Black is white, up is down, and I don’t know who’s allied with whom on the Athens-Clarke County Commission anymore.
The first split vote of Tuesday evening came on plans to renovate Sandy Creek Park. Commissioner Melissa Link took issue with picnic tables made of what she called an unsustainable type of wood from the Amazon. The plans passed 8–2, with Link joined by an unlikely ally, Commissioner Mike Hamby.
Every year, the Mayor and Commission set “goals and objectives” for the upcoming Athens-Clarke County budget that address everything from energy efficiency to transit to housing. Dry and complicated, yes, but they dictate how the government spends your money, so important, right?
This year’s process has been bumpier than usual, as various commissioners have proposed a host of changes and additions, and after putting off discussion at their October work session, the commission voted Tuesday to put off a vote until February.
Some of commissioners’ proposals (environmental and transportation issues, mainly) are more controversial than others (a living wage for part-time ACC employees).
Speakers at Tuesday’s meeting urged the commission to pass the slate of noncontroversial goals and objectives and hold the others for more discussion. That would have taken forever, so Link made a motion to hold them all and have another work session, which the citizens there thought was the second-best option.
The alternative, proposed by Commissioner Sharyn Dickerson, would have been to pass the goals and objectives proposed by staff as-is, then have a work session to talk about the others. The danger, though, was that the commission might never have gotten around to talking about the others. Denson’s MO is to block things she doesn’t like by ignoring them—so goodbye, goals and objectives dealing with solar power, affordable housing, Prince Avenue, the bike master plan and other issues that are important to progressives.
Voting on Link’s motion first, the commission deadlocked 5–5, with Link , Hamby and commissioners Jared Bailey, Jerry NeSmith and Kelly Girtz in favor. (Keep in mind, this is what Athens for Everyone preferred of the two options.) Mayor Nancy Denson broke the tie… in Link’s favor.
During public comments, former commissioner Alvin Sheats introduced “The Hancock and Athens Coalition Against Displacement.” The group is concerned with real-estate speculation and gentrification in the Hancock Corridor and students displacing longtime African American residents. This is a very serious issue we needed to address yesterday, but when one speaker accused “the university [of] buying up land” in the neighborhood for student housing:
Then came, as the Athens Banner-Herald’s Jim Thompson calls them, the Kids for Dope.
Having resisted the urge to make a run for the border for two hours, the group, led by Georgia CARE President James Bell, again asked for a “parallel ordinance” decriminalizing marijuana possession. (The county attorney thinks this would be illegal.)
During his end-of-the-meeting comments, NeSmith, a longtime proponent of New Urbanism, said he wants to change the zoning on Atlanta Highway between Hawthorne Avenue and the Loop to accommodate suburban, auto-centric commercial development.
“We need to compete with Oconee County, and we need to do it soon,” he said.