With school out and the local government on hiatus, not much happened during that dead two-week period around the holidays, so let’s take a look ahead at some of the stories that will make headlines in 2020.
It’s an election year, of course, and Georgia voters will go to the polls Mar. 24 to weigh in on which Democrat to put up against Donald Trump in November. By that time, a field that once numbered over 20 will have been winnowed down to a handful of viable candidates.
March is also the time when candidates will qualify to run in local races. So far, three people—couples therapist Andrea Farnham, lawyer Kamau Hull and retired Athens Tech dean Carol Myers—have said they’re running for the District 8 seat on the Athens-Clarke County Commission that Andy Herod is giving up after three-plus terms. Meanwhile, John Knox, who represents District 8 on the school board, has announced he’s not running for re-election. All of the even-numbered seats on the commission and school board will be up for grabs. Those races are nonpartisan and will be decided alongside the Republican and Democratic primaries on May 19.
The only local partisan races that have contested primaries so far are for sheriff, where incumbent Ira Edwards is facing ACCPD Sgt. John Q. Williams on the Democratic side, and district attorney, where two Democrats, former state Rep. Deborah Gonzalez and chief assistant district attorney Brian Patterson, are vying to succeed retiring DA Ken Mauldin. Statewide, at least four candidates—trucking executive Sarah Riggs Amico, former congressional candidate John Ossoff, Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry and former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson—are running against Sen. David Perdue.
November will bring contests for both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats, Congress, the state legislature and perhaps other partisan races. Democrat Mokah Jasmine Johnson is challenging state Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens)—see more on flagpole.com. That seat, along with the House District 119 seat Democrat Jonathan Wallace won in 2017 but lost to Republican Marcus Wiedower the following year, will be crucial to Democrats’ chances of flipping the chamber. Athens’ two Republican state senators and two Republican congressmen are probably safe.
Besides elections, the commission has some unfinished business from 2019. In November, the commission put off Mayor Kelly Girtz’s rushed proposal to use tax allocation districts to spur redevelopment in East Athens and the Newton Bridge Road industrial corridor until the spring. June will bring a vote to create a historic district on the west end of downtown to protect local music landmarks and the Hot Corner’s rich heritage as the center of African-American business. And work will start on the SPLOST-funded arena and the massive North Athens affordable housing project, which will transform the downtown area.
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the legislature gaveled in Monday for its annual session. Again, it’s an election year, which means lots of posturing and not much actually getting done. With the economy showing signs of slowing down and lawmakers pondering another income tax reduction, the big question is what they’ll cut. Will budgets for K-12 and higher education take a hit?
And the search is on for a new District 2 school board representative to replace Frances Berry, as well as for a new school superintendent to replace the departed Demond Means. Hopefully, the community can put the past year’s unpleasantness behind us.
Odds and Ends
• Georgia’s new voting machines are available for testing in Athens through early February. Voters can try out the machines at the Board of Elections Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.–5 p.m.; at the ACC Library (2025 Baxter St.) on Jan. 9 from 8:45 a.m. to noon; at Iris Place (755 Epps Bridge Parkway) on Jan. 14 from noon to 2 p.m.; at the Athens Community Career Academy (440 Dearing Extension) on Jan. 17 from 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m.; at Ebenezer Baptist Church West (205 N. Chase St.) on Jan. 19 starting at noon until churchgoers leave; at the Miriam Moore Community Center (410 McKinley Drive) on Jan. 21 from 8 a.m. to noon; and at St. Mary’s Hospital (1230 Baxter St.) on Feb. 5 from 10 a.m. to noon.
• The ACC Housing and Community Development Department’s interim director, Haley Banjerlee, has been named to the position permanently by ACC Manager Blaine Williams. Banjerlee, a UGA graduate who has worked at HCD since 2016, was named interim director when Williams promoted Deborah Lonon to assistant manager. In addition, Williams announced that Economic Development Director Michelle Nguyen has resigned. He named manufacturing and industrial specialist Ryan Thornton as interim director.
• Creature Comforts wrapped up its 2019 Get Artistic campaign by donating $18,300 to six local artists and organizations: the Athens Area Arts Council, Athens Symphony Orchestra, Canopy Studios, Abigail West, Broderick Flanigan and tiny ATH Gallery.
• Nuçi's Space and the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation (OCAF) received $21,000 and $4,000 grants, respectively, from the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Georgia Council for the Arts, according to local state Reps. Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower.
• Activist and former school board candidate Imani Scott-Blackwell is launching a consulting firm called Going Rogue devoted to increasing organizational capacity and preventing employee burnout at small businesses and nonprofits, with a launch event scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 9 at Firehall No. 2.