City DopeNews

City Dope

A Reminder: So, about 300 people turned out for Saturday’s Rally for a Better Athens to hear a host of speakers—and singers!—make the case against a downtown Walmart. The event was capped with the announcement by Occupy Athens that the group would set up camp at City Hall until its demands for town hall meetings on the Selig development and an apology from Mayor Nancy Denson and the Economic Development Foundation for holding an improperly closed meeting pertaining to the Blue Heron river district proposal are met.
The utility of such gestures as the rally and the occupation, obviously, is in focusing attention on the public issues they’re called to address—in this case, the Selig development. But these particular shows of activism seem to have a lot of people wondering whether the attention they’re drawing to the cause is positive or negative, and that question points to a problem that plagues the public discourse in most communities these days, including ours.
It’s likely that there is a sizable proportion of the Athens population that doesn’t share the views of People for a Better Athens or the occupiers. But if you were to read the online comments on the Athens Banner-Herald story about Saturday’s events, you could be given the impression not only that the activists are viewed by their fellow Athenians with a hostility that borders on rage, but that that view is nearly unanimously held.
Duh, right? They’re anonymous online commenters, and everyone knows what to make of their consensus. Except that the ABH comments are the community’s most prominent and constant forum on local issues from politics to schools to development to crime, and the people who read them are the people who are interested in those matters on the local level. Is it possible that the opinions being voiced in that forum have an outsized influence on the conversations we have about those things? Yes, it is.
The consensus in that forum seems to be that the the 300 people who showed up at Saturday’s rally represent a destructive, radical fringe element of the local populace that wants to undermine our cherished way of life. We shouldn’t need reminding, but it’s crucial that we recognize where that “consensus” is coming from and treat it accordingly. The number of people who regularly comment in the ABH forum is equivalent to a small fraction of the number who actually moved their bodies into the street Saturday, and if you want an idea of what passes for normal discourse amid that group, just check out any article in the ABH that deals with public education (or Martin Luther King, for that matter). As obvious as it may seem, we (and especially, our leaders) need to remind ourselves now and then that those voices are nothing close to a representative sampling of local opinion.

Not Likely: A couple of supporters of the Selig Enterprises development on the Armstrong & Dobbs property have said publicly that that the new property tax revenues it would generate could lead to a lower tax burden for local homeowners. That has struck the Dope as odd, especially considering how strapped the county budget has been in recent years. Would an estimated $1 million in added property taxes really make enough of a difference to allow the mayor and commission to lower the millage rate, lessening the tax load for property owners across the board?
“No, I don’t think so,” says Mayor Nancy Denson, who served for 25 years as the ACC tax commissioner before landing her current gig. Denson points out that county employees have gone three straight years without salary increases, and that the ACC government’s $400,000 share of that $1 million (the rest would go to the school district) “is not likely to reduce the millage rate.”
Hope Iglehart, who has raised the possibility of the development leading to lower taxes at least twice while speaking publicly as a representative of the local NAACP chapter, offers this clarification: “The idea behind the Clarke NAACP being in support of the proposed Selig property is to cultivate the kind of culture that welcomes business to the area… We understand completely Selig cannot and will not be able to stimulate the economy alone. We feel that Selig, along with Caterpillar and other potential businesses, collectively can assist in keeping our property taxes at the current rate or potentially lower them.”
Fair enough. But the fact that more than one person has cited the “lower property taxes” scenario in connection with this project in the past month makes the Dope wonder whether it’s become one of the talking points for Selig officials at the private meetings with selected community members the company’s local PR firm, Jackson Spalding, has been organizing to sway public opinion in the development’s favor. If the Selig folks are putting this idea out into the community to build support for their project, for which, still, no plans have been submitted to anyone, it’s worth wondering what else they’re throwing at the wall—and what’s sticking.

Go Outside: If you’re someone who cares about alternative transportation in Athens—and if you’re reading this, you probably are—there’s a public meeting this week you should think about attending. At 7 p.m. this Wednesday, Mar. 7, there will be a public information and input session regarding the Southeast Athens Bike Route Plan, including a summary of the ACC bike route survey. The meeting is in the planning auditorium at 120 W. Dougherty St. and lasts until 9 p.m.