City DopeNews

More Money Means Fewer Problems for Mayor Nancy Denson

Biggie was wrong—at least when it comes to politics. Less money means more problems, as we saw in the Athens-Clarke County mayor’s race.

According to campaign finance disclosures filed last week, Mayor Nancy Denson spent nearly $90,000 to win re-election—more than $10 per vote.

Denson all but stopped fundraising after March, in keeping with campaign manager Houston Gaines’ statement that her massive early haul was intended to scare away any viable challengers. She raised just $8,575 in cash in April and May, giving her a total of $93,509. Notable contributors included the Georgia Association of Realtors, which kicked in $1,000, and Georgia Theatre owner Wilmot Greene, who donated $500 worth of advertising. 

Denson spent all but $5,700 of her war chest, the majority of it in the last six weeks of the campaign. The $67,000 she spent between Apr. 1–May 20 included about $26,000 on direct mail, $24,000 on radio advertising and $4,000 on billboard rental. Gaines was awarded a $2,000 bonus.

Challenger Tim Denson nearly matched Nancy dollar-for-dollar in April and May, raising $6,907 for the period, but ended up with a mere $17,108 to spend, due to lackluster fundraising earlier in the campaign. His backers included the 40 Watt Club and R.E.M.’s Mike Mills.

The fundraising gap meant Tim was able to spend just a sixth of what Nancy did on advertising—radio and cable ads, yard signs and campaign literature—in the home stretch.

Denson won 60 percent of 13,152 votes cast May 20.

Campaign disclosure reports are available here.

In the ongoing District 3 commission race (click here for a Q&A with the candidates), Rachel Watkins had raised $12,664 as of June 30, which is a lot for a mere commission race. Bertis and Katherine Downs, lawyer David Ivey and baker Thomas Leonard sided with Watkins. While there are rumors that developers have been pouring money into Watkins’ campaign since the deadline, the only one who shows up on either candidate’s disclosure is Drew Dekle, who gave $350 to Melissa Link. (Though Watkins did post on her Facebook page a photo of herself after voting with builder Tom Ellis and his wife/school board member Sarah.)

Other contributors to Link included former Mayor and First Man Heidi and Al Davison, lawyers Blair and Betsey Dorminey, thespian and activist Terrell Austin, environmental activist Rich Rusk, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, caterers home.made, former commissioner Carl Jordan, teacher Casey Nissenbaum and business owner Jane Scott. Interestingly, most of those folks live outside District 3. Link raised $8,690 total.

An Auditor By Any Other Name: The Athens-Clarke County Commission’s Audit Committee and newly appointed interim auditor Steve Martin met Thursday, July 10, to start completely revamping the office—including possibly even changing the name.

Auditors generally deal with accounting, but in Athens-Clarke County, the auditor is mainly an independent set of eyes looking at operational issues and efficiency: should positions be cut, added or reorganized, procedures changed, etc. Commissioners think the name is misleading.

“You hear that in the paper, and you think there’s something illicit going on, some kind of financial malfeasance or something,” Commissioner Jared Bailey said.

The Audit Committee is going to keep a tighter leash on Martin than on former auditor John Wolfe, asking Martin for regular updates on his progress, and also giving him more guidance on what, specifically, they want.

The committee, which is set to meet again next week, has not decided what Martin should tackle. The Leisure Services Department, which Denson and commissioners have said would be the likely first target, was deemed too big to bite off in one piece. But looking into one aspect of Leisure Services, such as the Lyndon House Arts Center or summer camps, remains a possibility. So are customer service in the Planning, Building Permits and Inspections and Transportation and Public Works departments (suggested by Commissioner Kelly Girtz) and the way the mayor and commission appoint members to various boards and authorities (suggested by Commissioner Kathy Hoard).

Downtown Boundaries: The Athens Downtown Development Authority is starting what is likely to be a two-year process of winning approval from the state legislature to expand its boundaries. Currently, areas many people would consider downtown, such as the Bottleworks and the Armstrong & Dobbs tract, are not within the ADDA’s borders. 

The ADDA markets downtown businesses, regulates parking and facilitates grants and loans through state and national Main Street programs and various foundations. So, there are advantages for businesses, but those businesses must also pay an additional 1 mill property tax, or $40 per $100,000 of value annually. (The tax doesn’t apply to owner-occupied residences.)