August 30, 2017

ACC Should Make It Easier for Citizens to Stay Informed

I've been interested in attending Athens-Clarke County meetings for the past two years due to my mission to create zoning changes that would allow tiny houses in Athens. I have gotten myself added to various email lists about upcoming meetings that might apply to this topic, but there's a serious flaw in the system being used. I often receive an email informing me about a meeting on such-and-such date at such-and-such time. Then, there either is or isn't a second email informing me that the meeting has been changed.

Recently, I missed a meeting about the comprehensive plan for ACC that I really wanted to attend due to the change in the hour for the meeting. After I missed the meeting, I was talking with a few friends who live and work in Athens, and they hadn't even heard about the comprehensive plan. In my opinion, ACC isn't doing enough to announce these important, lifestyle-changing meetings. These friends and many other people will end up with decisions made chiefly by ACC officials because no one knew about them before the final decisions were made.

There's a serious flaw in the announcement of these meetings and their agendas to the residents of Athens. Unless one spends the time to do a search for these meetings, there is no way, other than word of mouth or the unacceptable system of the emails I mentioned above, to hear about what is up for discussion. Eventually, once the votes have been counted, the changes will be implemented, and most people will be scratching their heads wondering, “Why did that happen?”

There should be a full-page ad about any meeting being held that would invite public input on decisions which would affect most of the residents of Athens-Clarke County. There's no better way that I can think of—sky writing?—that would ensure that more people would be informed about meeting topics and the dates, times and locations of the meetings. And changing the date and/or times should not be an option once the meetings have been announced.

Many residents of Athens read Flagpole each week. The meetings would be seen and talked about, and more people would speak up. Right now, only a handful of people are attending meetings where I'd expect to see much more interest.

The decisions made are skewed toward people who have a stake in getting their agenda  adopted—often developers who don't even live in Athens. I'm disgusted with the monstrosities that have been built as student resorts over the past couple of years. I can't think of anyone I've talked with who thinks they look great or add anything positive to our downtown. In fact, they detract from the way most of us think of “downtown,” with local shops and restaurants; a pleasant place to walk and meet up with friends; a funky, charming, cozy downtown that is now overshadowed by those high-rise apartment buildings and parking decks and hotels and additions to the Classic Center.

I'm begging everyone to get involved and demand better information distribution for the residents of Athens. Otherwise, we will be left scratching our heads and wondering, "What happened to the 40 Watt?" or any other landmark we would hate to lose due to development.