City DopeNews

Mayor Denson Isn’t Pro-Chicken or Pro-Bunny

It’s a slippery slope, y’all. Mayor Nancy Denson (who is not pro-chicken) warned Athens-Clarke County commissioners of the Pandora’s coop they’re about to open during a discussion about legalizing honey bees and backyard chickens. She’s OK with koi ponds, but rabbits are where she draws the line.

“There are probably also lots of people in our community that would like to raise bunny rabbits, and at what point, once we open this door, do we decide we’re ready to close it?” Denson said at the Tuesday, Feb. 17 agenda-setting meeting.

Surely rabbits are a bridge too far. They will eat the carrots right out of your garden. Some of them are pretty smart-alecky, too. Not even coyotes can catch them, even with TNT. And if you try to shoot one, he’ll talk you into thinking it’s duck season, or stick a finger into the barrel of your shotgun, and you’ll blow yourself up.

“Chickens, bees and fish, period,” Commissioner Jerry NeSmith responded. “…If, in 20 years, someone wants [rabbits], we’ll have to consider that, but right now, no one’s asking for that.”

Commissioner Melissa Link noted that people already keep rabbits as pets. “And they might want to have rabbit stew sometime, just like they want to have fried chicken,” Denson said.

We’re getting chickens, whether Denson likes it or not. There are more than enough votes on the commission to instruct staff to write an urban agriculture ordinance. The only question is whether, at the Mar. 3 voting meeting, the commission will leave the unenforceable chicken ban on the books—with the drawback of no restrictions of any kind on agriculture in residential neighborhoods—or temporarily ban chickens (and cows and horses and whatnot) again while the urban agriculture ordinance is written.

Either way, we’ll have to sit through lots of talking before our chickens can come out from the shadows. “Issues to do with animals are something people feel very passionate about,” said Commissioner Andy Herod, in an early candidate for understatement of the year.

Charter District: In June, the Clarke County School District is planning to submit an application to the state board of education to become a charter district. Parents and other community members had a lot of questions at a Thursday, Feb. 19 forum on the charter district application. It’s complicated and wonky, for sure, but the most important thing to know is that the state has pretty much already made the decision for us.

In Georgia, all school districts are required to keep the status quo—in which case they lose funding and any flexibility to waive state requirements, for example on class size—or become an IE2 or charter district. IE2 districts essentially sign contracts pledging to meet certain performance measures. If they don’t, their schools are privatized. No one wants to run that risk, so for Clarke County, it’s charter district or bust.

Under the charter district model, parents and teachers will elect representatives to local school governance teams (school councils) to serve alongside a student representative appointed by the principal (at middle and high schools), a police officer, and neighborhood residents and at-large members selected by other LSGT members. The LSGTs are supposed to reflect the diversity of the attendance zone, although Superintendent Philip Lanoue admitted that it hadn’t occurred it him that a school’s makeup is often far different from the community surrounding it. (Athens is 56 percent white, but 80 percent of public school students are minorities.)

The board of the renamed Athens-Clarke Community School District would continue to set policy, but the LSGTs would have broad authority to determine how to implement policies at the school level, including having input into budget and personnel decisions. The overriding goals, according to Lanoue, will be to innovate and continue closing the achievement gap between white and high-income students and minority and low-income students.

In addition to greater local control at the school level—assuming the state doesn’t somehow pull the rug out from under us, which is not a great assumption—a charter district could give the county-level school board greater flexibility, as well. For example, Lanoue hopes that, under a charter district, he’ll be able to revamp teacher evaluations so they rely less on standardized tests and student surveys, thus restoring more instructional time.

Documents related to the charter district application are available at under the tab marked “charter system information.”