City DopeNews

Money and Missteps in the Athens Mayor’s Race

If Mayor Nancy Denson isn’t careful, she just might find herself with a race on her hands. 

Nancy sparked another round of outrage Wednesday, Apr. 30 over comments she made about sexual assault at a Junior League forum that at best were tone-deaf and at worst could be interpreted, as many did, as blaming the victim. 

“I wish I knew the answer to how to get guys to behave themselves and get girls to behave themselves so that we don’t have these problems to begin with,” Nancy said. “But mostly what we have to do in government is deal with the results of it, because if you don’t know about it, you can’t deal with it.”

To which challenger Tim “No Relation” Denson responded: “That’s why we need a task force.”

Nancy noted that she included money in her proposed budget for 18 law enforcement positions that are facing a federal budget cut and that she supports Project Safe (which primarily helps victims of domestic violence, but OK, great). Project Safe has a hotline, she said, and education is also important, such as teaching kindergartners about “good touch, bad touch” (which is aimed at stopping child molesters, but again, OK).

Then, she kind of ran off the rails.

“As mayor, you don’t see me going out getting drunk. You’re not going to see me going out and partying to that extent,” she said. “I talk to young girls and say, ‘You’ve got to respect yourself, and you’ve got to demand respect,’ and I talk to guys and say, ‘You’ve got to respect these young women.'”

Nancy, as she often does, backtracked after Flagpole wrote a blog post about her comments and blamed the media.

“I’m outraged as a woman and mother of three daughters that Flagpole or Tim Denson would imply that I am blaming victims of sexual assault. Flagpole‘s misleading headline is ludicrous.

“Let me repeat what I actually said in the debate: ‘It’s absurd to even use the term blaming the victim. As a woman, I have three daughters, and there is absolutely no way that a woman is ever to blame for a sexual assault. I don’t care what you do or how you behave, you are not to blame.'”

That statement leaves out what followed: “But you also do need to demand respect and conduct yourself in a way that you can demand that respect… When our young women go out and party and drink and then they’re walking home, of course they have not consented, so you’re not blaming the victim. But they’re not in an emotional state to say ‘no’ and make ‘no’ stick. So you’re not blaming the victim, you’re just facing the reality of the situation.”

Victim-blaming… the mayor keeps using these words. I do not think they mean what she thinks they mean.

We posted the video on Judge for yourself.

Locked Up: Now it’s time to pick on Tim. While he’s not quite as naive about the ways of local government as he was when he started this campaign, his grasp of the issues can still at times be somewhat tenuous, which ought to give anyone who’s considering voting for him pause.

For example, he spent several minutes at the Junior League forum harping on the $77 million jail expansion, arguing that the money could have been better spent elsewhere. “I don’t really think we thought that one through,” he said.

Actually, we did. ACC commissioners and various committees spent years discussing and debating it. At the time, the jail was so overcrowded that we were paying other counties and a private prison in South Georgia millions of dollars to house our inmates, and some were still sleeping on mats on the floor. Much of the building is leaky and moldy and a lawsuit waiting to happen. It was the commission’s No. 1 priority for SPLOST 2011 and the first thing the SPLOST committee put on the project list. The voters overwhelmingly approved it. 

Tim noted that 50 percent of the people in jail are nonviolent drug offenders, and that’s probably correct. That’s why ACC also built a diversion center so that nonviolent offenders can continue to work while they serve out their sentences. That’s why we have a DUI court and a drug court—so that first-time offenders can get help rather than simply being locked up. Even with those reforms, we still needed a bigger jail. Sorry.

Nancy and Caterpillar: Mayor Denson has made economic development, specifically the new Caterpillar plant, the centerpiece of her campaign, and a lot of people have been asking me how much credit she really deserves. Having reported on it extensively when I worked for the Athens Banner-Herald, the answer is some, but not nearly as much as she’s claiming.

The backstory is this: For decades, the Orkin family, of pest-control fame, had owned an 800-acre industrial tract that, for various reasons, companies like IBM seriously considered buying but eventually passed on. A couple of pharmaceutical companies came calling about six or seven years ago. (One plant was never built, and the other went to North Carolina because the firm thought the workforce was better.) During that time, former Mayor Heidi Davison and Oconee County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis hashed out an inter-county agreement that laid the groundwork for Caterpillar.

Fast-forward to 2011. The Peoria-based company was having a fight over taxes with the Illinois state government and was looking to build a plant in a non-union state, initially looking at North Carolina. U.S. Rep. Paul Broun heard about this and told Gov. Nathan Deal. (Yes, all you Broun-haters out there, he actually did something good for once.) 

The state Department of Economic Development showed Caterpillar executives a state-owned site near the coast, which they didn’t like because, well, it’s Pooler. As a last-ditch effort to land the plant, they then took them to the Orkin tract, which they liked, and the state contacted Athens-Clarke County. Locally, Manager Alan Reddish and former public information officer Sandi Turner did the heavy lifting of putting together the pitch, and Caterpillar execs cited our quality of life as the main reason for picking us. (Tens of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure and tax breaks didn’t hurt, either.)

So, basically, give Nancy credit for not screwing it up.

Follow the Money: Mayor Nancy Denson raised $47,438 in February and March, bringing her total up to $93,409, more than 10 times as much as opponent Tim Denson. Since the April campaign finance disclosures for local races have not been posted online (the Board of Elections is too busy), here are the people who gave Denson more than $100: James Hopkins, $250 • Bryan Austin, $250 • Mark Dehler, $250 • Don Branyon, $200 • C.L. Morehead, $250 • Patricia Cooper, $150 • Robert and Leslie Sinyard, $500 • Ted DeVore, $200 • David Harvey and Nancy McDuff, $250 • Bill and Sandra Bland, $250 • Marilyn Wolf-Ragatz, $250 • Chris and Kim Chapman, $300 • Michael and Mary Adams, $1,000 • Sharon Loef, $1,000 • Phi Kappa Tau, $125 • Michael Hill, $150 • Martha Phillips, $200 • Allen King, $200 • Elinor Terrell, $200 • Richard Hathaway, $250 • Ethelyn Simpson, $250 • Harris and Laura Lowery, $250 • Jon and Virginia Appleton, $250 • David Dwyer, $250 • Dexter Fisher, $250 • David Jarrett, $250 • James Boswell, $500 • Charlie Upchurch, $250 • Gary and Peggy Garrett, $250 • Mark and Beth Sanders, $1,000 • Sylvia and Robert Gibson, $1,000 • Robert Pinkney, $1,000 • Abraham Mosely, $250 • Anita and Barney Brannen, $200 • Collection Services of Athens, $250 • Sanford Orkin, $300 • Phil and Madeline Van Dyke, $500 • Grace Davis, $500 • Paul T. and June Martin, $1,000 • Albert Sams, $200 • Jared York, $250 • Jack and Christine Drew, $250 • Slaughter Properties, $250 • Sandi Huszagh, $500 • Johnny and Louise Hyers, $500 • Fred Moorman, $1,000 • Athens Area Builders PAC, $1,000 • Billy Bryant, $150 • Edd Lowe, $250 • Bill and Peggy Horton, $250 • Don Sumner, $250 • Ebbert Timberland Services, $250 • Claude and Charlotte Williams, $250 • John and Claudia Noell, $250 • Carly and Barry Lutsky, $500 • Charles and Peggy Lord, $1,000 • Reinecke Athens, $2,500 • RAI Holdings, $2,500 • English Construction & Renovations, $150 • James Wilfong, Jr., $200 • James Wilfong, Sr., $200 • Heyward Allen, $200 • Grant and Rachel Tribble, $200 • Williams Hardware, $250 • Larry Benson, $500 • Bob and Maxine Burton, $500 • Blake and Shannon Bailey, $1,000 • Jon and Holly Ward, $250 • Frank and Lacy Sinkwich, $250 • Chris Blackmon, $250 • Robert Denson, $150 • Diane Bell, $150 • Nancy Scruggs, $200 • Tom and Melissa Lord, $500 • Bob Googe, $250 • George Bugg, $500 • G.W. Simpson, $150 • Jay and Betty Staines, $150 • Frank and Jane Eberhart, $200 • Dalton Carpet One, $200 • Freddie Massey, $300 • Frances Garrison, $250 • Kathleen Denson, $200 • Tracy and Brent Crymes, $200 • Greg Irvin, $200 • Cook, Noell, Tolley & Bates, $250 • J. Vincent Cook, $200 • Georgia Association of Realtors, $1,000 • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, $1,500.

There are an awful lot of development/construction/real estate folks on that list. York is the homebuilder who angered Talmadge Drive residents by cutting down a beloved tree and fought against the Buena Vista historic district. Hathaway and Bugg own hundreds of rental properties. Moorman owns half of downtown and half of Normaltown. The Wilfongs own the other half of Normaltown. Boswell represents the Armstrong & Dobbs property, which he sold to Selig and then to Landmark Properties for a student housing development; Denson appointed him to a Prince Avenue study committee, and he’s also our representative on the state Department of Transportation board. Blackmon serves with Denson on the Athens Downtown Development Authority. His partner, Dwyer, is overseeing the major mixed-use project on the SunTrust property downtown. 

Then there are power brokers like Michael Adams (yes, that Michael Adams), retired Athens Regional Medical Center CEO Jack Drew, St. Mary’s CFO Grant Tribble and Blake Bailey, CFO of Zaxby’s.

Tim Denson had raised a total of $6,907 as of March 31. He received $300 from Michael and Mary Songster, $250 from Anthony DeMarco, $200 from Bertis Downs, $350 from Carter Adams, $250 from Daniel Bathon, $254.50 from Hi-Lo Lounge and $150 from John Wolfe, the former ACC auditor whose office is still vacant after he was scandalously booted by the mayor and commission last year for not being sufficiently critical of the ADDA when Nancy wanted to fire the director.

Tim’s Coattails: He may not win citywide, but swaths of districts 3 and 5 are covered in Tim for Athens yard signs, and other candidates are taking advantage of his popularity. District 5 Commissioner Jared Bailey and District 3 candidates Melissa Link, Rachel Watkins and Dustin Kirby have all campaigned with Tim. The mayoral candidate was diplomatic when asked about it. “We definitely have a strong presence, and we have a lot of good candidates running in three,” he said.