In 2018, ACC Mayor and Commission candidates endorsed by the progressive group Athens for Everyone swept the local elections in a “political earthquake” felt around the state. The progressive momentum continued into 2020 with wins for Sheriff John Q Williams, District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez and others.
Three years later, political newcomers like Commissioners Tim Denson and Patrick Davenport are now incumbents planning their re-election campaigns. Incumbency may provide a substantial advantage, but if they choose to run again, they’ll do so in a very different political context.
The Athens Republican Party is now active and appears better organized than they have been in the past. Composing about 30% of Athens’ voters, they will surely be eager to regain representation on the ACC Commission. At the same time, some leftists have become disillusioned with the pace of progress and may no longer have confidence in the local government.
Athens’ voters will have an important choice to make next year. We will get to decide whether to continue with the commission’s current progressive leadership or head in another direction.
Progressive campaign literature might try to convince you that your choice will mean the world of difference between things as monumental as poverty and prosperity or justice and injustice. But the truth is more subtle than that. The commission’s powers are greatly limited by the state government. Furthermore, tackling long-standing issues like poverty is very challenging even in the best of situations.
That being said, voters nonetheless have high expectations for their local elected officials. Before we make our decision, voters will want to know what Athens’ progressive mayor and commission has accomplished over the past three years. Is there real progress underway towards fighting poverty and eliminating injustice?
I’ll review the commission’s accomplishments as a body in the following categories and you can judge for yourself.
- Redevelopment of Bethel Homes
- Inclusionary zoning policy (in progress)
- Recommendations from the Planning Commission (in progress)
- 100% Athens commitment
- Community energy fund
Criminal Justice Reform
- End of cash bail for local ordinances
- Civilian oversight board for police (in progress)
- Mental health co-responder teams / Non-police crisis response teams
- Local resiliency package
- Distribution of federal funds
- Official homeless camp (in progress)
- Eviction prevention program (in progress)
- Neighborhood Leaders program
- Athens Community Corps
- $15 an hour minimum wage for the local government
- Shelter-in-place order
- Mask mandate
- Vaccine directive for local government workers
- Vaccine incentives
- Anti-Discrimination ordinance
- Disparity study (in progress)
- Removal of a confederate monument
- Resolution in support of the Latinx community / Policy change around driver’s licenses
- Linnentown resolution / Justice and Memory Committee
- Supporting alternative transportation in TSPLOST
- Opening College Square to pedestrians
- Zero-fare transit
What commissioners are most proud of
I asked the mayor and commission about the accomplishment(s) that they’re most proud of over the last three years, and this is what they said:
Mayor Kelly Girtz
“Broadly, among the greatest work we have done is connecting residents to resources that were previously in shorter supply. Examples are: the wave of local housing opportunity… [and] dramatically increased access [for transit].”
Commissioner Patrick Davenport
“One of the projects that I am most proud of was working with Solid Waste to create a county wide recycling program. All ACC events must use recyclable / compostable / reusable materials. I am fond of this because my family members live next to the landfill and the less we send to the landfill the better it is for our environment and my family.”
Commissioner Tim Denson
“I am most proud of achieving Zero-Fare Public Transit. Removing barriers to public transit is so worthwhile because the return on that investment is felt environmentally, economically, equitably, relieving our infrastructure along with health & safety. With zero-fare transit, we are helping all Athenians get to where they need to go while leaving a little more money in the pockets of those who need it most. I am also very relieved to finally see a Human Rights Committee and non-discrimination ordinance coming together.”
Commissioner Carol Myers
“I’m particularly proud of the following: the adoption of a new green building code for ACC buildings, money in the budget to hire a 100% Athens Renewable director for the sustainability office and discussions with developers from the Classic Center to the North Athens / Bethel Homes redevelopment about their efforts towards making their developments greener and more energy sustainable.”