City DopeNews

City Dope

A multi-use path will stretch along the edge of the Armstrong & Dobbs property from the Trail Head Plaza on East Broad all the way to Winterville and beyond. Plans also call for a second Greenway path to extend through the property itself, connecting with

Real Progress: The Athens Banner-Herald‘s Feb. 10 house editorial contained the following passage: “Now, talk can turn toward a far more productive focus on how the development company can bring its project into compliance with local design guidelines and transportation planning initiatives in a way that satisfies this community’s understandable desire to protect its deservedly treasured downtown area.” The belated acknowledgment—in the context of an op-ed that mainly emphasized the significance of the entry of local African-American leaders into the public discussion of Selig’s Armstrong & Dobbs project—that the development as presented does not appear to be in accordance with ACC’s existing planning code is quite a notable addition to the discourse in its own right. If this signifies the daily paper’s intent to allow Selig’s responsibility to comply with the many local laws that affect its project to remain a part of the story, then we’re really on the right track.

It’s certainly a positive thing to hear from Athens’ black community, which until last week’s meeting of the Mayor and Commission had been mostly silent on the issue, at least in terms of the broad public conversation. African Americans accounted for well over half the packed chamber at the meeting, and their representatives spoke unequivocally in support of the Selig project, citing jobs, tax revenues and access to groceries as the key benefits they expect it to provide. It’s now incumbent on those who have expressed concern about the development’s design to reach out to their fellow Athenians and make it clear that requiring Selig to complete its project in a way that conforms to the laws of this community does not constitute a lack of regard for their interests.

This community issue does not demand that we choose sides, either for economic expansion and alleviation of poverty or for responsible urban development and design. The latter is a means to achieve the former, in ways far less fleeting than turning our backs on priorities that have been established through years of careful planning and at the expense of millions of taxpayer dollars. Again: the Selig development can be a great thing for Athens, and the developers have said all along that they are designing it according to established local guidelines. Let them be held to that promise.

Up in Smoke: Also at last week’s meeting, Mayor Nancy Denson had a somewhat perplexing request for the commission’s Legislative Review Committee. She announced that she was sending the committee the issue of whether to create an exception to ACC’s ban on open burning of yard waste for the Agricultural Residential (AR) zone, which rings most of the county and covers a huge swath of its eastern portion, encompassing far more land than any other zoning classification. The burn ban, adopted in 2003 to help address the county’s poor air quality, has exceptions for purposes like cooking and recreation, fire department training and crop production and harvesting.

It’s difficult to imagine the commission doing anything with the mayor’s request. “Given Athens-Clarke County’s current, or soon-to-be, non-attainment status under federal clean air guidelines,” says LRC member Kelly Girtz, “as well as the general health hazards of the particulate matter that burning brings, I can’t support a rollback in our burn ban, and I would not expect any different outcome from committee discussion on the matter.”

Then There’s This: Someone has pulled an application for a petition to recall Mayor Denson—Gail Schrader, ACC elections supervisor, says the application was issued Feb. 3. It must be returned no more than 15 days from that date with the signatures of 100 “sponsors,” as well as stated grounds for the mayor’s removal from office. Once the application is returned to the county board of elections, Denson then has four business days to appeal those grounds—which can include acts of malfeasance, misconduct or misappropriation of public funds—to a Superior Court judge. If the application holds up, the petitioner will then have 45 days to gather the signatures of a number of registered voters equivalent to at least 30 percent of the number who were registered at the time of Denson’s election—signatures which will then have to be reviewed by ACC Board of Elections staff. Finally, if the petition is successful, an election will be held in ACC to determine whether the mayor should be recalled, and if that’s successful, another special election will be held to replace her.

Yes, it’s very, very complicated, and yes, it’s very, very unlikely to be successful. But it’s happening, and the mayor knows about it, so you should, too. Let the Facebookery begin!

Lastly: The dutiful Dope hands the podium to Flagpole‘s John Huie for his due and informed analysis of the Selig situation:

Townies Caught in the Middle?: Local activists are exactly right when they say big-box stores are a sorry excuse for jobs. Chamber of Commerce President “Doc” Eldridge—an apologist for Walmart’s low wages—has shown little interest in bringing better jobs to Athens. Yet another “task force” study is underway while the last task force report gathers dust with all the others.

Sadly, ACC’s progressiveness has not extended to effective—or even competent—jobs creation here. Athens “is missing out on hundreds if not thousands of private-sector jobs per year, and millions of dollars in private capital investment” because this region lacks a coordinated effort to sell itself, a 2005 task force reported. Since then, nothing has changed… and who cares?

Nobody that matters, really. The logical leader of such an effort—the Chamber of Commerce—is more interested in big-box stores. Commissioners make excuses: “The jobs aren’t coming back.” Oconee County has declined to cooperate with ACC; no other counties have been asked. Globalization may be good for China… but is it good for America? Or just for the 1 percent?

Such questions are now reaching critical mass—especially in ACC, where the high poverty rate shadows the pleasures of our university town. Protestors against the Selig project seemed caught short last week by the passionate defense of even Walmart jobs by people who really need them. The inaction of Athens’ “leaders” is beginning to come to the attention of the people they have failed to represent. The effort for decent jobs and wages is today led not by the Chamber of Commerce, but by antipoverty activists and grassroots leaders.

Townies are stuck in the middle, amazed that anyone would actually want to work at Walmart. Critics of the Selig development find themselves figuratively facing the Occupy protestors: which is more important, limiting big-boxes downtown, or wages for people who are fighting for their lives—the people America has turned its back on? There are big battles and there are smaller battles; and in politics, you must pick your battles.

Is it relevant that Americans lock up far more of our own people in prison, proportionally, than other nations? That our laughable drug and alcohol laws ruin lives? That unprecedented surveillance, detentions, and undeclared wars have become national policy? That our political parties take turns gerrymandering and disenfranchising voters, but always favor their own well-connected donors? That they feed the misdirected passions and paranoia of the ignorant, but always look out for the 1 percent? How they hate the minimum wage—and keep it shamefully low! Have our poor people no bread to eat? Well, can’t they eat cake?

That is our national philosophy, stated by Ayn Rand, demagogued by Rush and Fox, believed by nobody with a brain or a heart but sold along with the 10,000 shoddy things at Walmart and at the voting booth. If we hear it enough, it must be true. Some are laughing all the way to the bank; others are trying to figure out how to fight the madness. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” But, that could change… [John Huie]