Athens for Everyone sent a questionnaire about local issues of interest to our members to all ten Commissioners and the Mayor. We have published their responses here, unedited and in-full. Any Commissioner who has not yet responded is free to do so at any time and their responses will be posted.
A4E 2016 Commissioner QuestionnaireAn upcoming T-SPLOST program is projected to yield millions of dollars of additional revenue for ACC transportation infrastructure over the next five years. How do you believe we should prioritize the allocation of this revenue, assuming the measure passes?
If Athens is to become a truly sustainable livable city as we face a future of uncertain fossil-fuel availability and increasing cost of living, we must firmly commit to a functional transportation network that focuses on sidewalks, crosswalks, protected bike lanes, and convenient bus routes. I believe TSPLOST dollars should predominantly be spent on projects that make getting around town safe and convenient for people, not simply for cars. It is not merely a matter of quality of life and environmental impact, but an economic justice issue as an in-town affordable housing crisis leaves more people with less money to spend on keeping cars running…”
b. Expanded public transit
c. Street paving/maintenance
d. Electric car charging stations”
I also believe it is essential that we get a proper bike corridor through Downtown to encourage the thousands of new student residents to keep out of their cars and enable a safe, direct cycling route to the Greenway & future Firefly trail for the thousands more residents of the neighborhoods west of Downtown. Other priorities include Magnolia Street, a very busy pedestrian corridor connecting several neighborhoods directly to the ACC Library & Baxter St. that is in desperate need of a sidewalk, and Vincent Drive, a suburban speedway running through several very dense lower-income neighborhoods with an ACC park at one end which is utterly inaccessible to anyone on foot thanks to a lack of sidewalks on a road flanked by drainage ditches.
Places outside my district that could use a road diet, complete street treatment, or general ped/bike accommodations include North Ave, Oconee/Lexington, Timothy/Mitchell Br/Atl Hwy area, & Gaines School/Barnett Shoals Rd. I would like to see us readdress our Planning code to more clearly direct developers to make ped/bike safety accommodations & implement impact fees to cover the cost of nearby improvements made necessary by the traffic impacts of new development on existing neighborhoods as illustrated by recent situations on Yonah Ave. & Sylvia Circle.
There are many transportation-related projects that make their way through the system each year, and too often they do not optimally accommodate bike/ped & transit needs. This is why I’ve been continually advocating for the formation of an Alternative Transportation Commission to properly evaluate & offer recommendations on such projects & relieve staff of some burden in assisting in the design of such projects.”
b. I continue to press the Mayor for new zoning/land use regulations for commercial corridors that abut residential neighborhoods.
i. Prince Av from loop 10 to Dougherty
ii. Boulevard (Northwest of town)
d. NOTE: I do not believe that Commissioners are the best source of these priorities. An ad hoc citizens committee should be formed to make recommendations and justifications for those priorities.”
Although not directly part of the Complete Streets program, I do think it’s important to recognize that the “Safe Routes to Schools” program has been crucial in improving pedestrian & cyclist safety around our schools. Before I was on the Commission I worked on the original project that was eventually funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation in 2008 and we now have several such projects for local schools. By providing for general signalized improvements, stamped colorized crosswalks, and improved signage around each of the schools, improving safety around schools is part of an ongoing effort by the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County (UGACC) in partnership with a number of other entities, including the University of Georgia and the Clarke County School District. I fully support this.”
WHEREAS, the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County strives to be a leader in environmental stewardship while fostering a positive climate for economic development and a vibrant community for personal growth;”
b. ACC should take advantage of the Solarize Athens initiative using funds available.
c. ACC should formalize a set of goals for solarizing its properties, especially water and sewage treatment plants.
d. Additional electric car chargers should be available downtown.
e. Shopping centers should be incentivized to install electric car chargers.
f. ACC should continue to fund and support efforts to retrofit more efficient lighting (LED) and HVAC systems.”
More generally, I think that the government has an important role to play in encouraging wise resource use, and I think that we have done a pretty good job of doing so (though there is always more to do, obviously). Thus, in addition to seeking to protect water quality, we have also been using alternate energy sources for some of our buildings. Several of our buildings already have photovoltaic/ alternate energy systems. The lighting in the new Park & Ride facility on Oconee Street is also powered by solar energy, as is the Department of Corrections’s LED parking lot lighting. In terms of our local natural resources, I was personally heavily involved in UGACC’s purchase of 310 acres of pristine, environmentally sensitive and historically important woodland, which sits along a stretch of the Middle Oconee River (the “Tallassee tract”). Specifically, after being approached by the Athens Land Trust, Commissioner Mike Hamby and I secured access to greenspace money to purchase this land and protect it in perpetuity.
In terms of future policies, I would like to see us continue to move in the same direction, switching to non-fossil fuel energy sources where possible and ensuring that as much waste (both organic and non-organic materials) as possible is kept out of the landfill by encouraging ever more recycling.
Finally, one of the best things that we can do is to inculcate in the next generation the values of recycling and wise resource use. In that regard the UGACC has been involved with our partners in the School system in several educational efforts to encourage students to learn about recycling and responsible use of the planet’s resources, efforts which I support.”
Unfortunately, we cannot develop a truly effective inclusionary zoning policy without seriously reconsidering the density allowances of our Downtown zone. Inclusionary zoning only works when municipalities can offer density bonuses as incentives to developers allowing them to build larger than typically allowed projects to accommodate required percentages of affordable units. Our current downtown density of 200 bedrooms per acre is the maximum our infrastructure can handle & unless we are willing to downzone this most coveted place to build, we have no leverage by which to enforce or encourage such a policy.
I have been advocating for a moratorium on large-scale multifamily housing projects since before I took office. I believe it is long past time we took a break to truly assess our Downtown development & affordable housing situation & determined new design & zoning guidelines to properly guide the near future development of our community to accommodate the housing & economic needs of a greater diversity of our population. This is a recommendation that could be initiated via the Downtown Master Plan Implementation Committee & I’ve repeatedly begged fellow committee members that we take it up, but committee chair Commissioner Mike Hamby insists that we are tasked only with addressing the myriad individual projects outlined in the DTMP and are not to address any policy initiatives related to Downtown. A meeting of this committee has not been called since October.”
b. I think tax incentives, similar to TADs, should be implemented in appropriate locations, such as apartments and certain neighborhoods. These incentives provide tax incentives for their re-development.
c. Some of our zoning/land use ordinances need to be re-examined in terms of their minimum home size, setbacks, etc., to make building of workforce housing more affordable.”
In this regard, I would absolutely support an inclusionary zoning ordinance. Indeed, it was one of the things on which I first ran back in 2007. Additionally, as you know, the M&C has commissioned a housing study and one of the things that I hope it will help us with is some suggestions about what to do with some of the deteriorating multi-family apartment complexes that exist across the county, but especially on the eastside. In particular, I would be interested in exploring some kind of public-private partnership in which we could improve these properties as they reach the end of their lifecycle so that they can be repurposed as good quality places in which Athens’s workers could choose to live, either renting or perhaps purchasing units. I would also be interested in trying to partner with some of the larger local businesses and other entities like UGA, the School District, the hospitals etc. to see if there were some type of housing assistance initiatives that could be started. Certainly, other communities do this and I think it is something that we should explore as well.”
ACC must focus on attracting New Economy info/bio tech & creative industry to Athens that will provide appropriate careers for all the bartenders, baristas, waitresses, & sous chefs with graduate degrees out there and open up better jobs for lower wage workers. ACC can also make a commitment to make life a bit easier for lower-income working class folks by investing in public transit, incentivizing affordable in-town housing, & committing to expanded & affordable youth programming via our Leisure Services Department to provide some additional childcare options for working-class families.”
b. The State legislature should be encouraged by ALL local governments to either raise the minimum (state) wage or to allow local governments to decide.
c. ACC government should implement a living wage for all employees and revisit that wage limit annually.”
Finally, I recently served upon the implementation committee for the Economic Development taskforce. As part of this, UGACC has re-examined some of its planning and zoning requirements and adjusted them in places where they no longer made much sense. I am a firm believer that good zoning and planning requirements are important to our economic health.”
Unfortunately, little action seems to happen in Athens without everyday citizens coming forward in significant numbers to demand change and the terrible stigma & culture of silence surrounding sexual assault means that the stories that the powers-that-be need to hear in order to implement some action are likely to go unheard. I hope that some brave young women will find some way to share their experiences & offer some insight into what the local government can do to help change the culture. I believe we can start by mandating sexual assault awareness training among all bar workers and also requiring that awareness info be predominantly posted in all bars in Athens. And we can make a clear plea to UGA powers-that-be to commit to educational programs on campus to demand a culture of consent.
Most importantly, we need to be certain that our police force are thoroughly trained to deal with all manner of sexual assault & harassment incidents while women are thoroughly empowered to report them and perpetrators are properly pursued & punished. It is a terribly sensitive topic, but it is a problem we cannot solve unless we overcome the taboo & talk openly about it.”
b. There is a rich set of aids (games, documents, discussion guidelines), available to teachers, Sunday School teachers and parents, designed to teach the concept of respectful touch and clear consent. Those materials should be made readily available to those teachers, scout leaders, etc. (These games and aids should only be used with parental consent.)
c. Public health services and schools need to provide materials such as those available from Our Feminist Playschool to give parents a new perspective on the importance (and how to) include concepts and practices of consent into their parenting.
d. People should be encouraged to get involved when they see what might be abusive or nonconsensual activities, whether the activity is sex or not.
e. I should behave with respect to the concept of a culture of consent.”
In terms of what the UGACC can do, I think that the first thing is for our police officers and others to believe a victim when she or he says that s/he has been sexually assaulted, at least until evidence points in another direction. [I am not saying that they do not necessarily already do this, but it is an important element in the situation that we should always remember.] The worst possible feeling, I imagine, is having to convince the authorities that you have been sexually assaulted. We also need to make sure that evidence such as DNA from rape kits is processed quickly and stored securely, so that offenders can be quickly identified and arrested. Additionally, we need to provide our law enforcement and judicial entities with financing sufficient to prosecute these offenders. In this regard, the Mayor & Commission has provided matching funds in support of several applications for Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) monies and I think that we need to continue to do this. Finally, as a government we should attempt to help people who find themselves in abusive relationships. In this regard, we have also supported entities like Project Safe, who have helped myriad women escape abusive relationships. In terms of protecting the community from stranger assaults, I think that police patrols and ensuring that walkways etc. are well lit are important. But, at the end of the day, the key is to address the culture of violence that seems to pervade our society. This is a longer-term issue but I believe that encouraging people to respect others and be civil to one another is central to this.”
We also need to take a long, hard look at the underlying causes of criminal activity in our community, not just what we do with criminals once they get in the system. We need to reach out to high-crime communities, identify community leaders, & involve such leaders in understanding community needs & developing & implementing strategies to overcome factors that lead individuals to turn to criminal activity. Of course this starts with providing jobs & youth activities that are interesting, educational, healthy, & conducive to the communities they serve.
Such an analysis hopefully will begin with the creation of a Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee as requested in our FY17 Goals & Strategies. I look forward to seeing the formation of this committee & I trust that the Mayor will see to it that it is properly inclusive of individuals with the knowledge, experience, vision, & connections to ensure success.”
b. Expand the use of Drug Courts, DUI courts, Veterans courts and other Restorative Justice instruments.”
In terms of specifics, UGACC continues to be a leader amongst communities on diverting alleged offenders and convicted offenders from jail and we need to continue working on the progress we have made. For instance, we have created numerous accountability courts and pre-trial diversion programs as a way of keeping people out of the jail. These programs have won numerous awards for their innovative nature. By focusing upon treatment and requiring participants to hold down a job and/or to attend school, such programs have a higher success rate of returning people to productive lives than do programs which simply incarcerate them without treatment. Our Diversion Center for non-violent offenders (such as people who have failed to pay child support) likewise has kept many people out of the jail. This benefits both the taxpayers but also the individual involved. By being able to work they not only can have a more productive life than sitting out at the jail but they can also earn money to, for instance, pay their child support. In my early days on the Commission we also brought Probation Services back in-house (a previous M&C had privatized it). Not only did this generate savings for the taxpayers that could be put towards other things but it has been of significant benefit to probationers, too – not only do they no longer have to pay many of the fees that they previously paid to the private probation service who used to run the operation, but in many instances the ACC probation service has looked to alternatives to fees when those on probation have been deemed not to have sufficient funds to pay them. With the change in the way things are done, a higher number of probationers have been able to complete their GEDs than was the case when probation was done by that private service, which was interested in little more than collecting its probation fees. The in-house system has also helped reduce the recidivism rate amongst those on probation.
More broadly in the realm of criminal justice, one important additional thing that the M&C has done is support the use of body cameras by ACCPD officers. Such cameras serve to protect both law enforcement officers and the general public – members of the public have evidence of police wrongdoing should such occur whilst police officers have video which can protect them from false claims of wrongdoing.
All in all, most of the decisions about who is actually held at the jail are made by the judges rather than the Mayor & Commission, as it is the judges who determine who may be bonded out and/ or released on their own recognisance pre-trial and who must be held without bond. But the M&C should certainly continue to encourage and support alternate sentencing and diversion courts where appropriate. All of these developments in our criminal justice system are critical to making sure that we have a just system that punishes the guilty and protects the innocent, and we must continue finding ways to ensure that people have productive alternatives to conducting criminal acts.”
I will continue to support programs and initiatives that can help end the cycle of Alcohol and Other Substance Addition and Abuse and that help those who suffer from it find successful treatment options. Additional, I will remain supportive of programs and initiatives that help the victims of Alcohol and Other Substance Addiction and Abuse’s surrounding issues.”
b. Close behind is changing the economics and competitiveness of our suburban, auto-centric commercial corridors (Atlanta Highway, Lexington Road, for example). Our zoning/land use ordinances must be made appropriate for the commercial development in these corridors that we need for commerce, resulting in more employment and tax revenue to support public safety, transit, infrastructure, education and other essential services.
c. At the same time, land use ordinances for such corridors as Prince Avenue must be changed to protect the values of the surrounding neighborhoods with regard to commercial encroachment, traffic (auto, pedestrian, bicycle) safety, and quality of life.”
First, I think that it is vital that we prepare the groundwork for an upcoming TSPLOST vote. This will involve selecting projects and making sure that the referendum is successful, when it occurs. We have a lot of transportation-related infrastructure projects that are, essentially, shovel-ready but just lack the financing for them.
Second, and somewhat related to the above item, I hope that we can make some significant progress on the Lexington Road corridor. In this regard, I would particularly like to see a planted median along the corridor, which will improve the corridor’s aesthetics, but also pedestrian bridges, for those seeking to cross it safely. I would also like to see sidewalks put in place and an access road. We have already begun to look at the possibility of some multi-parcel stormwater detention ponds that should make redevelopment of some of the parcels more feasible and are planning some beautification projects along the corridor too. I think that making the corridor look nicer is a key step in encouraging some higher quality private-sector investment that can provide some good paying jobs along it and also improve its revenue-generating capacity (property and sales tax revenues), as the provision of services to the residents of the county requires having a solid revenue stream to do so.”
“During my time as an employee with the ACC Solid Waste Department (1991-2005), I was honored to have been given the opportunity to be involved in the development and implementation of our Comprehensive Waste Reduction Program. As Recycling Coordinator and later as the Assistant Director of Solid Waste, I was in charge of managing the overall effort. The effort included the procurement of a public-private Recovered Materials Processing Facility, expansion of residential recycling collection services, establishment of commercial recycling services in downtown Athens, and the introduction of a Pay-as-You-Throw garbage fee system for both residential and commercial customers (which allowed the customer to manage their garbage much like other utilities such as gas, power, and water). Perhaps the accomplishment I am most proud of is the public-private Recovered Materials Processing Facility. As Project Manager, I was tasked with overseeing its construction. This facility was and is still today the cornerstone of our waste reduction program. With a private investment of $2.5 million dollars, the facility opened in August of 1995 and was the first and only one of its kind in the state of Georgia. Combining the use of publicly-owned, government land with a privately-owned and operated facility, we created a unique public-private partnership. The facility and the programs we established more than 20 years ago would not have been possible without the foresight of our local elected officials (especially, the efforts of then District 1 Commissioner Charles Carter, Chairman of the Solid Waste Citizen Advisory Committee), the hard work of all Solid Waste Department and Recycling Division employees, the continued support and countless hours of work by our dedicated Solid Waste Citizen Advisory Committee members, and the voluntary participation by the citizens of Athens-Clarke County.”
“I am most proud of the hundreds of citizens who have reached out & spoken up to influence the workings of their local government. I am a staunch believer in participatory democracy & this is most achievable at the local level, but citizens can only participate when they are well informed. I utilize a public Facebook page to inform citizens of meetings, news, happenings, etc. on a daily basis & maintain regular contact with citizens advocacy groups to make them aware of initiatives as they make their way through what is too often a very complex & bureaucratic system, encouraging them to pay attention & offer input at the earliest possible stages of an initiative. Almost every progressive measure that has been accomplished in the past year was initiated via citizen outcry and this reaffirms my faith in the power of democracy, despite the hurdles to transparency that too often stand in the way.
If not for a handful of citizens offering input on tweaks to our Definition of Agriculture, chickens would still be illegal; It took a handful of young entrepreneurs stepping up to plead for the right to operate their businesses to enable food trucks to park Downtown; It took hundreds of citizens led by Athens For Everyone signing petitions, writing letters, & lining up at the podium to expand Athens Transit service to Sundays, transforming the lives of thousands who are now able to get to church or work, visit family, do their shopping, or take a day in the park; And it takes the ongoing activism of hundreds of residents led by BikeAthens & Complete Streets Athens speaking out regularly for safer streets & sidewalks for all to advocate for multiple improvement projects throughout the past year. I hope these voices will continue & grow so we can achieve our collective vision of an inclusive community that truly values the desires of everyday citizens.”
“1. I was on the CCSD Sex Education Committee that studied and changed out District Policy so that CCSD school site personal could discuss contraception with students. CCSD was the 1st school district in GA to allow this. Before school personnel were ‘forbidden’ to discuss the topic of contraception will students. Our County’s teen pregnancy rate has decreased since that policy change. Additionally programs are in place of age appropriate discussions for sex education and related topics.
2. Designating Elementary School attendance zones was another important accomplishment of our school district and I was a strong supporter of this change.
It was challenging and emotionally charged process that took many years to complete. When my sons were unable to attend Pre-K at our neighborhood elementary school I was motivated to get involved beyond PTA and this led me to be on the school board. Our home was less than half a mile from our neighborhood elementary school and we were assigned to a school 14 miles away with a 45 minute bus ride – one way.
3. Hiring a superintendent for our school district that became the Georgia and National Superintendent of the year in 2015. It is a reflection of all the ongoing hard work and progressive programs and initiatives executed by our teachers for students and district leadership.
Audit committee work to address Leisure Services internal audit and funding support of external vendor to assist with this undertaking.
Facilitating progress and implementation of School Crossing guards at the Five Points intersection.
Current work for Sidewalk matrix improvements through LRC. Taxi stands in Downtown for ACC cabs only. Support for improved goals and objective process.
All my committee assignments, KACCB, Community Tree Council, Legislative Review Committee, Audit Committee, economic development implementation committee, CCSD Citizens Oversight Committee. Downtown Master Plan Implementation.
Taking 66 hours of continuing Education with Association of County Commissioners of Georgia to become a certified Commissioner, 2015.
Completing the Georgia Academy for Economic Development’s Regional Economic and Leadership Development program, 2015.”
“a. As a Planning Commissioner I was proud of the changes in our zoning ordinances, including making Conservation Subdivisions more meaningful, rather than an loophole for building dense, low-quality housing and degrading the greenbelt.
b. As a Planning Commissioner I was proud to participate in prohibiting clear cut and mass grading practices and the tree (canopy) ordinance.
c. As a Planning Commissioner I always tried to understand the negative impacts and positive impacts of a proposed development or zoning changes, especially on surrounding residential neighborhoods and place protection of those neighborhoods at the top of my considerations and decision-making.
d. As a Planning Commissioner it was important to be sure that developers heard the opinions of the neighbors affected by their proposals and that their proposals considered ways to minimize these effects.
e. As a County Commissioner, I am gratified by the Urban Agriculture ordinance.
f. I am gratified about Sunday Bus Service.
g. I am proud that we were able to balance the budget, even during the hard times, while respecting our citizens’ needs as much as possible.
h. I am proud of my support of the Oconee Rivers Greenway Commission.
i. I am proud of my success in raising awareness and finding a way to save the Rowland property on Atlanta Highway at no tax payer expense.
j. I am proud that I supported the Wetlands Buffer ordinance, even though it failed. I will continue to support it.
k. I am hopeful and committed to efforts to improve the economic viability of Atlanta Highway.
l. I am hopeful about continuing to press for a Complete Streets ordinance.
m. I am proud of the services that I have provided to my constituents.”
“For sure, there are some specific things to which I would point as accomplishments – ongoing protection of our environmental resources, encouraging economic development, funding various social service projects that are important to people’s lives, convincing my colleagues to locate the Tennis Center at SE Clarke Park, and being one of the Commissioners leading the charge to create our Department of Economic Development. But, in general, the thing I am most proud of is helping people solve the problems that affect their lives but which may not seem that important to many – problems such as making sure that a pothole got fixed or a sidewalk got built or that a flooding issue got resolved. These may seem small things but when they are affecting you they are very important. It is the kind notes and phone calls and emails over the years where people simply have expressed their gratitude for the small ways in which I have been able to help them address issues that they were facing that I will most remember when I am no longer a Commissioner.”