Rather than hire a single person to replace former Athens Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Pamela Thompson, the ADDA board has opted to split the job in two.
After hours of deliberation behind closed doors split over two days, the board voted Feb. 14 to hire David Lynn as director of planning and outreach, focusing on economic development, and Linda Ford as director of business services, focusing on parking and assisting downtown businesses.
“Instead of putting the weight all on one person, we’re going to have two people with two distinct skill sets,” ADDA board member Richie Knight said. It’s a weird idea, but the argument that, with downtown growing, the job has also grown beyond one person is persuasive. Perhaps Lynn can be the big-picture champion downtown needs while Ford focuses on the day-to-day complaints from businesses (vomit and planters and such) that suck up so much of an ADDA director’s time.
The positions will be co-equal, with salaries of $70,000 per year—$50,000 more than was budgeted for a single executive director. Ford and Lynn will start work Mar. 1, and will be meeting with the board before then to further refine their duties.
After they gave public presentations two weeks ago, attendees generally saw Ford as having a strong business background as a former small-business owner and president of the Five Points Business Association, while Lynn was praised for having a solid handle on all aspects of downtown. The third, discarded finalist, William Herbig, has a strong background in urban planning, with stints at the Midtown Alliance in Atlanta and the Congress for the New Urbanism in Washington, DC under his belt.
But Ford appears to have had little to no support among downtown stakeholders. The ADDA—to its credit—solicited feedback on the three finalists, which Flagpole requested and the authority released. The several dozen business owners and others who weighed in were split between Lynn and Herbig. Some cited Lynn’s breadth of experience and knowledge of the community. Others favored Herbig’s vision, planning expertise and fresh eyes, although some expressed concern he’d be looking to move on soon. Not a single one supported Ford for the job.
While Herbig is from Atlanta and currently works in Washington, DC, both Ford and Lynn have deep roots here. In fact, both are former Athens-Clarke County commissioners. Whether this is true or not, the decision to hire Lynn and Ford over the well-qualified out-of-towner already looks like cronyism to some, and so the dynamic duo start their shared tenure under a cloud.
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