Tommy Valentine

Candidate for Commission, District 9
(706) 296-3583
Tommy’s website
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We have endorsed Tommy’s opponent, Ovita Thornton, for commissioner of District 9.

Questionnaire Responses


  • Do you support fare-free bus service?: YES

“Transportation is a human need. Fare-free bus service 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)? 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? 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? 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 statewide ban or fee on single-use plastic bags? 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? 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? YES

“Athens has a history defined by racial barriers and intolerance. We must pass protections on race, age, gender, LGBTQ, & immigrant status.” Q: 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? A: (click to read)

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? YES

“Families and communities come in different shapes, types, and sizes. All deserve access to affordable housing options.” Q: 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? A: (click to read)

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: Our next event is an Affordable Housing Potluck & Discussion, to be held at First AME Church, within walking distance of Bethel Homes:

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

Q: 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? A: (click to read)
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

Q: 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? A: (click to read)
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.


Q: 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? A: (click to read)
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.


Q: What is your most important policy priority for 2018? A: (click to read)
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.