August 7, 2019

Summer Stories You Might Have Missed

Photo Credit: Whitley Carpenter

Broderick Flanigan works on a Hot Corner mural.

Summertime in Athens is slow, yes, but things do happen. We here at Flagpole know that not everybody’s been in town, though, and even those who didn’t take a vacay may not have paid attention too closely to the news. Here are a few noteworthy items to get you caught up.

May 15: Clarke County School Superintendent Demond Means was hit with an ethics complaint filed by a Newnan lawyer, Patrick McKee, on behalf of an anonymous group of Athens residents, prompting complaints from Means’ supporters that it was racially motivated.

May 22: The Clarke County Board of Education chose LaKeisha Gantt as its new president. Gantt, a psychologist by trade, replaced Jared Bybee, who resigned his seat. The board will be choosing a replacement for Bybee in District 4 at its Aug. 8 meeting.

May 29: Flagpole Music Editor Gabe Vodicka—who somehow got into the Grateful Dead despite rarely consuming anything stronger than an IPA—kicked off a summer series in which local musicians (and the mayor) extolled the virtues of perhaps America’s most divisive band. 

June 5: An adjacent property owner nearly nixed plans for a Hot Corner mural celebrating black history on the side of the Morton Theatre by refusing to allow artists to use his parking lot as a staging area. But the ACC government volunteered the city-owned Costa Building a block away, and Broderick Flanigan and Miami-based Elio Mercado have completed the mural.

June 19: During a contentious meeting, the school board agreed to a 2019–2020 budget that restored grants for local school governance teams that Means had wanted to cut, but also eliminated several proposed social-emotional learning positions and diverted federal funds away from restorative justice. Means also lashed out at the “toxic” discourse about CCSD on social media and criticized teachers and principals who he said weren’t getting results.

ACC officials announced that Wayfair, an online furniture and home-goods retailer based in Boston, would open a call center in the General Time development off Newton Bridge Road, employing 500 people at a minimum of $14.50 an hour. The economic development coup became somewhat controversial a week later, when some Wayfair workers walked out to protest the company selling beds to migrant detention camps at the border.

June 26: AthFest—headlined by Walden, AFTM and Dreams So Real—was AthFest. Family and Friends took home Artist and Album of the Year at the Flagpole Athens Music Awards, while Pinky Doodle Poodle and Kxng Blanco stole the show with fiery live sets.



Photo Credit: Whitley Carpenter

Pinky Doodle Poodle.

July 3: A county audit found that the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office is chronically understaffed, specifically at the jail, creating unsafe working conditions and hurting morale. 

After receiving a report of a man wielding a knife and covered in blood at a Macon Highway apartment complex, police shot and killed Aaron Hong, 23. Officers attempted to use their stun guns on Hong, but one shot him when he charged at another officer. Hong then got up and attempted to take an officer’s gun and was shot again, this time fatally. Police Chief Cleveland Spruill said the officers acted in self-defense.

July 10: The Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation published its first-ever list of local “Places in Peril.” They included Beech Haven, a wooded retreat on the Middle Oconee River that the ACHF is planning on turning into a park; the Frank C. Mattox Center, a former African-American nightclub and later daycare off Magnolia Street; the ruins of the Central Baptist Church and cemetery in Winterville; a one-room schoolhouse at Billups Grove Baptist Church off Lexington Road; Whitehall Village, a historic mill town along Whitehall Road; and the Reese Street School, the first high school for black students in Georgia.

The ACC Commission also voted to build Athens’ first permanent protected bike lane. The new lane along Hancock Avenue downtown will be separated from traffic by parking and a painted buffer. Another set of bike lanes will run north along College Avenue.

July 17: Both commissioners and the general public are split on what to do with the “Murmur trestle,” a partially demolished railroad bridge over Trail Creek that will be part of the Firefly Trail. Options include partially replacing the trestle’s rotting wood while adding modern elements, or leaving the trestle as a historic landmark and building a new steel bridge.

Commissioners also heard from local hospital officials, who defended National EMS, the private company they hired to run ambulances 10 years ago, but critics still maintain that National is often slow to respond.

Meanwhile, Democratic former state Rep. Deborah Gonzalez announced she is running for district attorney on a platform of criminal justice reform.

July 24: Commissioners approved a final list of projects for citizen approval in a November referendum to extend a 1% sales tax for capital projects. Most controversial was $34 million for a public-private arena at the Classic Center, but the $313 million list also includes funding for a new judicial center, renovations at the existing courthouse, affordable housing, park improvements and more.

The state Professional Standards Commission, which certifies educators, kicked the ethics complaint against Means back down to the school board. The board also extended Means’ contract through the 2021–2022 school year.

July 31: Pregnant mom Auriel Callaway, 24, was killed in the crossfire during a gunfight at Clarke Gardens apartments off Barnett Shoals while walking with her young son. Police quickly arrested neighbor Kiresa Shanice Cooper, 27, and charged her with the crime.

Mayor Kelly Girtz announced some good news for Eastsiders: The Georgia Department of Transportation will start work next year on fixing the notorious Loop interchange at Lexington Road. 

And the latest edition of the Flagpole Guide to Athens—the best resource for information about local restaurants, parks, kids’ activities, entertainment and more—was released. Pick it up pretty much anywhere around town.