Occupation: Digital manager at Barnes & Noble
Party: None given
Address: 290 Midway Rd. Athens, GA 30601
Athens-Clarke County has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. What should the local government be doing to alleviate poverty?
Everything it can. Right now, we’re not. There are many evidence-based policy solutions that we can implement to combat poverty and its effects in our community. I want to put a special focus on businesses and jobs that pay a living wage. We also need a public transportation system that’s reliable and affordable, so that a car isn’t an absolute necessity. We need affordable, quality child care, so that parents can pursue work and educational opportunities knowing that their children are safe and in good learning environments. We need to have an economic development plan that is not one-dimensional, but instead supports diverse industries, local businesses and worker co-operatives that empower low-income individuals. And we need to work toward ensuring free internet access to every home in Clarke County. I’m not pulling these goals out of nowhere; there’s ample evidence in favor of the efficacy of these policies. Finally, though, the mayor and commission can’t beat poverty alone. We need to come together as a stronger, more active community, recognizing that we have responsibilities to those we share our place and our lives with. Sometimes our cynicism can get in the way, but I think Athenians are increasingly aware that a better town really is possible.
Downtown development has been a major issue the past few years. Is this a good trend for Athens, and if not, how can we curb it and/or encourage development other than student apartments?
The growth of our downtown can be a positive thing for Athens, but only with effective planning and oversight. First, we need to finally implement the Downtown Master Plan, and we need a square-footage limit downtown. We also need to stop dragging our feet and finally pass a green building ordinance. We can grow in ways that create density while still improving our quality of life, bringing in living wage jobs and prioritizing sustainable practices.
Do you support expanding Athens Transit service, reducing fares and/or exploring a merger with the UGA bus system? If so, how would you pay for it?
The bus can and should be fare-free with more frequent routes that serve more places, later into the night, and on Sundays. Combining with UGA would facilitate this, and it’s to their benefit as well, but we should move forward in any event. Funneling university transit funds through the county budget provides an opportunity to increase the amount of federal support we receive. This has been true in Clemson, SC, Chapel Hill, NC and Boone, NC, where they’ve enacted precisely the course of action we’re proposing here. In more general terms, we can fund our proposals by re-prioritizing spending towards pressing human needs, more actively pursuing federal and state grant funding and implementing, by referendum, progressive property tax reform that reduces the tax burden on low-income homeowners while increasing overall revenue. These important and ambitious policy changes aren’t free, but they cost far less than four more years of inaction.
An Athens for everyone—and the better transit system that connects it—is a big project, but our plan to achieve it is backed by strong evidence, and the benefits to our community will be enormous.
Athens is often pigeonholed as “business unfriendly.” Do you support easing restrictions on businesses? If so, which ones?
The procedure for starting a business in Athens is unnecessarily onerous. We need to streamline it, and we need to be more flexible. I want the county government to be a helpful hand to local entrepreneurs. Athens should be investing a portion of our Economic Development Department budget in local tech start-ups, which are small businesses with big economic potential. We should be encouraging emerging industries like food carts by crafting regulations that ensure health and safety without creating stifling hurdles for business owners. We cannot rely on companies based out of Illinois and Arkansas to drive the economy of Athens. We must support our local businesses and protect the things that make Athens unique.
Are you in favor of the Complete Streets: Prince Avenue lane reconfiguration demonstration project? Why or why not?
Absolutely, for two broad and obvious reasons. First, it’s good policy. Three-laning Prince could make it safer for pedestrians, bikes and cars, and the demonstration project will provide data to help inform that decision. Second, the people who live there support this project, and that’s exactly the kind of citizen involvement in governance I want to facilitate, not obstruct. The fact that we can’t even move forward with Prince Avenue shows how bad the stagnation of our local government has gotten. As mayor, I’ll have a bias towards action and an energetic, can-do attitude toward the challenges and opportunities ahead.
The Eastside is lagging behind downtown and the Westside in terms of growth. What would you do to encourage investment in the Eastside?
I’m a homeowner on the Eastside, and my neighborhood, like most outside the Loop, sometimes gets de-prioritized. I want to help the Eastside grow into a nice community of its own within the larger county, with its own unique feel. We first must be sure our infrastructure is encouraging growth. We must look for ways to make Lexington Highway safer and Gaines School Road, with its many schools, walkable and safe. We must utilize the financial tools available to us, like possibly creating an enterprise zone or tax allocation district, and promoting the tools we already have in place such as the Lexington Highway Opportunity Zone. I need the Eastside to be a strong, safe community for my family.
What other issues concern you?
Sexual assault: I’m proposing a Sexual Assault Prevention Task Force, where we bring together knowledgeable, passionate people to suggest policy interventions for us to enact. We shouldn’t just be helping survivors of sexual assault, we should be creating a culture of consent and stopping these crimes before they occur.
Protecting undocumented Athenians: I’ll move to pass a Welcoming City Ordinance, de-prioritize local police enforcement of Georgia’s hateful anti-immigrant laws and vocally oppose UGA’s ban on undocumented students.
The environment: We need to move toward healthier, local foods and more sustainable construction and transportation. I will work to pass a green building ordinance and a single-use plastic bag fee with the revenue from the fee funding environmental cleanup efforts.
Strong neighborhoods and accessible government: I want our neighborhood organizations to grow, and I’ll go out into the community for regular meetings and conversations instead of waiting for people to come to City Hall.
An Athens for everyone: Our slogan’s pretty straightforward. Our community is shockingly unequal, we’re leaving way too many people behind, and our government works from behind closed doors. We can do so much better. We will.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.