Who’s going to put their money where their mouths are? We’ll find out next week.
Qualifying—the period when candidates officially sign up to get their names on the ballot—for local, state and federal races starts Monday, Mar. 3 and runs through Friday, Mar. 7. Because of Flagpole‘s production schedule, you won’t see who qualified in print until Wednesday, Mar. 12, but we’ll have up-to-the minute (and free!) online coverage on In the Loop.
The main attraction locally is the mayor’s race. Can anyone topple Mayor Nancy Denson? Will anyone even try? Denson announced her re-election bid months ago and has already raised nearly $50,000—not including a well-attended fundraiser Tuesday, Feb. 18—which, combined with her personal popularity and an improving economy, makes her a formidable candidate. So far, she faces a longshot bid by progressive activist Tim Denson, who is hoping to pull off the upset with a grassroots campaign.
For months, some progressives, unconvinced that Tim Denson has a prayer of beating Nancy, have been trying to recruit another, stronger candidate. Could a certain ex-mayor return to the throne? What about former Athens Downtown Development Authority executive director Kathryn Lookofsky, who was let go in part because, according to former ACC auditor John Wolfe, Nancy didn’t like the way she dressed? Or Commissioner Jared Bailey, who faces a tough re-election bid in District 5? He’s not talking.
“I will announce if I am running and for what seat the week of qualifying,” he said.
Bailey’s opponent would be lawyer and planning commissioner Dave Hudgins, who is a bit more conservative and lost in 2010 because of Bailey’s strength in the liberal Cobbham and Boulevard neighborhoods, which are no longer part of the district.
Those neighborhoods are now part of District 3, where Commissioner George Maxwell is retiring. Two Boulevard progressives, Rachel Watkins and Melissa Link, are running, along with former planning commissioner and Old West Broad Street resident Herb Gilmore.
Commissioner Kathy Hoard is also stepping down in Five Points-centric District 7, and it looks like her friend and hairdresser Diane Bell will waltz in unopposed.
Commissioners Doug Lowry and Kelly Girtz are both running again, and neither has drawn opposition so far. Nor have Athens’ state representatives, Spencer Frye, Chuck Williams and Regina Quick, or senators Bill Cowsert and Frank Ginn. They all must be doing a great job, right?
Prince Avenue: When the citizen group Complete Streets: Prince Avenue announced plans to test a road diet and pedestrian islands on the locally-owned portion between Milledge Avenue and downtown to improve pedestrian safety, Link and Watkins both quickly issued full-throated endorsements.
Gilmore, though, is not so sure. I asked him his opinion at Denson’s fundraiser, and he said he thinks it will lead to a bottleneck for drivers, which he fears could put pedestrians at even greater risk. “I have mixed emotions about it, simply because you’re taking that major four-lane [road] and running it into three lanes,” he said.
While, based on the current timeline, it’s unlikely that new commissioners will be asked to vote on Prince’s configuration, expect this to be a litmus test for candidates.
Lyndon House: About 75 artists gathered Tuesday, Feb. 18 to discuss their concerns regarding the Leisure Services Department’s vague plans for changes at the Lyndon House Arts Center. Specifically, they’re worried that programs will be cut, artists’ groups will be charged to use the center and the resource library will be shut down.
Leisure Services Director Pam Reidy, who dodged questions about the future of the Lyndon House at another public forum earlier this month, told the group that the museum is the best she’s ever seen in a city this size and one of the reasons she took the job in Athens. “It’s an arts center,” she said. “It will forever be an arts center.”
Clearly, though, there is a lack of trust and communication between the people who run the Lyndon House and those who use it. “The community needs to be told what the problems are so we can help solve them,” weaver Bonnie Montgomery said to widespread applause.
The problems come down to lack of money. About a year ago, Mayor Nancy Denson proposed cutting the Lyndon House’s budget. Commissioners restored the cut, but told Leisure Services that it needs to become more self-sufficient, suggesting renting out the center for weddings and other events as a way to raise money.
Participants in the meeting came up with lots of great ideas for raising revenue without sacrificing the Lyndon House’s core mission and for getting more people in the door, including better promotion, more juried exhibitions, more artists’ markets, more after-school programs, expanding hours and bringing in artists-in-residence. They said the staff’s ideas are stifled, and administrators need to involve volunteers and various boards.
Commissioner Doug Lowry told the audience that they’re barking up the wrong tree. Complaints should be directed to elected officials, not Reidy, he said. “Don’t bang your heads against the bureaucratic door,” he said. “It will just frustrate you.”
All due respect to Lowry, but he’s wrong. The commission does not and should not micromanage one facility in one department of the government.
Where’s the Auditor?: It’s been eight months since Denson and the commission essentially fired Wolfe for, depending on whom you ask, either taking too long to issue a report on the Athens Downtown Development Authority or not providing enough political cover for the ADDA to fire Lookofsky.
Last summer, Denson and commissioners said they’d hire a new auditor after a retreat where they would discuss the auditor’s job description. That retreat came and went with no discussion of hiring an auditor (a position that’s required by the unified government’s charter) and no one seemed to be in a particular hurry—until now.
During a discussion about the commission’s goals and objectives for fiscal 2015 (exciting!) at the Thursday, Feb. 20 agenda-setting meeting, Commissioner Kelly Girtz called for hiring an auditor to examine Leisure Services. “I’d very much like to see that happen,” he said. “Certainly, I’m a fan of measurable objectives, and I think that’s something an auditor would be able to provide.”
Commissioner Jerry NeSmith, meanwhile, pushed to take another look at the 2011 Leisure Services reorganization that eliminated the natural resources and arts divisions.
Photo Credit: Blake Aued
Minority Teachers: Outside the Clarke County School District office Thursday, Feb. 20, members of the Athens chapter of the NAACP protested technology policy and a lack of minority teachers—and they’re coming back this Thursday, Feb. 27 with even more people. “Next week, the whole community will be invited out here,” NAACP Education Committee Chairwoman Tommie Farmer said.
About 25 percent of CCSD teachers are minorities, Farmer said, but the committee wants the ratio to more closely reflect the student body, which is about 80 percent minority, including 50 percent African American.
The committee also dislikes CCSD’s use of online lessons in lieu of traditional textbooks and met with Deputy Superintendent Noris Price to discuss the issue. Students are issued netbooks in the classroom, but of course, not everyone can afford a computer or Internet access at home.
CCSD spokeswoman Anisa Sullivan Jimenez said that the district has issued 1,500 used laptops to parents, churches and community centers, and that computers and free Internet are widely available, for example at libraries. “Our neighborhood leaders have given us feedback that the access is there,” she said.
Health Care Navigators: The Affordable Care Act is so toxic in Georgia that the mere act of telling people what the law does (hint: not death panels and not socialism) is enough to get yourself in political hot water.
The University of Georgia received a $1.7 million federal grant last year to hire “navigators” to walk people through the process of signing up for insurance through the federal health care marketplace. Tea party groups have protested meetings of the navigators, and far-right Republican state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would ban the state from implementing or even giving information about the law in any way, shape or form.
Luckily for consumers, UGA President Jere Morehead is not bowing to political pressure. As he explained during a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 19, programs like the ACA navigators are within UGA’s mission as a land-grant institution. UGA goes after federal grants all the time, and the navigators are no different from cooperative extension agents who explain what’s in the farm bill, Morehead said. “We’re not advocating for the law or advocating against the law,” he said.
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