The Denson versus Denson Athens-Clarke County Mayor Debate

By David Schick

The first official debate for the Athens-Clarke County mayoral race took place Wednesday night between the only two candidates running for office, incumbent Mayor Nancy Denson and her opponent Tim Denson (no relation).

The debate was sponsored by the University of Georgia Young Democrats and held inside the Zell Miller Learning Center and approximately 200 hundred people came out to watch.

Tim Denson, the challenger and local activist, said in his opening statement that he’s got a “21st century vision” for Athens and that the city currently isn’t doing enough for residents of ACC. In addition to his participation in Occupy Athens, Tim Denson has collaborated with the NAACP and Economic Justice Coalition.

Among the chief concerns for Tim Denson is poverty. He’s devoted a sizable amount of his platform to ambitious ideas that he believes will help cut down on the 40,000 people, according to U.S. Census data, who live below the poverty line in Athens.

“Crime and graduation rates can be connected to our poverty levels in Athens. Poverty is something we shouldn’t accept,” says Tim Denson.

One of the more controversial items on Tim Denson’s platform is to decriminalize minuscule amounts of marijuana at the local level, which stands in contrast to both state and federal law. Tim Denson added that criminal charges for marijuana impact minorities four times greater than non-minorities.

Mayor Nancy Denson, for the first time publicly, concurred with her opponent and endorsed decriminalizing and deprioritizing the arrests for “small amounts of marijuana.” She added that a marijuana arrest shouldn’t affect someone for the rest of his or her life by creating a criminal record.

Free buss service is another one of Tim Denson’s platform points that he is vehemently pushing for. He has plans to combine UGA’s and Athens’ transit system. “When you increase bus fares, you lose ridership. We need to recent reverse the fare hikes,” he says.

Mayor Denson says that Tim Denson is a “nice young man” with ambitious ideas, but a mayor has to set priorities. “It’s wonderful to have great ideas, but you have to have a way to do it and everything comes down to dollars,” says Mayor Denson. She argues against Denson’s platform items that call for increased public transit service and for governmental help with childcare saying that you’d have to take those tax dollars from somewhere else.

She adds that a tax increase for people already living here would make things worse for those living below the poverty line and could cause people to move away from Athens. “Everything comes down to money,” says Mayor Denson.

One of the major differences between Mayor Denson and her opponent is that she puts an emphasis bringing in big business from out of town to develop in Athens.

“My emphasis always has been and will be on economic development, because that’s the real answer to fighting poverty,” says Mayor Denson.

The mayor emphasized bringing the Caterpillar manufacturing plant to Athens as one of the highest achievements of her administration, which she says will ultimately bring 1,400 jobs to the community.

“We can’t just be relying on businesses and corporations coming from out of state to bring jobs to us,” contends Tim Denson.  He supports the idea of investing more in local tech startups, like the local non-profit company Four Athens. He adds that the director tells him the city “is not doing enough” to support local entrepreneurs.

Tim Denson also took a bold stand against the Board of Regents at the University System of Georgia by claiming that they were discriminating against undocumented students with their policies that prevent them from attending Georgia’s top-tier public universities.

Another difference between the candidates is the creation of a fee for the use of plastic grocery bags. Tim Denson supports it as a way to cut down on the waste in rivers and streams, but Mayor Denson says it would be bad for those already struggling financially. 

The mayor, arguing such a fee might disproportionately affect the poor, a constituency that is a focus of Tim Denson’s campaign, said whoever might be affected by the bag fee, it’s “not going to be the little yuppies who climb into their SUVs and go to Earth Fare” with their canvas grocery bags.

Tim Denson reiterated his plan for a “21st century” Athens in his closing remarks, saying that we need ambitious ideas and an “ambitious mayor” in office. Mayor Denson said in her closing statement that if you vote for her, “you will get more of the same. You will get more of what you’ve been getting for 35 years.”

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Video: A New Garden is Going to be Planted at the Ware-Lydon House


Drinking Underage in a College Town

The average student turns 21 during their junior year of university, leaving a large majority of freshman, sophomores, and juniors under the legal US drinking age.

People ages 12 to 20 years drink 11% of total alcohol consumed in the United States even though it is illegal under the age of 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also said that more than 90% of this alcohol consumed by minors is in the form of binge drinks.

University of Georgia Chief of Police Jimmy Williamson said in an interview with the Red & Black that he is noticing rising blood alcohol content levels in students being arrested.

“The alcohol levels that we’re seeing now are much greater and we are noticing that versus five, seven years ago, we’re having to involve EMS a little more than we used to,” Williamson told the Red & Black. “We’re seeing in the 0.30s more than we ever have.”

Downtown Athens is filled with endless venues and social opportunities, many of which involve alcohol. How do police enforce drinking laws when nearly half of the UGA student population is underage?

The Athens-Clarke County Police have many divisions within their department, according to their website. The ACCPD website said the Downtown Operations Unit is a part of the Uniform Division which “consists of the men and women who patrol Athens-Clarke County and meet the public on a regular basis.”

Lieutenant Gary Epps of the ACCPD Downtown Operations Unit said their purpose is to “provide the safest environment possible for what is considered the entertainment district for Athens-Clarke County,” especially when the majority of underage arrests are made in the downtown area, according to Lt. Epps.

“The Athens-Clarke County Police Department is fully aware of the amount of underage drinking that occurs throughout our community,” said Lt. Epps. “On any given night, the officers may be outnumbered 1000 to 1. We rely heavily on officer presence and strong enforcement of laws [and] ordinances to accomplish our order maintenance mandate.”

Although law enforcers may occasionally be outnumbered, their presence in the downtown area imposes a lasting impact on those drinking underage.

“While a strong enforcement stance may not prevent underage drinking, it certainly helps curb behaviors associated with the consumption of alcohol, which is most often the catalyst for other risky behaviors that lead to victimization,” Lt. Epps said. “The fear of being arrested seems to have a calming effect for some.”

Many underage drinkers agree with Lieutenant Epps. Underage Sophomore in Athens said the police presence in the downtown area impacts his behavior when drinking.

“No matter how much I drink, I see the cops on the corner and I sober up instantly,” Sophomore said. “I know that I can’t draw attention to myself for fear of being arrested.”

Lt. Epps said the “vast majority of underage arrests are made only after attention is drawn to the violator for other observed behavior.” He said violations range from open containers, urinating in public, and getting turned down from bars with a fake ID.

Bar A’s Manager agreed to an interview on the condition that he, his workers, and his bar remain unidentified. Manager said that underage drinkers are many times caught for offenses such as dress code violation before getting in trouble for being under 21.

“I myself was denied once going out to [a bar downtown] for having my hat on backwards,” Bar A’s Manager said. “I think things like that are what draw attention to a lot of these underage drinkers.”

Veteran Bartender at Bar A said she gauges potential underage drinkers through both their demeanor and conversation.

“One way I can tell who might be underage is by the way they act and talk about alcohol,” Bartender said. “I’ve denied people at the bar before if [they] look too drunk. I’ve told them ‘I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable serving you.’ It’s a little awkward sometimes, but I’m just trying to help them.”

Former Doorman at Bar B said his responsibility was to monitor the venue’s entrance and allow people of age into the bar.

“Most of the time, I turned people away for expired ID’s,” Doorman said. “It was a common indication of kids trying to use fakes.”

Drinking manifests common behaviors in underage offenders, according to Lieutenant Epps. He said that conduct ranges from “fighting [or] boisterous behavior to overindulgence resulting in situations requiring immediate medical attention.”

Heavy intoxication “increases the chances of a person becoming a victim of a crime,” according to Lt. Epps. Youths who drink underage are more likely to experience fighting, physical and sexual assault, unintentional injuries, and abuse of other drugs, according to the CDC.

The names of people interviewed and bars visited have been changed with their best interest in mind.


Caterpillar Thrives as Road Nears Completion

By: William McFadden

The newly constructed Caterpillar plant located in Athens has experienced some minor problems in an otherwise smooth partnership between the company and city said officials from both parties.

A crack in the road was noticed shortly before the grand opening of the plant, causing concerns about the safety of those coming in and out of the plant.

According to Oconee County Economic Development Director Rusty Haygood, “there was an old burial pit that was under the surface of the road. Through the settling process the road began to crack.”

Emil Beshara, the Oconee County Public Works Director, stated they first noticed the crack “sometime in early October, only a few weeks before the plant was set to open.”

Once it was determined that the road posed a threat to drivers, officials decided that it was time to take action.

“The surface was removed and the burial pit, which contained some sort of organic matter, was cleaned out,” said Haygood. “Then new dirt was put in and the road was repaved.”

Caterpillar has delivered on its promise of job creation and city spending. According to Oconee County Observations, a citizen blog dedicated to Oconee County happenings, the corporation filed a compliance report on February 26 stating it had provided 364 full-time jobs in 2013 and had invested over $100 million.

The company had originally promised to spend $50 million in 2013 and agreed to employ 100 full-time workers a month; Caterpillar averaged 214 full-time workers hired per month last year, Oconee County Observations reported.

According to the blog, Caterpillar hired 60 contract service workers, the highest number of any group, 54 agency production workers, 44 welders and 31 production assemblers amongst other categories.

Caterpillar Project Manager Teresa Curtis is optimistic about the company’s future.

“2013 was a very productive year, we were able to provide jobs for over 350 people,” said Curtis. “We look to do more of the same in 2014. Our goal for the next year is to continue providing jobs and reach our magic number of 1,400 employed.”

While the company has held up its end of the agreement, officials for Oconee and Athens-Clarke County are still working to fix the road.

The two counties, Oconee and Athens-Clarke, have invested over $18 million in project expenses for Caterpillar including $6.7 million for road improvement and $10 million for the land, according to a report the counties released in January Oconee County Observations reported.

“The road is in good shape, and we expect the project to be completed within the next two weeks,” Beshara said. “The project took time, but we wanted to be thorough and do it properly.”

It has taken time for this road to be fully repaired and Beshara blames part of the delay on the recent weather in Athens. The road, located on highway 78, has been shut down during this process causing workers to use the secondary entrance on Atlanta highway.

“Those couple of weeks in February caused us to briefly fall behind schedule,” Beshara said. “With the snow and ice we weren’t able to work on the roads until they were clear.”

According to Beshara they had hoped to finish the road building project before March, but they had to be sure that the road was set properly, and the freezing temperatures interfered with that process.

Once the roads are fully repaired, no immediate problems remain evident, and the company and city will be able to continue their goal of providing stable jobs for the Athens’ community.


Music makes a scene in Athens economy

By Taylor West

The doors of the 40 Watt Club open at 9 p.m and people trickle into the dimly lit venue to buy their first drinks of the night. The opening band takes the stage, the audience grows and two acts later the headliner, Reptar, walks on stage and looks out over a screaming, intoxicated full house.

It’s a typical Saturday night in Athens.

Athens is home to many music venues from the Georgia Theatre to the Caledonia Lounge and the Melting Point to the dozens of bars and restaurants that play live music multiple nights a week, and has produced countless bands, ranging from unknown groups to R.E.M., the B-52s and Widespread Panic.

There is no question Athens has a deeply engrained and widely known music culture that is an important part of the town’s identity. The New York Times even said the Classic City “might as well be known as Live Music Central” because of the “waves of fresh local acts and a growing number of live music sites” since the 1980s.

But what may go unnoticed is the strong presence of the music industry in the economy.

There are 52 total establishments for arts, entertainment and recreation in the Athens-Clarke County metropolitan statistical area in 2011 with a reported annual payroll of $13,209,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Athens outnumbers other comparable towns with downtown music scenes. For example, Lawrence, Kan., in the same category, has four fewer establishments and takes in  $6,588,000 less annually.

David Barbe, director of the music business certificate program at the University of Georgia, said the music’s affect on the economy in Athens is bigger than most people realize.

“It is a huge part of Athens’ economy. A normal, Friday night, packed rock band show there will be 1,000 people drinking $5 Bud Lights at the Georgia Theatre… so you know that beer sales downtown, in my opinion, are quite healthy,” Barbe said. “You see what I’m getting at.”

Jeff Humphreys, the director of the Selig Center in the Terry College of Business, said there are two ways to monitor the economy of the music scene — production, or money made from music produced in Athens, and performance.

“A performance impact would consist of attracting visitors to Athens,” he said. “The big economic impacts from performance are either putting heads in beds… plus there may be some day trip visitors that don’t actually spend the night but they may drive over from Atlanta and go to a restaurant and the venue.”

Barbe said with a band like the Drive-By Truckers, who played a three-night stand at the 40 Watt a few weeks ago, it’s believed 50 percent of the attendees to the concerts are from out of town.

“It’s fair to say that these 300 people are going to spend, between a hotel room for three days and food and beer and records and gasoline, it’s fair to say that these people spend $700 while they are here,” he said.

Drive-By Truckers, though they have a larger following than many bands playing in Athens, is just one of many groups that comes to town every year. Additionally, outside of downtown groups such as the Cleveland Orchestra attract hundreds of a different crowd when they play venues Hugh Hodgson Hall.

Though Hannah Smith, director for marketing and communications for the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she is “not aware of a specific study that has done an economic study that is tied back to the music scene,” the bureau does compile tourist information.

Smith in a subsequent email wrote that of people who signed in at the Athens Welcome Center and those who requested information online, 5 percent self-identified as having a primary interest in music.

“Destination marketers are most successful when they are able to promote what is most distinctive about their destination, experiences travelers can’t get closer to home,” Smith wrote despite the low percentage. “For Athens, that distinctive factor is the continuing vibrancy of our live music scene. Music is integral to our tourism product and definitely contributes to the local economy by bringing in tourists from around the globe.”

And Barbe said the music industry in Athens has been growing “exponentially” for the last 30 years.

“When I came here in 1981 there were about maybe 15 or 20 cool local original bands, now there are hundreds. There was no music business infrastructure at that time because for 15 or 20 local bands and a couple of bars you don’t need that,” he said. “[Now] with hundreds and hundreds of bands we’ve got record labels and artist managers and booking agents and concert promoters and t-shirt makers and all kinds of things.”

Click here for Barbe’s explanation of relationships between different facets of the music industry: Structure of the Music Industry

Athens is now home to the annual Athens Music and Arts Festival, which, for the last 15 years, AthFest has used to “showcase the best in regionally and nationally recognized Athens-based talent,” according to the Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Department website. This year, around 200 bands and artist will put on shows for the festival in local venues and on three outdoor stages.

Jeff Montgomery, an ACC public information officer and co-owner of athensmusic.net, said the music scene’s influence has grown with its numbers and the government is taking notice.

“Certainly I would say that it does affect policy,” he said. “We do things that support the Athens music scene. This office has always had a strong music tie. It’s not always official, but it’s a big interest we have, it’s a big tourist component to things, it’s a big economic boost for downtown.”

And the economic salience of the music industry in Athens, Montgomery said, is evidenced by the low closure rates of true music venues in Athens.

Montgomery said ACC pays attention to the arts in general as well — among other things, there is a public art component that is part of any capital program through our SPLOST program, which is the sales tax program, meaning a percentage of every project that’s done though SPLOST 2011, has to have a public art component to that.

“I would say there is a policy component to that,” he said. “In terms of when it comes down to laws or other things like that, sure that’s always considered when there are laws or ordinances that have the potential to affect the creative community; they tend to make their voices known. And then it is weighed against other factors, like public safety.”

Montgomery said on top of being a political consideration, the Athens government stands behind the music scene through little things.

“If you were to call City Hall, and you get put on hold, all our hold music is Athens bands. Also, the government access television that our office runs, Athens music is what plays in the background of that when we are on our bulletin board system,” he said. “We do things that support the Athens music scene.”


A New Garden is Going to be Planted at the Ware-Lydon House

By: Evan Caras

In August, money from a special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) will go to the Ware-Lydon House, located at 293 Hoyt St, to construct a historic garden and to landscape some aspects of the garden.

According to the official proposal, submitted by the Board of Directors of the Ware-Lyndon House, the garden is going to be modeled after the former Stevens Thomas Garden, which is from the same era.

The overall intention for the new addition to the house is to add a garden to show what the house would have looked like originally as well as to enhance the experience of the visitors.

The garden will also be educational since it will have displays up explaining what the garden is and give a brief history lesson to those that visit.

In addition, the garden will also feature a way to showcase water conservation.

A new system will be built that will allow the house to run on its own water the majority of the time and only very rarely will it have to rely on the government to supply the water.

In total, the system is expected to produce a total of 250 to 500 gallons of water per day.

On the other hand, as desirable as a new water system would be, having one installed will not be easy.

“A must have feature of the garden is a working cistern that will be both an educational and interpretive feature, but will also serve as the sole source for garden irrigation once the garden is established. Designing and constructing an affordable cistern that will capture enough water to service the garden during the summer will be a challenge,” Barbara Andrews, the Arts and Nature Division Administrator of the Leisure Services Department stated.

The new garden will have a set of brick steps that will lead from the street, directly to the porch.

The centerpiece of the garden is going to be a cast iron fountain.

The actual shape of the garden will be rectangular, and hedges will shape the outline of the garden.

The garden will also have four apostrophe looking flowerbeds that will be symmetrical to each other.

They bottom of the apostrophes will all face each other and the fountain will be in the very center of the formation.

The intention of the design is that those who have come to relax can enjoy the garden at the front of the house easier than the people who have come on a more serious business.

As of right now the garden is unappealing to look at.

It has a few trees, a few plants, a few flowers, and one abstract sculpture.

The grass is horribly uneven, there is discoloration is some spots of the garden, and some of the plants show clear signs of damage.

This is a stark contrast from the house itself, both inside and outside, since the house is a very fine building and lots of detail clearly went into its construction.

The inside is filled with artwork and is nicely put together.

Everywhere one looks there is something that can draw one’s eye; whether it is the artwork, old books in the library, or even the studios themselves.

It is no wonder why the building’s management wants a new garden.

However, although the garden would look nice, brighten up the area, and serve and educational function; it has stirred up controversy about whether the garden should have been implemented in the first place.

The biggest concern about adding the new garden is that it will be turned into more of a general community center for paid purposes as opposed to how it is now where a person can come in and enjoy the art library or perhaps relax in warm weather.

If the house went too far in the paid direction people would worry whether if all the services the house offers for free, namely the library and the art studios, will remain free or if they will even still be in the house.

Pam Reidy, the Leisure Services director, admitted that she heard a lot of people that worried that the garden could change to a community center, but she also stated that their fears were likely unfounded.

Pam Reidy noted that they were not going to be taking anything away from the house despite the direction it was going in.

Originally, Edward R. Ware built the house in the mid 1800, the government acquired the house in 1939, and the house was later restored in 1960.

The new addition will not be cheap, as it will cost a total of 225,000 dollars to implement and a further 5,000 dollars per year to maintain.

The most expensive change is estimated to be the construction of the cistern, a device used to catch and store rainwater, at 30,000 dollars, while the cheapest is expected to be the seventy shrubs which cost twenty-five dollars each totaling 1,750 dollars.

The garden itself will have a total area of 4675 feet (or eighty-five feet by fifty five feet).

A side benefit of the new garden is that it would make the overall area look much nicer than it currently does.

“The process is currently underway to hire professional services to design the garden.   Once the final design is approved, the construction phase will be bid out to contractors who specialize in this type of project and will build to specifications…and to have the construction completed by November,” according to Barbara Andrews.

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Student campaign for arch accessibility moving forward

By Clay Reynolds

Senior Khaled Alsafadi heard a lot about the tradition of passing underneath the arch after graduating from the University of Georgia at his freshman orientation nearly four years ago.

But Alsafadi, bound to a wheelchair, will be unable to take part in that rite of passage when he graduates unless a ramp is built through the structure, which is currently impassible for students who, like him, are mobility impaired and can’t walk up or down the stairs in front of it.

Last month, he and two other UGA students, sophomore Marquise Lane and junior Carden Wyckoff, organized a movement to make the arch accessible by building a ramp through it.

The group is now making its first set of strides toward bringing their proposal to fruition. They will take their ideas before the Student Government Association on Tuesday, and bring with them the apparent support of thousands of students.

Though not the first to come forward with this idea, the team’s case for a change and widespread support of their cause could make them the first to win many of the battles that stand in the way of accomplishing the goal – especially overcoming opposition to the proposal that still exists from top officials.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure that all alumni have equal access to the tradition,” Wyckoff said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, governs standards of handicap accessibility in public facilities, and prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities by limiting their access to or mobility within “places of public accommodations” – for example, buses, courthouses and doctors offices.

The arch does not fall under the category of a public facility in which accessibility is required, according most experts, since it serves no more than a symbolic function in the university’s day-to-day operations. Alternate access points to north campus are also available nearby for those unable to walk by or through the arch.

The need for a ramp comes in such times that students like Alsafadi, Lane and Wyckoff would want to return to campus and pass through the arch as alumni, particularly after graduation and at football games in the fall.

That sentiment has led some UGA officials to propose installing a temporary ramp during those significant times of year, though the students are pushing for a more permanent solution.

“I’m not just coming back for graduation and not just coming back for a football game,” Wyckoff said. “We want to have access to it at any point in time, regardless of when and where.”

They say a proposal similar to this one has come up and gained popularity among students once about every four or five years in the last several decades, according to what they’ve learned in research and through interactions with UGA’s disability resource center.

In about a month’s-worth of organizing the campaign, the three have mostly worked to organize support and gain publicity through petitions, social media and local and national news outlets.

As of March 19, the group’s Facebook page had received 2,136 likes, and a change.org petition to make the arch accessible had garnered 1,185 signatures.

“It’s mind-blowing to me,” Lane said of the support he’s seen for the movement. “I never really thought 2,000 people could like a page that just three people were a part of.”

Social media, a tool many groups who took on this issue before them didn’t have, could end up making a difference in whether or not the movement gains traction and sees results.

“It’s our main point of access,” Wyckoff said.

The group has discussed their ideas in detail with the Disability Resource Center, University Architects and Student Government Association. Those meetings have produced three design proposals, all which feature a ramp being put in place through just two of the arch’s three pillars, but only one providing direct access to and from the sidewalk on Broad Street.

Photo gallery: design proposals

In communications with many higher-ups about the campaign, they have experienced some pushback.

“We’ve gotten some resistance from top administration,” Alsafadi said. “But we’re not going to take no for an answer. We’re going to keep going with it until it’s done.”

The counter-argument to theirs is not one of cost. Alsafadi said the representatives of the DRC believes cost of improvements wouldn’t be an issue, and even if it were, the group would be willing to raise the necessary funds themselves.

“We would raise money in a heartbeat,” Wyckoff said.

The primary issue many administrators have deals with aesthetics, and preserving the current look of the arch in accordance with procedures for making improvements to historical sites. The project would also require cooperation of the Athens-Clarke County unified government, which owns the sidewalk in front of it.

The students insist they’re concerned with maintaining the arch’s appearance as much as they are about creating equal access to it.

“We don’t want to do anything that’s going to mess up the appearance and make it look not as appealing,” Alsafadi said.

An accessible arch would perhaps be even more in keeping with history than the current arch is. Wyckoff has uncovered photos from before the 1900s that prove the original arch was on level ground with the rest of north campus. Stairs were not added until after the turn of the 20th century.

Alsafadi, Lane and Wyckoff are optimistic that their campaign will produce results several months down the road, although the immediate outlook for their plan is uncertain.

Their case for making the arch accessible is one of equality, but it’s not as much about convenience as tradition – enabling everyone to take part in the simple, yet meaningful tradition of passing through the arch.

“The pillars, on their own, they stand for moderation, wisdom and justice,” Alsafadi said. “You have to give justice to all your students, not just the able-bodied ones. We all go through the same work and even have to go through more obstacles that we overcome, so we should be able to partake in the tradition.”