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Candidate Qualifying Starts Monday for Vacant ACC Commission Seat

Candidates who are thinking of running to replace Mariah Parker on the Athens-Clarke County Commission won’t have long to decide. Qualifying will start Monday, Dec. 19 and run through noon Wednesday, Dec. 21. Anyone who’s at least 18 years old and lives in the district can go to the Board of Elections office, slap down $450 and put their name on the ballot.

Keep in mind, though, that come January, District 2 will look vastly different than the District 2 Parker represented until they announced their resignation in August. Thanks to Republican state legislators almost completely redrawing commission district maps over local objections during post-Census redistricting earlier this year, most of what used to be District 2 will be part of a brand-new District 3 that has no overlap with the current District 3. Tiffany Taylor was elected to that seat in May, since incumbent Melissa Link was drawn out and could not run again.

Meanwhile, the new District 2 consists of East Athens inside the Loop, plus much of Link’s old District 3, including part of downtown, Boulevard, the Hancock Corridor and Normaltown (including a bit of old District 5 around King Avenue), but not Cobbham or most of downtown, which are now in District 4, nor the Kathwood Drive area, which is now in District 5. Got it?

Link has already indicated her intention to run, and several others are rumored to be interested as well. Kirrena Gallagher, the District 2 representative on the Clarke County Board of Education, announced Thursday night that she will resign to seek the commission seat. (Because the BOE has nine districts instead of 10, and its district map wasn’t drastically redrawn, the BOE’s District 2 is not the same as the commission’s, but it appears Gallagher lives within the new Commission District 2 boundaries.)

One potential candidate who won’t be running is Cameron Harrelson, a local political operative and immediate past president of the Athens Pride + Queer Collective. Harrelson released a statement earlier this week withdrawing from the race:

I’ve devoted much of my adult life to serving my community. Why? Because it matters. Because I want to preserve the welcoming, kind spirit of Athens that welcomed me as an unsure 18 year old nearly a decade ago. Perhaps most of all because I want others to feel empowered to make changes in their communities and in their own lives. We, as a people, are so powerful. 

When I learned the District 2 commissioner Mariah Parker had abruptly resigned, I immediately thought, “perhaps this is the time.” I was flooded with messages of support from elected officials, friends, and leaders in our diverse communities asking me to run for this seat. I’ve heard you, I’m grateful for the trust you all have in my abilities, and I’m not going anywhere. 

With that being said, leadership is knowing when to speak up and be heard. Leadership is also knowing when to yield and step aside. Having given this much thought, consideration, and prayer, I will NOT be a candidate for the District 2 commission seat in March. 

My advocacy for my communities and the countless Athenians who have been left behind, pushed aside, and often forgotten will continue. My desire to improve our local political discourse and to call out the extremists of all ideologies will continue. Our elections are not a coronation for who is “next in line” or “entitled to a seat”. By contrast, they are a chance for voters to have their voice heard and often a chance for voters to change course.

I might run one day, but today I find peace in knowing that there will be new leadership in District 2. Leadership that puts people ahead of politics, reality ahead of rhetoric, and actual policy ahead of politics. 

My love of this city is stronger than ever. My love for all of you cannot be adequately expressed with words. Thank you all for believing in me. 

Election Day is Mar. 24, with an Apr. 18 runoff if necessary. Whoever wins will serve out the last 21 months of Parker’s term, ending Jan. 7, 2025.

In Gallagher’s case, the process is different. Rather than hold a special election, the remaining school board members will choose her replacement. Details on the application process will be announced at a later date, according to a CCSD news release.