of funding in the CAPS program means that there is an 'early learning gap' of over 2,000 children in Athens. There is also a lack of quality rated childcare providers here. Turning this situation around would be quite expensive and difficult, but also extremely important to the lives of many Athenians. Do you support policies that would expand access to childcare subsidies, encourage more childcare providers to become quality rated, and incentivize quality rated providers to accept children receiving subsidies?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor
    “Yes. The current state grant funded Early Education Empowerment Zone work in Athens should be funded locally if not continued by the state to work toward these goals. The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning should be strongly encouraged to be more heavily funded to raise individual employee center quality in the years ahead. New Jersey has been a model of this that we should look toward statewide. Locally, we can make early learning a priority for funding and collaboration.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor
    “100% yes. CAPS and vouchers aren’t getting the job done for two- and three-year olds. That’s unacceptable at such a critical age in a child’s development. Take a look at the Early Childhood Learning Grant and I think you’ll see a much better model. Instead of putting pressure on parents to go out and find someone to accept the vouchers, it flips the model and asks the educators to go find students and provide a quality education if they want funding. As mayor, I would pursue a plan along these lines in Athens-Clarke. I would aggressively seek out private and state partners to help find the financing we need.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1
    “Yes, as long as those families with the greatest need continue to receive sufficient assistance. The West Broad Initiative could also address this need on a local level with local funding. Specifically, the Unified Government could partner with the Clarke County School District to develop an early learning center, perhaps through a future Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) project.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1
    “Absolutely! I 100%. We as a society really need to understand how poverty affects the daily life of an impoverished kid. It is nice to be rich, but being poor carries so many burdens. Parents have to work to pay bills and keep a roof over their heads, that sometimes can mean working multiple jobs or odd hours which takes away from proper childcare and child reering. We can help these individuals by securing up the proper funding (either through federal grants, reevaluating our budget or community support) to make sure that those who try to make a living be ensured that their kids are well taken care of, affordably.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2
    “Access to quality and affordable childcare is an essential component to a functioning society. With it, families have greater access to a high quality of life for their children and the resources necessary for their improved educational attainment, social mobility, and emotional and social wellbeing.

    Utilizing my research background, I am committed to reviewing successful case studies and completing a needs assessment for Athens-Clarke County as the starting point for designing comprehensive affordable childcare legislation. As part of that needs assessment, we should carefully and systematically incorporate the voices and concerns of parents who have historically been kept out of such processes, as well as those of our overworked, underpaid teachers whose expertise is often overlooked, too. Expanding access to childcare subsidies, encouraging more childcare providers to become quality rated, and incentivizing quality rated providers to accept children receiving subsidies may be an uphill battle, but it is one that our government is fully capable of winning with thoroughly-researched, inclusively-discussed, well-designed, and hard-fought-for legislation.”

  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3
    “Yes. This is a place where I feel Athens Leisure Services Department should step up to meet the needs with quality & affordable early childhood programming as well as after-school programs located within high-need communities. These programs could be done in partnership with non-profits & UGA to reduce costs, open access to grant funding, diversify programming, & increase accountability in the community.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3
    “Clearly the cost of adequate child care is a significant hurdle for low and moderate income Athenians. As such, increasing adequate child-care options would be beneficial. As with most issues, there are multiple factors at play. My understanding is that the lack of Quality Rated child care facilities is due in large part to the choice made by the providers to not go through the process – the certification process is costly and difficult and many would not expect to gain the three-star (top) rating. The CAP reimbursement process is slow and many smaller facilities can’t handle the cash flow crunch caused by that reimbursement process.

    One thing we could do to alleviate the child care labor shortage is to incorporate training for child care workers in the Career Academy curricula.

    I am open to listening to and working for solutions that would ease the burden for our citizens.”

  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5
    “Yes, I do support policies that would expand access to childcare subsidies, encourage more childcare providers to become quality rated, and incentivize quality rated providers to accept children receiving subsidies. I will fight to ensure that every Athenian has access to high quality, affordable child care. Parents should never have to choose between guaranteeing quality care for their children or taking a job to support their family.
    On the Commission, I would like to explore options for the M&C to collaborate with the school district and private child care providers to create more high-quality, affordable, public early learning opportunities such as those offered by Clarke County’s Early Learning Center.”
  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5
    “I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Athens Schools Superintendent Dr. Demond Means’ plan for education for our city, and I think his tenacity and boldness will serve the Athens community well in addressing the education needs for all the students in Athens. I look forward to working with Dr. Means on identifying policies and programs to improve early education and childcare options for all families in Athens.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7
    “Attacking poverty wage jobs may alleviate the problem of childcare too. With living wages comes ability to afford childcare. As it stands now, many Athens children suffer from either a lack of attention or lack of nutrition. Their parents face a dilemma: work 2 or more jobs to support the family at the expense of providing adequate attention to their children, or work less at the expense of providing adequate nutrition for their children.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7
    “Generally, yes.”
  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9
    “I helped a daycare provider several years ago start her daycare using CAP funding. She is a successful daycare provider, and has a waiting list. The school board has passed a legislative agenda including more funding for early education. I support any policies that would expand access to early childcare.”
  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9
    “In less than two weeks, Laura and I will become parents for the first time. In the process of preparing for our daughter, we have had to confront the staggeringly high costs of childcare. Even with willing local grandparents and two full-time jobs, we remain concerned about how we can provide the quality childcare that baby Norah will need. It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Access to quality and affordable childcare is an essential component to a functioning society. Without it, families are denied the ability to protect the wellbeing of their most vulnerable members. With it, families have greater access to quality of life for their children and the resources necessary for improved social mobility.

    I would be thrilled to utilize my Public Administration & Policy training to examine this issue, review successful case studies, complete a needs assessment for Athens-Clarke County, and then help design comprehensive reform on local childcare. As part of that needs assessment, we should take care to listen carefully to the voices and concerns of local parents who have historically been ignored and kept out of this process. We absolutely should “expand access to childcare subsidies, encourage more childcare providers to become quality rated, and incentivize quality rated providers to accept children receiving subsidies.” Yes, it may be costly and difficult, but our government is more than capable of confronting these challenges, especially when the lives of all of our children hang in the balance.”

  • Poverty

    The rates of poverty and income inequality in Athens remain extraordinarily high. What will you do to specifically support low-income and low-wealth Athenians?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor
    “The tactics mentioned above in reference to Black poverty apply here. In addition, Athens can make further strides to encourage positive employment and development patterns, creating a direct effect with stronger labor patterns and wage scales, and spinoff impacts, such as those experienced when the median income increases in our area, and the corresponding value of low-income housing credits also rise, encouraging affordable housing creation. I will encourage reinvestment zones in which ACC can “roll out the red carpet” for redevelopment by funding public infrastructure like stormwater, street trees, paths and sidewalks, and parkspace in areas of need. For enterprises considering greenfield development in other jurisdictions, this will level the playing field and make Athens a more attractive place to build businesses. It will also bring both jobs and amenities that help tie elements of our community together. Along with integrated housing, this approach will usher-in safe, healthy neighborhoods in which all residents can thrive.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor
    “A particular passion of mine is job training and workforce development. I’m going to form a taskforce that brings together our largest employers with our non-profits and technical colleges. Together, we’ll identify what specific jobs are going unfilled and why. We’ll then re-shape our existing training programs and grow them where necessary to close the skills gap and offer a legitimate ladder from poverty to the middle class.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1
    “I will continue to look for opportunities to grow community wealth, so everyone can be lifted up out of poverty. An example is my work to reestablish commercial air service at the Athens-Ben Epps Airport. The Airport is one of only nine designated commercial airports in Georgia, and therefore, a valuable local government asset. The Airport has the ability not only to provide valuable transportation service to area businesses, industries, and citizens, but also to generate local jobs and potentially millions in revenue for our local economy. Like other counties, our Airport is located in one of the lowest income areas of our community. The jobs and economic activity that a thriving Commercial Service Airport could create are many, including Fixed Base Operators who could provide fueling, aircraft rental and/or maintenance, flight instruction, and other aeronautical services; leasing of additional hangar space; parking attendants; baggage attendants; vendors at the terminal; ticketing agents, etc.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1
    “A complex issue that requires a complex response. One easy way is paying a living wage. Also, ensuring that we have adequate job training, adult education programs, workers rights initiatives, and affordable housing. I would work with brining businesses in our community that pays a living wage as well as provide job training. I will also work with local businesses and the community to discuss options of systemic poverty.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2
    “District 2 is the poorest district in the poorest college town in America. It is also a district of hard work and problem solving. My neighbors wake up everyday faced with unique challenges–40% of children suffer poverty and 1 in 5 families experience food insecurity in Athens, and these rates are likely even higher in District 2– but my neighbors face these issues bravely and creatively. Given their efforts, the people of District 2 and Athens at large deserve a minimum of $15/hour for their hard work. They deserve free public transportation and safer, expanded pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure so that they are no longer nickel and dimed just to get around town. They deserve job skills training and youth development programs which will empower and enable them to find gainful employment in industries of the twenty-first century. They deserve a government which strategically invests in minority owned businesses and strategically reverses policy like redlining which have purposefully kept communities of color poor. As well, because so much poverty is tied up in racial discrimination, they deserve a dedicated civil rights committee and a comprehensive anti-discrimination ordinance which ensure that everyone has access to the affordable housing, good jobs, public transit, and other basic human needs.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3
    “We need to encourage employers to pay a living wage. State law prevents us from mandating this, but we could incentivize it via demands for community benefits agreements & taxation methods. Increased youth development & entrepreneurship programs can help as well as better access to affordable child care & transportation to make working low-income families lives easier.”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3
    “Income inequality is an issue all across America and will worsen under the current administration. Most of the questions asked thus far address some aspect of alleviating the effects of poverty, and as such require many different answers.”
  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5
    “Too often the wealthiest, those at the top, benefit from our economy and “economic development”. What about developing the economies of working class people? The systemic poverty that has attacked 38% of our County can only be beaten with systemic solutions.

    I will actively develop and support policies that establish living wages and encourage the creation of living wage jobs so that all families can enjoy the economic security we all deserve. Our County Government must take action to drastically lower our 38% poverty rate. I will fight to ensure that every Athenian has access to high quality, affordable child care. Parents should never have to choose between guaranteeing quality care for their children or taking a job to support their family. I will advocate for affordable housing through policies such as inclusionary zoning, where a certain percentage of new units are designated to be affordable for working class Athenians. I will advocate for policies that support black-owned businesses and ensure that Athens-Clarke County is a place where black entrepreneurs and black workers can prosper. I will continue to work to transition Athens Transit to a fare-free service. This will leave more money in the pockets of Athenians that can be used to better their lives.”

  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5
    “I’ll start by listening to them. What opportunities have they not had access to? What drove them into poverty? Did they come from a low-income family? It is essential that we get to the root of the problem by communicating with those individuals, not prescribing solutions that sound good with no basis in reality.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7
    “I think public pressure brought to bear upon large-scale poverty wage employers can make a difference. Our government has begun this process by passing living wage legislation for county employees. There is a real disconnect in Athens where not enough is known about impoverished Athenians. Most folks just read statistics in the paper. The stories and struggles of impoverished Athenians must be known and shared to raise the consciousness of our community. With consciousness will come more thoughtful consensus-driven solutions. There is a lack of awareness.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7
    “It sounds cliche, but we need more (or better) jobs. The unemployment rate in Athens is relatively low – certainly in comparison to our poverty rate, but average wages are also very low compared to other similar communities. We need to attract more 21st century industry to Athens that provides a wide-range of quality employment for blue and white collar workers.”
  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9
    “1.After visiting Green Opportunities in Asheville N.C., with the Athens Land Trust, several ACC commissioners, and school board members, I would advocate for a similar program to support low-income wealth Athenians. The mission of Green Opportunities is to train, support and connect people from marginalized communities to sustainable employment. This a partnership with local and state government, Duke University, the Housing Authority, the Chamber and the grassroots community. They offer training in construction, culinary, and CNA and a GED program. They operate in a historic black school in the community and provide after school programs. Their vegetables in their culinary kitchen is grown in their community garden. The culinary kitchen is becoming self sustaining through their catering business. Participants are ex felons, young adults that have been displaced or disenfranchised in the community. The program reported a 93% success rate based on placements and the follow up support after placements. visit for more info: greenopportunities.org

    2. Through my employment, I learned out about an expungement program in LaGrange Georgia that would support low-income Athenians. Many people cannot find a good paying job because of an old criminal history. October 2017 the LaGrange Police Department held its first Record Restriction Day. Local judges, attorneys, and the district attorneys expunged criminal records of 50 people with a 184 charges. People with a history of arrests with no convictions or misdemeanors before they were 21 years old and had no more arrests for five years had an opportunity to have their records expunged. After the expungement process, participants were invited to special job fair in the next room. This is part of my platform not because it is a good idea, but it is solution for the poverty rate in Athens.

    3. While I am not optimistic about all of the community surveys, including Envision Athens, they do provide valuable information if we use the information. One of the facts that came out of the Envision report, the majority of the industrial employees making above a livable wage, do not live in Athens, but is surrounding counties. We must help our local industries find employees with the soft skills, the work ethics, and technical skills for employment living in Clarke County; while creating and encourage entrepreneurship by providing resources and removing barriers to small business start-up. This could be done in the Human Community Development Department, which I believe is heading in the right direction.

    I would try to tie these ideas to the Envision Athens and the Athens 20 year Comprehensive plan and other research. We have to stop all of these surveys, and use our monies on tangible infrastructure, and programs that can be measured.”

  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9
    “Athens has 38% poverty, but only 4.1% unemployment. We are a community of working poor, people that wake up everyday and fuel the prosperity of our town, but are denied the right to a fair wage. As a result, 40% of children suffer in poverty and 1 in 5 families is living in food insecurity. For too long, we have chosen to invest in industries that do not produce fair and living wages: hospitality, entertainment, recreation. It is time for our city to take a deliberate effort to invest in improvements for those experiencing poverty and low-wages.

    Since the beginning of this campaign, we have advocated for public policies that alleviate poverty and income inequality. It has been our chief concern, summarized in our constant refrain: Opportunity and Justice for All.

    To address these concerns, we would need to implement broad, bold, and progressive policies. We would need to increase local job skills training. We would need to fight for our right to pass, then to actually pass, a fair and living wage. We need to pass Fare Free Bus Service and increase general fund investments in local transportation infrastructure. We must support our local school systems through increased community involvement. Because so much of our poverty is tied up into discrimination, we must pass a civil rights committee committed to increasing our HRC Municipal Equality Index. We must address access to childcare and proper youth development programs. We would advocate for annual poverty measurements that are tied to commission districts, so that our elected officials would feel proper responsibility for the quality of life for the people they represent. All of these steps would help, but there is one more we must mention.

    When Athens-Clarke County was unified, we passed a charter. That charter includes language that guarantees a comprehensive anti-poverty program with adequate budget and status. While there are several local entities that work hard every day to alleviate the symptoms of poverty, there is none that meets the description of his charter. It is time to keep the promise of Athens-Clarke County. It is time to create the comprehensive anti-poverty program promised in our founding document.”

  • Open-Ended

    What is your most important policy priority for 2018 - 2019?
  • Kelly Girtz, candidate for Mayor
    “Community re-investment, focused on creation of quality housing and expansion of the employment base.”
  • Harry Sims, candidate for Mayor: no answer
    Harry has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor
    “The economy and jobs. We must do more to make sure that the people who live and work here are able to stay here and thrive. That means safer streets, more transit, and affordable housing options for our workers and their families. We must also do more to attract new business and new jobs. It’s past time that we review the way we regulate and tax our local business owners. Transparency is also important as companies don’t relocate to areas where they can’t trust the local government.”
  • Sharyn Dickerson, incumbent of District 1
    “I have three policy priorities:
    1. Finalizing the GICH Initiative,
    2. Wrapping up the West Broad Initiative, and
    3. Reestablishing commercial air service at the Athens-Ben Epps Airport.”
  • Patrick Davenport, challenger for District 1
    “More community involvement within our government.”
  • Mariah Parker, candidate for District 2
    “Though my every policy position is oriented toward the alleviation of poverty, people of color have been purposefully kept poor by discriminatory practices and unjust economic policy, thus the end of poverty and discrimination are inextricably intertwined as my two most important foci as commissioner.”
  • Taylor Pass, candidate for District 2: no answer
    Taylor has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Melissa Link, incumbent of District 3
    “Affordable housing is a dire need and there is no single silver bullet to effectively solve this. We must implement a multitude of policies & ordinances to assure that hard-working Athenians can afford to continue to live in their beloved Athens. We must act immediately to create and implement a multi-pronged affordable housing plan in our community. It has been over two years since the Workforce Housing Study clearly stated the problems & steps to address them have been minimal. It is also important to note that artists & musicians depend upon affordable housing–communities that provide have vibrant arts & music scenes. These are the people who put Athens on the map and as our housing becomes less & less affordable many longstanding members of our creative community are leaving Athens for more affordable living situations in outer counties and beyond & fewer young creative types are financially able to settle down in our town. The cultural & economic impact of Athens’ artists & musicians is invaluable. If we lose them, we lose a huge chunk of our soul!”
  • Tony Eubanks, challenger for District 3
    “To merge land use planning and transportation planning because the two are inextricably linked. At the same time I would address the “silos” we have in local government – either by departmental design or through “pots” of funding. Despite the constant refrain that Athens is not “business friendly”, Athens-Clarke County has experienced unprecedented growth. Yet we always seem to “settle”. I think what’s not business friendly is not having clear priorities, and therefore not being able to articulate exactly what we expect in terms of development.”
  • Jared Bailey, incumbent for District 5: no answer
    Jared has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Tim Denson, challenger for District 5
    “I will prioritize empowering the many Athenians in District 5 and across the county who have historically been left behind and have had no voice in the decisions that shape our community. I want to revolutionize the way that our County Commission and government works. Let’s give the people a seat at the table. Let’s work with them to research the problems for our county, let’s create policy with them, let’s advocate alongside them, and pass legislation that addresses the real problems in people’s lives.
    Do we want the best transit system in the country? Then let’s empower and listen to transit riders. How do we create more affordable housing? Let’s listen to and prioritize the needs of low-wealth and working-class Athenians who need that housing.

    We can do this through the creation of People’s Assemblies in every county district so residents know they have a place to go to talk about the issues that matter to them. We can also create productive resident-led committees tasked with focusing on the important issues facing Athens such as human rights, criminal justice reform, and education.”

  • Danielle Benson, challenger for District 5
    “I do not have any single most important policy priority for 2018 — the Board of Commissioners must constantly be examining multiple policies and how they interact with one another to effectively, efficiently govern. My attention will be dedicated to bringing better jobs, better education, and a brighter future to everyone in Athens.”
  • Russell Edwards, candidate for District 7
    “Childhood poverty. I am called to public service to honor my community, and the Bible provides much of my moral authority. History will judge our community’s worth for how well we care for those among us that have the least. Fortunately, our community is blessed with a bounty of caring individuals already working diligently on this problem through faith-based organizations and non-profits. Athens should be a place where every child lives with dignity.”
  • Bill Overend, candidate for District 7
    “Better government. I know that sounds trite, but unification of city/county services was supposed to bring us – the citizens of Athens-Clarke County – a more efficient government that provides better services. The reality is that a bureaucracy has been allowed to grow and flourish whose primary goal is to sustain itself. Our government has ceased to be responsive to the needs of the community because it is in many ways controlled by unelected staff with no accountability to the community. (The fact that a significant portion of this unelected staff lives outside the county is a concern as well.) So my most important priority is putting government back to work for the citizens of Athens-Clarke County.

    While we are blessed with many good things in this community, we are hampered with a disproportionally small tax base. Our county population is the 19th largest in the State, our geographical area is the smallest. When you subtract almost of third of that already small area for non-taxable public property, the conclusion is that we are ALWAYS going to be struggling to pay for what we want our government to do.

    The subjects of this questionnaire, and other challenges our community face require public capital to address and fix. We need to cut down on the (in some cases rampant) waste in our various government departments so that we have all of our limited tax resources available to address these challenges. That’s my first priority, because it gives us the best chance to address all of the other priorities.”

  • Carl Blount, candidate for District 7: no answer
    Carl has not yet responded to our questionnaire.
  • Ovita Thornton, candidate for District 9
    “My most important issue is to engage and encourage housing management companies, particularly low income housing complexes, to provide on site social services and referrals needed for families until they are prepared to move on. Section 8 Housing should not be a revolving generational door. I have been working in Bethel Midtown Village since 2009. I have seen some success but we do not have a transitional plan. For many of these young mothers, this is the first home on their own. Many are not prepared for the new responsibilities of living on their own. Some do not have the experience or skills of paying their rent, maintaining a household or caring for their kids on their own. Some move in with mental health issues and not support. Several become a target for drug dealers, and other criminal behavior which increases the need for police. The maintenance of some of the apartments are causing health and safety issues which becomes an issue for Code Enforcement and the Health Department. Young mothers are evicted because of lease violations causing a burden on the on the court system and school system -creating an increase in the homeless population-and the cycle continues.

    We have small group of community leaders and community stakeholders. But
    local government has to do business differently if we are serious about decreasing the poverty rate. We can begin by reaching out to many of the low income housing management companies, especially if these companies are receiving government subsidies and are not located in Athens. Athens taxpayers are picking up the tab for safety, social services, education and homeless programs etc. We need governmental intervention to help families become self sufficient and productive citizens.”

  • Tommy Valentine, candidate for District 9
    “As someone who was raised in Athens, I believe it is time that we fight back against a local political establishment that has been either unwilling or unable to address our biggest problem: Poverty.

    Athens is America’s Poorest College Town. We’ve had it with the excuses and inaction. As a Commissioner, I will demand that every single policy or ordinance directly addresses poverty and income inequality. Because, in Athens especially, those issues are so deeply tied to discrimination, I will also demand that each action of the commission directly confront the systemic discrimination in our community.

    Political slogans often have little value. They are something to put on a t-shirt or a button. Not for us. “Opportunity and Justice for All” is more than a slogan. For the broad, growing coalition that supports our movement, it is the expectation and demand that will guide us throughout this campaign and my time as commissioner. That coalition knows that when our campaign wins a seat at the table, so do they. Together, we recognize poverty is our greatest local challenge in Athens. It is the reason we fight. It is also the reason we will never give up.”

  • Click here to read more about the candidates.

    Athens for Everyone
    March 22, 2018

     

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