NewsPub Notes

Pub Notes

Quick: how is a downtown Walmart like eliminating superdistricts? Well, for starters, both are being forced down our throats with little regard for what the people of Athens think. What Athens people think has so far been irrelevant to the developers who envision a big-box shopping mall downtown or the Republican politicians who believe eliminating superdistricts will neuter our local government of its progressive tendencies.

There’s a lot to be said for and against a downtown Walmart, just like superdistricts have their pros and cons. The basic point is that both these big issues will have a profound effect on Athens-Clarke County citizens, yet the developers and the Republicans have treated our people with disdain. The developers conducted secret negotiations for months, keeping the public in the dark, and then sprang a plan that would turn the old Armstrong and Dobbs property into a big-box mall, in the process demolishing that symbol of local enterprise, Jittery Joe’s Coffee Roaster and a National-Register warehouse district.

The Republican legislators took no part in the committee that met all summer to come up with a local reapportionment plan. Then Rep. Doug McKillip rushed in at the last minute with a hastily drawn scheme, too late for it to receive formal consideration by the reapportionment committee. That committee did take note that McKillip’s plan eliminated the superdistricts that provide dual commission coverage for every citizen. The committee also acknowledged the late groundswell of opinion among African-Americans that eliminating superdistricts would enhance their election chances. Accordingly, the reapportionment committee recommended that the mayor and commission take a look at the feasibility of superdistricts.

Now the Republican legislators – Sen. Bill Cowsert, Sen. Frank Ginn, Rep. Chuck Williams and Rep. Doug McKillip – suddenly demand that the commission act on superdistricts in the next two weeks, because they intend to bring it before the legislature. Hence the hurried convening of the mayor’s citizen committee to consider the pros and cons of superdistricts, even though everybody feels that they’re just going through the motions and that the legislators intend to change our form of government by fiat.

So, that’s how Walmart and superdistricts are the same, and that’s why people should be as angry about one as they are about the other. Both propose basic, fundamental changes that will affect the life of every citizen, yet they are unilaterally imposed for profit and politics without regard to the people they profoundly affect.

The Selig company out of Atlanta is just doing what developers do – putting together a package and recruiting retailers. They don’t have to ask whether or not we like it, but they do open themselves up to an explosion of citizen opinion that could at least have been ameliorated if we had known what was going on – especially when they spring a company like Walmart on us at the last minute.

The developers can’t necessarily be expected to understand what Athens is all about, but the politicians represent Athens; some live here. They know exactly what kind of town this is. Bill Cowsert should be ashamed of himself. He has gone to school here and married here and practiced law here. Even though he’s a Republican, he has always been open to this offbeat community and the elements that make up its charm. Now he has gone off to Atlanta and become a hardened Republican ideologue with his eyes on higher office. McKillip we know about: elected by Democrats, he flipped to the Republican side. Williams is from Oconee County; Ginn lives in Madison County. But all four have ganged up to disfigure our local government, to make their bones with the Republican family in Atlanta.

Walmart developers and Republican politicians: both would destroy our Athens for their own gain. Their power-plays exclude participation by citizens who could not only improve their plans but could aid in their acceptance. There’s a lot to be said for new business downtown, especially one that includes a grocery store. There’s a lot to be said for eliminating superdistricts. The main point is that nobody has been allowed to say anything, and that’s why we’re shouting.

Meanwhile: Slackpole

Thanks to all who have sent in material for our end-of-the-year, reader-written section, Slackpole. We still need more help from you, so that we can slack off for the holidays. Send us your non-fiction, fiction, graphic stories, photographs, etc., but hurry: the deadline is coming up fast – Monday, Nov. 28. Send your submissions to Thanks.