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Summer in Review: What You Missed While You Were at the Beach

Joy at the return of AthFest met anger at the Supreme Court overturning abortion rights in late June. Credit: Sarah Ann White / file

May 10: Athens Housing Authority director Rick Parker told the Athens-Clarke County Commission that the Bethel Midtown Village redevelopment is $14 million over budget. Commissioners decided to devote additional sales tax and federal funding to the project—which will vastly increase the number of affordable units on the property just north of downtown—and AHA is seeking a state grant to cover the rest.

May 24: Voters resoundingly re-elected Mayor Kelly Girtz to a second term. With 60% of the vote, he defeated five opponents, most notably Mara Zúñiga, who won 25%. District 1 Commissioner Patrick Davenport also won re-election, and voters chose Tiffany Taylor and John Culpepper to replace Melissa Link in District 3 and Russell Edwards in District 7, both of whom were drawn out of their districts by Republican state legislators. Commissioner Tim Denson—who was also drawn out of his district—Heidi Hensley and Mark Evans won three vacant seats on the Clarke County Board of Education.

May 26: The UGA Athletic Association held its spring meeting at Lake Oconee, where Athletic Director Josh Brooks told the board about the millions of dollars being spent on upgraded football facilities and coaches’ salaries.

June 2: The school board approved a $189 million budget for the 2022-23 school year, cutting the property tax rate from 20 mills to 18.8, although many homeowners will still pay more because property values rose an average of 16% last year.

June 7: The ACC Commission also cut the county government’s portion of the property tax rate by 0.6 mills but will still collect $9 million more in property taxes than last year. Much of the money will go toward wages for county staffers, who studies have found are underpaid compared to their peers. In particular, library employees who made as little as $9 an hour have been bumped up to at least $15. The commission also approved a “cottage court” development of small, relatively affordable houses off Oglethorpe Avenue and a stronger “complete streets” policy to improve traffic safety. In addition, resolutions passed making Juneteenth a local holiday and formally recognizing June as Pride Month.

June 21: Dexter Fisher won a runoff against Matt Pulver for the District 5 commission seat. With Fisher and Culpepper replacing progressives Denson and Edwards, the commission is likely to tilt rightward come January, potentially affecting Girtz’s agenda for his second term. In addition, Tabitha Johnson-Green won the 10th Congressional District Democratic primary for the third cycle in a row. As incumbent Jody Hice ran and lost for Georgia secretary of state, this time Johnson-Green will face heavy favorite Mike Collins, who won the Republican runoff.

June 24: After a two-year absence during the COVID-19 pandemic, AthFest returned. The arts and music festival coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down Roe v. Wade, and hundreds of people protested that decision at a rally on College Square. In related news, on this day Western Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez was among 80 DAs nationwide to sign a letter pledging not to prosecute abortions.

July 6: Plans were proposed—and later approved by the county commission—for four five-story apartment buildings surrounding a parking deck on what’s now a surface lot behind the Bottleworks. In addition, local Jewish community group Chabad of Athens is in talks with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation about buying the Camak House next door.

July 14: The school board opted not to fast-track a complaint process required by a new state law that bans the teaching of so-called “divisive concepts” about race. Instead, the policy is up for public comment and is scheduled for a vote on Aug. 11. Some board members have signaled they won’t support it, potentially setting up a showdown with Republican state officials over the locally unpopular law.

July 15: The CDC moved Clarke County’s community COVID-19 level from “low” to “high” in its weekly update, triggering the county’s mask ordinance, which has since been rescinded again.

July 21: First Lady Jill Biden visited the University of Georgia to tour a summer learning program for children and tout the American Rescue Plan Act that funded it.