Who does your ACC District Commissioner really represent? Do they stand with you, or downtown developers and Republican candidates?
Their own constituents overwhelmingly spoke out against the towering luxury condos. But seven of our ten commissioners voted for the downtown Athens development anyway. What happened?
Developers Profit. Do We?
City Hall was packed on September 5th when the Mayor and Commission discussed the Mitchell Street rezoning requested by developer Carl Nichols — rezoning which would allow the developers to make an estimated $30 million on condos they had actively promoted as being for the extremely rich. Citing concerns about size, affordability and traffic, the Planning Commission had voted against the project six to one — and our elected Athens Clarke County Commissioners had received over a hundred emails opposing the rezone.
Athens for Everyone stood with dozens of allies who spoke at the podium about our need for affordable housing and sane, rational downtown development that would actually benefit the city and the real people who live here. Constituents provided suggestions: if developers want to profit from us, the Mayor and Commission could incorporate inclusionary zoning that would mandate that the tower have a number of affordable units; they could advocate that the developers hire local black contractors and subcontractors for the project; they could take steps to keep the development from damaging what makes our city special; and could make sure the people who will gain from the luxury vacation homes in Athens actually give something back.
Seven Commissioners Voted for the Wildly Unpopular Rezone, No Strings Attached
The majority of the commission did not listen. Seven of our ten commissioners — Sharyn Dickerson, Harry Sims, Allison Wright, Diane Bell, Andy Herod, Mike Hamby and Jerry NeSmith — voted yes on the rezoning. They voted against their own community to prioritize third and fourth homes for wealthy retirees from Atlanta who only come to Athens on gamedays, and they voted to give the developers $30 million in revenue, but they asked for nothing beyond the usual property taxes for our city in return — and they provided no credible plan that even those tax monies would be used for progressive policies. Why did these commissioners only value the needs of the wealthy few? And do you know if your commissioner one of them?
Five ACC Commissioners joined Mayor Denson and the Would-Be Developer to Raise Funds for a GOP Candidate
Commissioners Dickerson, NeSmith, Bell, Herod and Hamby — plus a large number of prominent commercial real-estate developers that included Carl Nichols, the developer of the Mitchell street project — joined Mayor Nancy Denson to host a fundraiser for Republican Houston Gaines’ campaign for Georgia State House 117 on August 31st. The fallout for Mayor Denson was dramatic: she was removed from the ACC Democratic Committee last Thursday for breaking their bylaws by campaigning for a Republican when there is a strong Democrat — Deborah Gonzalez — in the same race.
Athens votes for Democrats. 65% of ACC voted for Clinton last fall. Why are so many of our local elected officials campaigning for a Republican? Gaines’ platform is minimal; even those who support him mostly emphasize that he’s “a nice guy.” If elected, he will join and vote with a radical Republican majority in the Georgia state legislature that prioritizes corporations and the wealthy while neglecting everyone else; that attacks immigrants, women, LBGTQ folks, the environment, and our right to peaceful protest; that voted against Medicaid expansion which denied insurance for thousands of Athenians, that rejects criminal justice reform, that refuses to raise our minimum wage, and that has gerrymandered Georgia’s voting districts to keep a lock on their power. Deborah Gonzalez is also “a nice lady,” but in stark contrast with Gaines she has a robust progressive platform and policy positions that will help, not hurt, the people of Georgia.
Five days after the five Commissioners co-hosted the Republican event alongside Carl Nichols, the would-be Mitchell street developer, they all voted yes on the Mitchell Street rezone.
Athens is Solidly Progressive. Why Doesn’t Our Mayor and Commission Reflect That?
Why does Athens have the Mayor and Commission that we do? It’s a good idea on paper: Athens Clarke County has a non-partisan local government. In practice, however, non-partisan elections have allowed many candidates to run progressive-sounding campaigns while actually standing for the status quo, if they stand for anything at all. We are a progressive city that still somehow elected a Commission majority that votes conservatively on issues that matter— issues like the Mitchell Street development which really only benefit the wealthy and powerful.
Athens Deserves Politicians Who Represent Athens
How do we start electing the kind of Mayor and Commission Athens deserves? Next May 22nd, Athens will be holding elections for Mayor and commission districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 9 – that’s Sharyn Dickerson, Harry Sims, Melissa Link, Jared Bailey, Diane Bell and Kelly Girtz respectively (Girtz and Sims will be running for mayor). We need to demand clear platforms and positions from every candidate for office, and we need to hold them to their progressive positions once they’re in office. Every election cycle Athens for Everyone creates a questionnaire to send to all ACC candidates. Candidates who choose to respond have to take clear positions on transportation, the needs of black people in Athens, housing, marijuana legalization, a single-use plastic bag ban, and more. Candidates who choose not to respond make their priorities clear. Athens for Everyone also tracks and publishes how our Mayor and individual Commissioners vote on key issues, and we provide you with publicly available info about their campaign donation history. Athens for Everyone endorses and campaigns for candidates like the Commission’s most progressive member, Melissa Link. We fight for transparency, clarity, and honesty. This is how we empower Athens to choose the candidates ACC wants and needs—candidates that work for us, not against us. On May 22nd we have the chance to get one step closer to an Athens for Everyone. This is how we win.
Athens for Everyone
October 3rd, 2017