Progressives benefit from mayor’s new committee chair picks

Mayor Kelly Girtz
Mayor Kelly Girtz

Mayor Kelly Girtz has selected new leadership for the ACC Commission’s two most important committees for 2022, picking Commissioner Mariah Parker to serve as chair of the Government Operations Committee and Commissioner Russell Edwards to serve as chair of the Legislative Review Committee. 

The two committees discuss and draft ordinances before the full commission gets to weigh in, making them important legislative bodies. Commissioners Mike Hamby and Allison Wright, currently the longest-serving ACC Commissioners, had chaired these committees for the first three years of Girtz’s tenure as mayor, but are now sidelined.

Girtz didn’t share his reasoning for the change when he made the announcement at Tuesday’s commission meeting. These positions tend to rotate, and Parker has the most seniority on the commission after Hamby, Wright and Link who have all had their turn as chair of a committee recently. Perhaps it’s as simple as that.

But the move could also have been a way to improve productivity in the Government Operations committee in particular. As chair, Hamby often cancelled meetings, a habit which delayed the implementation of the Public Safety Oversight Board last year. This drew the ire of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement and caused Commissioner Tim Denson to express some public frustration with the committee’s productivity at one of the group’s town hall meetings.

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In 2021, the Government Operations Committee met ten times for roughly an hour each time. Four of these meetings lasted under 45 minutes. That’s significantly less meeting time in total than the Legislative Review Committee had last year. That committee met 14 times in 2021 for roughly 90 minutes each time. Wright, as chair, even called five meetings in a span of five weeks to finalize her committee’s work on the Human Relations Commission, a noteworthy performance.

Commissioner Mariah Parker
Commissioner Mariah Parker

Parker, the new chair of Government Ops, told APN that they “hope to have monthly meetings for an hour and a half, having found that meeting length highly productive in my time on the Legislative Review Committee. I also anticipate this will enable us to get policies moved through committee more quickly.”

Furthermore, Parker notes that they will be more inclusive of community input as chair. “I’m a strong believer in popular political education, and hope to be in better communication with the public about our work and bring in more public input on the front end as we craft policy,” Parker said.

Even if not done for political reasons, the shake-up of committee chairs benefits progressives on the commission by granting more authority to Parker, one of the body’s left-most voices. Likewise, the power of commission progressives is also strengthened by promoting Edwards, a strong Democrat who holds many progressive views, to the chair of Legislative Review Committee. This new power comes at the expense of the commission’s moderate bloc, which includes Wright, Thornton and Hamby.

Parker joins Commissioners Patrick Davenport, Tim Denson, Melissa Link and Mike Hamby on Government Operations, while Edwards joins Commissioners Jesse Houle, Carol Myers, Ovita Thornton and Allison Wright on Legislative Review.

Davenport was appointed the new head of the Audit Committee, but this position is only ceremonial for the time being. The Audit Committee has not met since former ACC Internal Auditor Stephanie Maddox was fired back in September, and it might be completely restructured before it meets again.

Myers selected as new mayor pro tempore

Commissioner Carol Myers
Commissioner Carol Myers

Myers was chosen by her peers as the new mayor pro tempore, meaning she will help Girtz craft the commission’s monthly agenda and she’ll fill in for the mayor whenever he’s absent. Edwards nominated Myers after announcing his intention to step down from the position, which tends to rotate every year.

Normally, such a nomination would not be controversial, or if it was, commissioners would settle the dispute out of the public eye. That didn’t happen in this case. Wright actually made another nomination during the meeting, that of Commissioner Thornton, right after Link seconded Edwards’ nomination of Myers. Wright argued that Thornton would be able to communicate well and concisely with all commissioners, regardless of the “clique” to which they belonged. Wright also touted Thornton’s experience as an elected official, including her time on the Board of Education, which amounts to twenty years of service.

Other commissioners spoke in favor of Myers, citing her attention to detail, work ethic and sharp intellect. Houle defended Myers’ communication style, saying that she would be the better bridge between the commission’s moderate and left blocs, whose relationship has been increasingly strained over the past year. Houle then essentially accused Thornton of using “ad hominem attacks” against other commissioners, something which Parker has also complained about in the past without using Thornton’s name, saying that some commissioners had been “harassed via text message and on the phone.”

The vote to appoint Myers as mayor pro tempore passed 6-4, with Wright, Thornton, Hamby and Davenport voting for Thornton. It’s rare to see such disagreement on a motion like this one. But as Athens’ local election season heats up, the conflict between these two commission blocs is only likely to grow more intense.

Davenport announces re-election bid

Davenport congratulated Myers for being appointed mayor pro tempore (he appeared to be caught in the middle on this vote), and then announced his plan to run for re-election as Tuesday’s commission meeting was drawing to a close. Davenport, who was arrested for DUI last September, said that he has new information on the incident that has not previously come to light, which he will share in a public interview on WUGA soon.

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