Bill Overend—a Flagpole editor in the 1990s—also has a long history of involvement in politics, from running for solicitor general in 2006 to serving as chairman of the Athens-Clarke County Democratic Committee and the Athens Downtown Development Authority board. He wants to clean up downtown, as well as the corridors leading into the city center, deal with the parking and pedestrian safety problems related to Five Points’ growth, and improve government transparency by doing more to reach out to citizens. Russell Edwards has a long history in local politics, too, starting with his run against then-congressman Paul Broun in 2010, when he was still a law student at UGA. Soon after, he led the charge against the proposed downtown Walmart, then was elected ACCDC chairman as well. The father of a 4-year-old, Edwards’ main issue is making downtown a more family-friendly place. The X-factor is Carl Blount, a newcomer to politics and public life who says he is drawn to public service and will listen to constituents, but has offered little in the way of specific policies. Blount is the Republicans’ favored candidate, according to a straw poll, while Edwards is endorsed by both the progressive group Athens for Everyone and the ACCDC, although the latter endorsement is complicated by Overend’s belief that the Democratic Party shouldn’t endorse candidates in nonpartisan races.
Occupation: Insurance agent
Residence: Old Princeton Road
Top priorities (from Blount’s candidate questionnaire):
Working to Reduce Poverty in Athens
We need more opportunities and innovative thinking to tackle poverty in Clarke County. My goal will be to lead and unite the community against poverty by strengthening and establishing partnerships in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
Fighting for High-Paying Jobs
As a small business owner, I will work to ensure that Athens is welcoming to new businesses that provide high-paying, quality jobs. I will also work with our local small business owners in Athens to help them expand and create new employment opportunities in our community.
Improving Our Education System
I will be a voice for our children on the Commission. As a father of two in the public schools, I know the importance and value of improving our public education system. I will work with the School Board to find solutions to continue raising our standards and be a champion for our students.
Ensuring Historic Preservation In Our Neighborhoods
Our neighborhoods are special, and it’s important that we preserve the culture and feel of Athens. I will be a listening ear on the commission who works with all sides in a transparent way to ensure our neighborhoods are protected.
Occupation: Lawyer and business owner
Residence: Duncan Springs Road
Top priorities: Edwards did not complete Flagpole‘s candidate questionnaire.
Occupation: Lawyer and mediator
Residence: Westview Drive
Top priorities (from Overend’s candidate questionnaire):
Five Points is booming, but with the exciting new restaurants and shops, come new challenges in regard to density, parking and pedestrian safety. We need to not just fix today’s problems in Five Points, but anticipate and plan ahead for what Five Points will look like in two years, five years, ten years down the road, and we need to take action now to make that vision a reality.
We need to protect the character of our neighborhoods. In some cases, historic district designation is the right tool to accomplish this, but sometimes the restrictions of a historic district aren’t feasible or the right fit. There are other, less restrictive options available and we need to be more proactive in find the right solution for the right neighborhood. We need to make better use of overlay districts which can provide a broader, but less restrictive range of use and design standards in our existing neighborhoods and can be tailored to the specific needs of those individual neighborhoods.
Many of the main arteries into Athens feature a hodgepodge of uses, design elements and business types. These “first impression” of Athens should simply look better than they currently do. Incremental attempts at addressing and cleaning up these corridors have been made, but we need more focused action needs to happen.
With the University and medical services industry expanding, we are on track for positive economic growth over the coming years, but we need to draw more a diverse mix of white collar industry to Athens. Our community is a perfect environment for expanding tech startups, science and engineering firms, and we should attract some of the huge influx of film and television opportunities coming to Georgia. We haven’t done enough to draw these businesses here and we need to focus on attracting the type of industry that will bring good-paying jobs and keep them here.
Diversity means more than making sure our downtown bars aren’t discriminating against minorities in violation of already established state and federal civil rights laws. It means fostering a truly diverse community. Despite being a “progressive” or “liberal” community, Athens is still economically and socially segregated in many ways and often the best and brightest of our minority population leave Athens after high school and don’t return because there are more business and social opportunities elsewhere. We need to incentivize minority business development to keep our best and brightest here in our community and giving back to Athens.
Our downtown used to be the envy of other small southern cities, but now, in many ways, downtown Athens is in decline. Bad odors, broken sidewalks, and dirty storefronts don’t show off all that downtown has to offer. But downtown doesn’t just need a physical facelift, but a more diverse economic environment as well. We need a healthy mix of retail, food and beverage, residential and offices to create a vibrant, livable, workable downtown district that we can all enjoy – day or night.
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