May 30, 2012

City Dope

Athens News and Views

Construction of the Classic Center expansion continues to progress ahead of schedule, with the bones of the rear atrium having been framed out in recent weeks. Not pictured: the new, looming grey wall that has cut off access to Foundry Street via Hancock f

And in This Corner…: This is the moment we've all been waiting for, even if most of us haven't thought about it much yet. The Legislature's slicing and dicing of Athens-Clarke County's commission map has been made official, qualifying for the July 31 primary and nonpartisan elections has ended and it's time to settle in for a brisk two months of campaigning. There weren't any surprises in last week's qualifying, unless you figured a Democrat would step up to take on the winner of the Republican primary in state House District 117, where Regina Quick is challenging incumbent Doug McKillip. Spencer Frye is running against longtime incumbent Keith Heard on the Democratic side in 118, with Christopher Perlera and Carter Kessler qualifying for that seat as Republicans. Chuck Williams is unopposed in 119, as is his fellow Republican incumbent Bill Cowsert in Senate District 46. Democrat Tim Riley will take on the winner of a primary between Republican Senator Frank Ginn and current Barrow County Commission Chair Danny Yearwood in District 47. Stephen Simpson will challenge Rep. Paul Broun, Jr. in the Republican primary for the 10th Congressional District.

In ACC elections, all incumbent judges, constitutional officers and school board members (except in District 4, where last-minute qualifier Carl Parks will run unopposed for the seat being vacated by Allison Wright, who will run for the ACC Commission) are running for reelection unopposed, as are ACC commissioners Harry Sims, Andy Herod and Mike Hamby. Wright and David Ellison will vie for the District 4 seat being vacated by Alice Kinman, while Ron Winders will face off with Jerry NeSmith in District 6, where Ed Robinson is retiring after one term. We'll get you up to speed on the candidates—especially non-incumbent ones—in all these contested races in the weeks ahead.

It's also important to note that, while the commission district lines have been dramatically altered, the ACC voting precincts have not. That means, for instance, that District 2 voters, rather than casting ballots only in precincts 2A and 2B, will now be scattered among precincts 1A, 1B, 2B (but not 2A!), 3B, 4A, 4B and 8C. Likewise, Precinct 3B will have ballots for five different commission districts: 2, 3, 4, 7 and 9. The ACC Board of Elections will be sending out new voter registration cards in the next month or so, and Elections Supervisor Gail Schrader urges citizens to take a careful look at them before considering which commission candidate to vote for, to be sure of which district they now live in. She ain't kidding.

Run, Don't Walk: People for a Better Athens, the organization founded by Russell Edwards to oppose construction of a Walmart supercenter on the Armstrong & Dobbs property at the edge of downtown, has announced the inaugural 5K Run for a Better Athens on Saturday, June 9. The run will begin at 8:30 a.m. at Jittery Joe's Roaster, 780 E. Broad St., with the route taking in parts of the Oconee Rivers Greenway and the area surrounding the A&D site. Sign-in is at 7:45 or can be done online at Registration costs $20, the proceeds from which will go to Athens Area Habitat for Humanity, and food will be provided by Last Resort Grill, Mama's Boy and Square One Fish Company, with music by Kiss Your Darlin'. See you there.

Stop This Now: It barely needs to be pointed out what an insanely terrible idea it would be for the ACC Commission to adopt an ordinance aimed at regulating "urban camping," but clearly intended to curtail "Occupy"-style protests like the one that was disbanded by police—without the aid of any custom legislation—at City Hall earlier this year. Yet, after having discussed it two weeks ago at the direction of Mayor Nancy Denson, the Commission's Legislative Review Committee will take up the issue again at its next meeting June 12.

ACC's track record on free speech under Denson, such as it is, doesn't exactly jibe with the image of Athens as a progressive, enlightened community that openly nurtures all stripes of personal expression and political activism. While the early-morning dispersal of the City Hall encampment in March was ostensibly Police Chief Jack Lumpkin's decision, it's just about impossible to believe Denson wasn't in the loop. And the mayor displayed remarkably poor instincts in having a long-time community activist removed from the microphone for allegedly being off-topic during a January commission agenda-setting session. Do the commissioners want to put their stamp of approval on the next of Denson's crackdowns on dissent? Surely not.

County staff and police say our current laws need clarification. But if that means making it clear that it's illegal for protesters to assemble at places like City Hall because it's inconvenient, then perhaps commissioners need to remind themselves that it's absolutely supposed to be. "Protecting" pedestrians from having to alter their course on a sidewalk or metal statues from being "damaged" by sticky tape are shoddy priorities when compared with safeguarding citizens' rights to protest the actions and policies of their government. The commissioners should straighten up their backbones, remember their values and shut this sordid conversation down with no further ceremony.