From left, Thornton and Valentine.
A Cedar Shoals graduate who came up in the local hip-hop community, Tommy Valentine got his start in politics managing Bobby Saxon’s 2008 congressional campaign against Paul Broun and worked on several other local races before deciding to run himself. He is an outspoken proponent of diversity, protections against discrimination and ending inequality. Thornton is, as well, and she brings to the table a wealth of experience working for the school board, nonprofits and an ad hoc group working to improve the notorious Section 8 housing complex Bethel Midtown Village. While Valentine has raised more money, Thornton has the benefit of stronger ties in the district—one of the most diverse in Athens, running from gentrified Pulaski Heights to gentrifying Newtown to African-American and immigrant neighborhoods in the northern part of the county. The progressive group Athens for Everyone endorsed Thornton while praising Valentine, local Democrats are fine with them both, and Republicans who took a recent straw poll don’t like either one. Flip a coin.
Occupation: Nonprofit director and school board member
Residence: Fowler Drive
Top priorities (from Thornton's candidate questionnaire):
Some of my platform issues are paradigm shifts from the traditional role of local government, but all are designed to address the 38% poverty rate in Athens which we have all expressed concerns.
I. Building Community Together- My first platform issue is to help organize a group of residents to be educated, engaged and empowered to address the issues affecting District 9. The assets in District 9 are great, but threats are greater. One person cannot effectively represent such a diverse area effectively. We need people power-District 9 Ambassadors. This is a great opportunity for the community coming together to reverse the poverty rate.
We have representation in the following areas: starting the 100 residents in the district---District 9 Ambassadors. We have reached our goal with residents for the North Ave. Corridor, Pulaski Heights, North Athens, Hwy 129, Bethel Midtown Village, Dougherty and College Ave, Newtown, Hwy 78 Ave, area Pittard Road area. Our goal was 100 Ambassadors, which we have reached, and will continue to grow. See website for details of Ambassadors.
2. Economic Development Plan-Only through a laser sharp economic development plan, will we impact the 38% poverty rate. Athens was recently listed as having the country’s third largest economic growth rate in 2017. We need a plan to continue this growth. Working with the Mayor and Commission I would recommend that the Department of Economic Development and the Human Community Development Department work together to compile all community surveys completed within the last two-three years (especially those paid for with taxpayer’s dollars) to develop an economic plan with clear goals and measurable outcomes. HCD is important in this process because we are told repletely that businesses and industry cannot find people with the soft skills, work ethics, or cannot pass a drug test that live in Athens-Clarke County; therefore, they hire people in surrounding counties. HCD can best work with local faith-based and community groups to help remove these barriers. Several years ago, a black ministerial group, attempted to work with this disenfranchised population. With the support of the local government and the community, I am sure we would see a difference in our workforce. Economic trends are changing, we need to continue trying to attract major corporations, but we need to invest in business incubators, small businesses, entrepreneurships, and cooperatives.
We can look at our policies for home-based businesses to ensure they are not creating unnecessary hardships. One of my constituents had a technicality with her home-based daycare, which led to a court hearing. Without going into details, it was an interpretation of the policy which caused her undue hardship. She has moved on, but this should not be an issue for anyone trying to start a legitimate business, meeting state and federal policies, while being stopped by a local policy interpretation.
I would recommend that local government take the lead to work closer with the University of Georgia, Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and other institutions of economic development plan to decrease the poverty. We can no longer work in silos if we are serious or embarrassed by Athens-Clarke County’s poverty rate. Based on the initial survey results that I am aware of, I would recommend looking at Green Opportunities (GO) training and employment programs in Asheville NC. More information on this economic engine can be found on their website www.greenopportunities.org. Again, I as commissioner I would suggest six-month reports on goals and outcomes.
3. Housing Management Partnerships Policies and/or relationships with property developers and housing managers providing low-income housing is necessary to fight poverty. Housing management companies usually needs letters of support from local governments if they are applying for federal housing funding or tax credits. Therefore, they should not only provide safe and decent housing, but provide services for low-income families. Most of these families move into these complexes with emotional, financial, and mental health needs (among others) which often go undetected until there is a problem in the community. This often leads to eviction, causing homelessness and even physical abuse, which incurs court fees, impacts taxes for public safety and social service. I personally do believe governmental housing should be a stepping stone for affordable housing or mixed- community dwelling. But there needs to be support services to help residents to step up. Subsidized housing (Not mixed communities) has been a revolving door for the poor. As commissioner I would propose building relationships with housing management companies to create on-site wrap-around social services, safe and decent housing units, and a pathway to move on when ready. This is a new concept for the commission, but we can no longer afford to use taxpayer dollars for services, and management companies are not investing back into the community.
4. Community Revitalization and Historic Preservation without Gentrification. The 2017 TSPLOST extended the bus lines in North Athens which is major asset to the community. Transportation attracts developers. As commissioner, I would support community revitalization and historic preservation without gentrification-we need not to displace families and our elderly. I will be looking for support from my fellow commissioners, for recreational facilities for youth and elderly in North Ave, walk paths for immigrant students from Pinewood to JJ Harris, repairing the North Ave. bridge, paved streets and lighting and widening streets on Freeman Drive. I will not support all of the new development downtown, which may have a negative impact on neighborhoods; but explore how we can use infills for affordable housing and community gardens. Potential young families will have opportunity of homeownership and the elderly homeowners will not be threaten by losing their homes as we revitalize communities. Other community issues I would address as commissioner include ensuring that our most fragile residents- the homeless, mentally ill, and children have the care and services needed for a quality of life and aren’t just dropped on North Avenue until they can get a bed at Bigger Vision or any of the other homeless shelters. Using my 15 years on the Clarke County Board of Education, I will seek to continue to have a productive collaboration with the school district as we protect and build our community. I will work with the commission to strengthen relationships with non-profit agencies and faith base groups already doing good work will strengthen our community.
5. Criminal Justice Reform-I abhor the social injustice of blacks being treated differently than their white counterparts for possession of marijuana. Therefore, I support the decriminalization of marijuana. But we need to address mental health assistance in our courts, as well. Many of our residents who have a mental health diagnosis are in court for two and three years for the same case because of the bureaucracy. While this is not local government’s direct responsibility, the aftermath becomes our responsibility when they are locked up because of a breakdown, or they lose their home because they can’t cope with the stress of going back and forth to court without any resolve. Again, local government has to assume a different role and take seriously the need for impatient mental health services. This may alleviate our jail population, by providing proper mental health services. We must find opportunities to give second chances to those hindered by a criminal conviction. I would recommend looking at the LaGrange Records Restriction Day Program. In 2017 the police department hosted an expungement project expunging 58 records with over 100 counts erased. I have already started the conversation and will continue this dialogue as commissioner. In addition, bail reform is necessary to address poverty. People incarcerated often lose their jobs, because they cannot post bail, even if they are found not guilty-but we as the taxpayers pay for their jail stay. There are national programs that we should consider. Lastly, I support the sheriff’s committee’s work on the immigration deportation issue. I don’t believe everyone is deported is a criminal. I understand there is interpretation or changes which has caused unrest in our community. As commissioner I will support families as stated by the resolution passed by the Clarke County School District.
Additional points, I hope to work with my fellow commissioners to not only set the example for livable wages increases for governmental employees but upward mobility in all departments. Lastly, as commissioner I know we cannot legislate love but we can set policies against discrimination; I will be supportive of anti-discrimination efforts.
Occupation: PhD student in public administration
Residence: Cleveland Avenue
Top priorities: Valentine did not complete Flagpole's candidate questionnaire.