Both candidates come from an activist background and would admit that there’s little difference between them on the issues, so this is a race that comes down to style. Incumbent Melissa Link is relentless and outspoken on issues like development, gentrification and transportation in her district, which includes downtown, Boulevard, Cobbham, Hancock Avenue, Rocksprings and parts of Normaltown. She has also worked hard to reach out to the substantial African-American community in the district. But challenger Tony Eubanks—who has spent 20 years advocating for bike and pedestrian safety on Prince Avenue and all over the city—questions whether she has been effective, and says he can get more done by making nice behind the scenes. The Athens-Clarke County Democratic Committee has certified both, the progressive group Athens for Everyone endorsed Link, and Republicans in a straw poll preferred Eubanks by a slim margin.
Occupation: Accounting and finance tutor at UGA
Residence: North Pope Street
Websites: Tonyeubanksathens.com, facebook.com/tonyeubanksathens
Top priorities (from Eubanks’ candidate questionnaire):
Millions of dollars, public and private, plus thousands of staff and volunteer hours, have been invested to create a downtown that is an attractive rental market. I think it’s fair to ask developers to give back something more than just adding to the tax base. Downzoning downtown and then providing density bonuses to developers that include or fund affordable housing is one way to harness that market to serve the greater community. The same could apply with medical complexes near Prince Avenue as well.
There has to be a way to allow development to serve their neighboring community. That makes for good business.
We collect and spend tens of millions of dollars annually for SPLOST (and soon TSPLOST). While I don’t suspect anything nefarious, I think that’s a lot of money moving around outside the public eye. As a commissioner my questions, informed by background in Accounting and Finance, might seem more relevant to management than they do coming from a private citizen.
I believe transportation is a key issue because it affects every one of us on a daily basis. While it’s easy to look at transportation infrastructure as a cost, I prefer to look at it as an investment in increased economic opportunities and public safety. Having transportation alternatives is not a luxury; for many it is a necessity. Studies have shown that lack of reliable transportation is a significant impediment to realizing increased employment opportunities and movement to higher income status.
Having been intimately involved in addressing transportation issues in Athens over the last five years, I believe the Bike/Ped Master Plan, Athens in Motion, can be a transformational achievement. However, implementation will require cooperation and coordination among various agencies within the A-CC government. My participation on the Athens in Motion Citizens Advisory Committee over the last 18 months will make me an effective advocate for the plan.
Through an innovative and robust outreach/public input process, Athens in Motion has connected with citizens often overlooked by other A-CC initiatives. As for the plan itself, I believe our focus on connectivity and increased number of users as our measures of success, rather than miles of bike and pedestrian infrastructure, will lead to improvements that will have a positive effect on Athenians regardless of their needs, where they live or their level of income. Our insistence on examining existing policies and advocating for changes in those policies based on best national practices will lead to more efficient use of county resources and allow the Bike/Ped Master Plan to adapt to changes in circumstances over time.
As chair of the subcommittee charged with writing the Request for Proposals (RFP), wherein these parameters were established, I’m proud of my part in Athens in Motion. Our subcommittee’s success in building consensus to have our RFP adopted played a strong part in my decision to run for District 3 Commissioner.
I am a former downtown business owner and have a twenty-plus year record of volunteering on behalf of social causes, the arts and to improve transportation and land use planning. In each I have shown passion, empathy and I have worked towards fiscal sustainability within the organization.
While listening on the campaign trail, I’m hearing again and again that those with power are constantly telling “us” what “we” need. It’s supposed to be the other way around, and I vow to serve true to my campaign theme: nothing about us, without us – that people most directly affected by our commission’s actions should play a significant role in defining what those actions should be.
Occupation: Commissioner and managing editor of Ethics & the Environment
Residence: Hiawassee Avenue
Websites: Melissalinkathens.com, facebook.com/melissalinkathens
Top priorities (from Link’s candidate questionnaire):
1) Economic inequality & Discrimination — We must clearly & honestly face racial economic inequality and ongoing discrimination in Athens. We can begin with a Civil Rights Commission of citizens to determine issues of discrimination as well as a dedicated position within ACC government tasked with increasing inclusion in local government and community planning; identifying opportunities for employment, job training, entrepreneurship, youth development, affordable housing; & engaging in focused outreach to African American communities to inform them of such opportunities. We need to examine how we do business as a local government and develop policies to assure that our contractors engage in equitable hiring practices and that large-scale projects include Community Benefits Agreements that clearly indicate how such projects will directly benefit local marginalized communities. Additionally, we have an ethical obligation to protect the safety & well-being of our undocumented residents and their children, most of whom are American citizens. These are our friends, neighbors, & classmates and the breakup of any family in this community has a detrimental moral, social, & economic impact on our entire community. A Civil Rights Commission & related staff position should also be tasked with outreach to our immigrant community to assure that they are aware of their rights & are connected with appropriate resources to assure they can lead safe & productive lives as thriving members of our community. I have been a vocal proponent of anti-discrimination measures since long before instances of blatant discrimination in Downtown Athens became public over two years ago & I will continue to advocate for a Civil Rights Commission under new leadership.
2) Affordable Housing— As Athens becomes increasingly recognized as a great place to live and more & more people seek to reside in in-town communities, we must assure that existing low-income & working-class residents are not pushed out to areas where they have limited access to transportation, jobs, & services. This will take a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to zoning, taxation, & development policies. Not only must we explore tax mechanisms & new zoning categories, but all new development should include some contribution to our stock of affordable housing. It is imperative that we pass an Inclusionary Housing Policy as well as Overlay Zones along our trails & transportation corridors to properly incentivize appropriate development to include affordable units and we must face the reality of increasing in-town density and the need to provide affordable housing in our in-town neighborhoods by allowing small pockets of greater density n appropriate locations via accessory dwellings, cottage courts, townhomes, multiplexes, and modestly-scaled apartment buildings. Our 2015 Workforce Housing Study clearly relays these housing needs, yet there has been no focused comprehensive approach to addressing them. An Affordable Housing Task Force to begin this process is long overdue in Athens—I will continue to advocate for such a committee under new leadership.
3) Transportation— It is essential that our public transit system provide convenient service to communities with dense populations of low-income & working-class residents. As in-town housing costs skyrocket, these residents increasingly live in auto-dependent suburban communities devoid of sidewalks & bike infrastructure & far from bus lines. Too often, commercial centers where they could access jobs & services are either located at an inconvenient distance along corridors too dangerous to access on foot or bike. Not only must we consider new bus lines to accommodate these changing demographics & assure that our Bike/Ped Master Plan includes access to these communities, but we must also reconsider zoning & land use to identify areas that are appropriate for mixed-use & commercial development to better serve their needs. In the meantime, all new development should include a dedicated analysis as to how it meets alternative transportation needs. Most thriving cities include a Transportation Advisory Committee of some sort to provide such analysis & recommendations to staff, Planning Commissions, & the Mayor & Commission. I’ve been advocating for just such a citizen committee in Athens since the very beginning of my term—I will continue to advocate for such a committee under new leadership.
4) Downtown— Downtown Athens has changed dramatically in just the past few years. Not only has an onslaught of luxury hi-rises transformed the skyline & physical landscape, but then influx of thousands of new student residents has markedly changed the cultural & economic diversity of our celebrated Downtown. Locally-owned galleries, shops, & cafes that once catered to a broad diversity of Athens residents have been priced out of Downtown to make way for bars, fast-food franchises, & high-end clothiers that cater primarily to student clientele and pose increased challenges to our infrastructure needs & city services. There is little Downtown to attract families & older folks while people of color don’t feel welcome in many establishments. Too many Athens residents stay away from the part of our community that is considered our cultural core while our viability as a tourist destination is diminished. The recent Downtown Health & Safety Study offers some recommendations for addressing trash & alcohol licensing and the upcoming restreetscaping of Clayton St. will begin to address some of these issues, these do not touch upon the zoning & design guideline issue that are the root of the problem, nor do they address the desperate need for more open public space Downtown. We must seriously address these issues to encourage a more diverse, inclusive, attractive, vibrant, & human-scaled Downtown Athens deserving of our Classic City moniker. In the meantime, the Downtown Master Plan has sat gathering dust on a shelf as the committee tasked with implementing it has not been called to meet in over two years and the Downtown Development Authority offers little input on these matters. I had advocated for a moratorium on new development in Downtown Athens since long before I was elected. That moratorium finally came and went, with only the barest minimal recommendations for changes to address the prevalence of student housing. I will continue to advocate for appropriate zoning/design guidelines, incentives for local businesses, family-friendly infrastructure, cultural inclusion, & a Downtown Development Authority that properly advocates for the needs & desires of the local business community it is tasked with representing and I hope that new colleagues on the Commission will join me.
5) Environment — As state & federal environmental regulations have been abandoned, it is more important than ever that local municipalities step up to do our part to save Planet Earth. I am a lifelong environmentalist & have been an environmental activist for most of my adult life. Athens is to be commended on many fronts particularly in our efforts to conserve water, greenspace, & handle solid waste in the face of serious challenges. In my time on the Commission, I have been a vocal proponent of protecting resources & pursuing renewable energy & I commend ACC management for creating a Sustainability Office while under new leadership which has taken steps to identify municipal buildings for solar installations. Under new leadership, ACC Public Utilities is pursuing new water conservation technologies, renewable energy opportunities, & cutting-edge possibilities for biosolids re-use. However, we can do more. Our landfill is rapidly running out of space yet we are not considering bag & styrofoam bans/fees that are common practice across the US & around the world. We invest a great deal in environmental education, yet the transient nature of our large student population and the large crowds of out-of-towners who visit for football games & other events pose great challenges to such efforts. I have reached out to UGA officials to open a discussion on how ACC & UGA can better partner in these education efforts. In the meantime, we have failed to implement wetland buffers and a Green Building ordinance that was put on hold nearly eight years ago has never been resurrected, despite precedents for such in a multitude of cities across the US (including Atlanta). In the face of an all-out assault on the environment brought on by the Trump administration, as a community that embraces Progressive values & is the birthplace of the very discipline of ecology, Athens has a particular responsibility to join cities across the nation in efforts to commit to the goals set forth in the Paris Accord & commit to goals of 100% renewable energy. I find it shameful that we have not joined the dozens of local governments across the nation who have made such commitments and I hope that new leadership will bring us into the fold of such committed communities.
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