City DopeNews

Commission Approves Coronavirus Relief Funds, Supports Black Lives Matter

The Athens-Clarke County Commission approved the framework last week of a $5.8 million coronavirus “resiliency package” that will be distributed to local businesses and nonprofits over the next year.

The package includes $2.7 million to feed the hungry, a $1 million revolving loan fund for small businesses, $900,000 for indigent services, $525,000 for the Athens Community Corps and $150,000 for public health. 

Efforts to provide help for struggling Athens residents and businesses have been complicated by the Georgia Constitution’s “gratuities clause,” which bars local governments from giving away money directly. The state constitution also prohibits governments from funding religious organizations, even charitable ones like the Salvation Army. 

Instead, ACC will work through existing secular nonprofits and government agencies. For example, food relief funding could go to the Athens Community Council on Aging, which runs Meals on Wheels, or the Clarke County School District, which already distributes meals to students over the summer. Public health funding is likely to go to the Athens Free Clinic, a University of Georgia-run mobile health clinic that’s been conducting COVID-19 tests in underserved communities. 

The Athens Community Corps is a new program that will hire 10 people for 11 months to serve as neighborhood leaders, who will promote civic engagement, provide mentorship and work on beautification projects. Specific projects already identified include restoration along Martin Luther KIng Jr. Drive and at Dudley Park and Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery.

The commission also voted on how to spend $300,000 of the funds earmarked for the indigent. Funded organizations include ACTION Inc.’s Full Plate program; the Athens Area Diaper Bank; the Athens Area Homeless Shelter and Family Promise, which are putting up homeless families in hotel rooms; the ACCA, for food delivery; Casa de Amistad, for outreach to the Latinx community; the East Athens Development Corp., for grocery boxes and meals prepared by Rashe’s Cuisine; and People Living in Recovery, to provide substance abuse and mental health assistance to the homeless.

Most of the funding hasn’t been allocated because commissioners said they want to retain flexibility to distribute funds wherever they see a need. “I’d like for us to be as nimble as we can,” Commissioner Mike Hamby said. “If something’s not working, let’s move on to something else, or if we find a need for something else, let’s try to be nimble in that regard.”

A resolution in support of Black Lives Matter proved somewhat contentious—but not because any commissioners are opposed to the concept.

Commissioner Ovita Thornton introduced the resolution. “This issue has been so prominent, and I don’t think since George Floyd’s killing, we have made a statement collectively as a commission on where we stand,” she said.

Parker proposed an amendment to the resolution listing some of the planks on the official Black Lives Matter platform, such as divesting from police, mass incarceration and deportation, and investing in affordable housing, living wages, transportation, education and health care. “If we’re going to proclaim that Black lives matter, it’s also very important that we show up for the movement in terms of policies they value,” Parker said.

But Thornton said she preferred to keep the resolution strictly local. “The history of Black people in Athens needs to be retold,” she said. The resolution focuses mainly on local events in Black history, such as sit-ins in the early 1960s, integration of the police force and public schools, and police shooting Edward Wright, an unarmed young African-American man, in 1995. It also mentions local organizations ACC can work with on issues like health care and supporting minority-owned businesses.

The resolution was a late addition to the July 7 agenda, added the previous day as “title only”—meaning no text was available to the public—and only given to other commissioners the afternoon of the meeting. Parker made a motion to table the resolution for 30 days. She was joined by Link and Denson, but the motion was voted down 4–3. The commission then unanimously adopted Thornton’s resolution as written.

The split highlighted again the rift between the commission’s left wing and its left-of-the-left wing.