June 27, 2012

City Dope

Athens News and Views

Here's about the closest view we'll get of these Corinthian capitals before they're placed atop the new columns being erected at the front of UGA's Holmes-Hunter Academic building as part of a major restoration. The capitals are fabricated fiberglass, but

Ready for Our Close-Up: It's been just a few short months since Athens was abuzz over downtown's takeover by a full-scale film crew shooting scenes from the upcoming film Trouble with the Curve, which brought Clint Eastwood, Justin Timberlake, Amy Adams and a bunch of other professional film people into our midst for a few days. At the time, it was roundly declared that we should try to do this more often, to see if the jolt of energy and cash that had accompanied Eastwood and Co. to town could be turned into a sustainable feature of our local character and economy. It's now apparent that some among us got right on that, and we're about to see some of the fruits of their efforts—with the serious possibility of further bounty down the road.

Last week, a call went out for local crew to work on The Spectacular Now, the third feature film by James Ponsoldt, which will star Shailene Woodley (whose performance as George Clooney's teenaged daughter in The Descendants was rightly acclaimed last year) and which will be shot entirely in Athens for about five weeks beginning in mid-to-late July. Ponsoldt, an Athens native, scored a critical hit at Sundance earlier this year with Smashed, which was picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics but hasn't been released in theaters yet.

Furthermore, Film Athens, in coordination with the Athens-Clarke County Public Information Office, has been organizing a series of sponsored and guided tours of the city for Georgia's top location managers, seven of whom have accepted an invitation to the first two-day tour, which will take place sometime in July.

"The biggest thing we want to do," says Film Athens' Danielle Robarge, "is get all the decision makers and groups who have a stake in this on the same page regarding how important and beneficial the film industry can be to the local economy, and what we need to do to attract and assist local film productions."

This is an aggressive and highly realistic economic development initiative being undertaken largely by creative-minded people outside of the professional structure that's supposed to be in charge of getting things like this done around here, and they need help. "Right now we are scrambling to get some funding to host the location managers," says Robarge. "I can't think of a much better investment for the community than wooing these folks. These people have a huge influence on where a movie shoots, and this is the most pro-active thing that any county [in Georgia] has tried to do."

Local businesses and leaders should be lining up to sponsor these hosted visits. The folks at Film Athens are happy to do the work, but they're not a wealthy organization. More local buy-in for this effort is going to be necessary. If you want to help or find out more, email Robarge at

You Pay for It—No, Don't!: Rising City Dope Blake Aued has devoted a couple of entries in his closing string of dispatches for the Athens Banner-Herald to the positions of local and nearby state legislative candidates on the upcoming T-SPLOST referendum, which will appear on the ballot along with the primary elections for said candidates' House and Senate seats. Your once and current Dope (the Lame Dope?) has been collecting opinions from that group, as well, and some of them are illuminating—if in rather a banal, unsurprising way—of the cynicism and intentional dysfunction that plague our representation on the state level.

Incumbent Keith Heard and his House District 118 Democratic primary challenger Spencer Frye both support passage; the two Republicans running for the seat, Carter Kessler and Christopher Perlera, are both against it. As Blake has reported, both District 117 Rep. Doug McKillip and his Republican primary opponent Regina Quick oppose the tax, as does Danny Yearwood, Sen. Frank Ginn's opponent in the District 47 Republican primary. Ginn supports it, as does unopposed District 119 Rep. Chuck Williams, though Williams says he only does so "on a purely personal basis," and has no advocacy position as a legislator. Sen. Bill Cowsert, unopposed in District 46, is against the tax. (The Dope failed to contact Democratic Senate District 47 candidate Dr. Tim Riley for his position before press time—sorry, Dr. Tim!)

What's interesting is that of the three legislators (Heard, McKillip and Cowsert) who were in office when the referendum was created in 2010—who all voted at the time to put it on the ballot—the two who are now Republicans (McKillip, of course, was a Democrat until 2011) now oppose it. The Republican legislature declined to fund billions of dollars in infrastructural needs—roads and bridges, one of the most basic and inarguable of government's responsibilities!—because the majority members are inflexibly prohibited by the "R" after their names to contemplate any kind of legislated tax increase. Instead, they passed the buck to voters, who are now asked to pull the trigger while those same legislators are free to throw up their hands and protest that they're not for it.

"It's frustrating to see legislators who supported the ballot, who are now against it when it's up for a vote," says former mayor and Athens Area Chamber of Commerce President Doc Eldridge, a Republican who calls T-SPLOST "probably the single most important vote in the last 50 years" in Georgia. Supporters of the referendum have said there's no "Plan B" if it doesn't pass, but Eldridge disagrees. "'Plan B' is local governments pay three times as much for road projects" as they currently do, he says, an outcome that would be "highly punitive."

And he's right, but why should the legislators care? They've ensured they're not accountable either way—a nice trick. If they can use it to avoid making the tough calls necessary to pay for roads and bridges, maybe they could figure out how to avoid funding things like public education! Oh, wait…

A Nice Segue: If you'd like to ask some of these folks to explain themselves further, you'll have your chance at the Prince Avenue Fire Hall on Monday, July 2 at 7:30 p.m., when the Federation of Neighborhoods will hold a forum for candidates in contested House primaries. McKillip, Quick, Heard, Frye, Kessler and Perlera have all been invited; send questions for consideration by the moderator to