Most funds for mayor campaigns come from donors outside of Athens

            It takes money to make money. In this case it takes money to run for mayor of Athens.  But where exactly does the money come from?

            The five hopefuls who have officially announced their candidacy for mayor of Athens are Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Nancy Denson, Athens Area Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Spencer Frye, retired state labor official and pastor Charlie Maddox, and students Glenn Stegall and Brandon Shinholser.

            Thus far, the candidates have raised a combined $72, 084; however, figures from recent reports show two clear leaders emerging: Denson and Frye.

            Denson currently leads the money race, with a total of $29, 552. She credits this large amount to donations of all sizes from members of the community.  But they are not the only ones supporting Denson.

            Quite a few of her contributors in this past quarter are not local at all. Documents from that last quarter reveal that five of the donors are from a state other than Georgia and that another seven are from cities other than Athens.

            This is only out of 30 contributors, and ends up being less than half. The percentage does not seem very significant, but the financial impact is. These 12 donors contributed to over half of Denson’s full amount for the past quarter.

            Their donations reached a sum of $10,107, which is 53 percent of the total amount collected from Jan. 1 to March 31 of this year, $19,070. The two largest single contributions came from two people who do not live in Georgia. Both donated $2,400 to support Denson in her campaign.

            Why are individuals in Cedar Hill, Texas and Waymart, Pa. contributing to a campaign for mayor of Athens? Ga.?

            They could be individuals who have residences in both Athens and their respective other towns. They could also be extremely interested and active in the politics of Athens, Ga., but that does not seem very realistic.

            Most likely they are friends and family members of Denson and are contributing to support her in her campaign, and there is nothing wrong with that right?

            Well except for the fact that Denson was quoted in the Athens Banner Herald saying, “I feel like I’m getting extremely good support from the community, some I haven’t expected.” Denson is right that she is getting extremely good support, only recently most of it’s coming from members outside of the community.

            Using numbers from the past quarter, on average a contributor from Athens gave Denson approximately $498, a contributor from a city other than Athens gave about $571, and a contributor from a state other than Georgia gave on average a $1,200.

            The above calculations do not take into account the amount of wealth or the economic status of the other cities and states. Yet, it definitely says something when a mayoral candidate is getting more than half of her most recent contributions from places other than the very community in which she is running in.

            But this is not only happening in Denson’s campaign. Frye, who collected the second most this past quarter with a total of $10,883, has had many contributors from people outside of the Athens area as well.

            Documents show that of Frye’s 30 recent contributors, 12 are from cities other than Athens and another three are from states other than Georgia. While he raised a little over half of the amount that Denson raised, well over half of his contributions came from individuals with addresses outside of Athens.

            Sixty-eight percent of Frye’s contributions came from donors who do not reside in Athens. According to numbers from the most recent quarter, on average donors in Athens gave $264, donors in other cities gave $533.33 and donors in other states gave $487.50. These amounts are less than amounts from Denson’s various donors, but the 68 percent of total contributions cannot be ignored.

            Like Denson, Frye’s largest single contribution was $2,400 and came from a recording studio in Atlanta. Which again, poses the question of why a recording studio in Atlanta would care about a mayoral election in Athens?

            Denson and Frye came in well ahead of their competitors this quarter for total amount of contributions, but through their use of outside contributions are they setting a pace that is unfair to their competitors? Furthermore, what does it say, when the support they receive from outside areas exceeds the support each has from the place they hope to lead one day and call home?


Teen pregnancy group revises deadline

Despite its best efforts, the OneAthens Teen Pregnancy Team has reevaluated and decided to push back its December 2010 deadline of reducing the teen pregnancy rate in Athens.

The team, established in 2007, originally planned on reducing the teen pregnancy rate in Athens by 25 percent in three years, but has since extended the deadline to December 2012.

When the group noticed that local and national statistics showed an increase in the teen pregnancy rate in 2008 it decided to reevaluate, said Jessica Heinze, the Taskforce Facilitator for the team. “This [the reevaluation] goes along with a slight increase that was seen across the nation during the time that is linked to the Bush Administrations funding for abstinence-only sex education programs,” said Heinze. “We are hoping that once more recent data is processed, it will show a decline in the rates.”

Athens-Clarke County has an average of 65 births per every thousand girls ages 15-19, according to 2007 statistics from the U.S. Census bureau. This rate exceeds the national rate of 40 by 25, and is over eight times more than the rate in France, which is a mere eight.

Lowering the teen pregnancy rate was just one part of the plan. The team also wanted to spread education and awareness, so they devised a list of suggestions on ways to educate the youth and parents of Athens. Three of the five suggestions listed were:

• Make policy recommendations to the Clarke County School Board to ensure that children are receiving accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive sex education each year in grades six through twelve;

• Educate parents to be effective health educators of their children;

• Support policies and increase funding for public health and community organizations’ efforts to prevent teen pregnancies, and provide teens with convenient, confidential access to birth control.”

Recommendations on how to achieve these goals were also created and included items such as providing opportunities to educate teens and parents, restricting the time that teens are left unsupervised, and providing support for the organizations already working to prevent teen pregnancy. While the team has not yet succeeded in reducing the teen pregnancy rate, it has been working hard to follow through on its goals and recommendations to spread awareness.

Opening a second Teen Matters clinic is one way it has done this. Two Teen Matters clinics exist in Athens. They provide various services to teen girls and boys, such as pregnancy testing, STD testing, and physicals. They also provide a way for teens to access birth control and one on one health counseling. All services are free of charge and do not require permission from a parent.

The second clinic is only open part-time, but Marcia Massengill, County Nurse Manager for Clarke County Public Health, notes that the clinic’s clients are continually increasing. “Our numbers have steadily increased since we have opened and continue to increase each quarter,” said Massengill. “In fact, in the last year alone they increased about 75-100 percent.”

According to Massengill, the clinic also has trained health professionals who teach classes in schools, community facilities, and even churches. “We can teach a class at any place that invites us to come teach,” said Massengill. “Recently, our class that has become the most popular is the ‘Talking the Birds and Bees’ class for parents. We have been asked to come speak at many PTA and parent meetings.”

The “Talking the Birds and Bees” class fulfils another goal set by the team to help educate parents. This class teaches parents how to talk to their children about puberty, sex, and sexual decision-making. The team has also hosted various youth conferences on sexual decision-making. They are required to hold four conferences a year, but according to Heinze, they usually host one a month.

So far, the most significant accomplishment the team has assisted in, is allowing an abstinence-based instead of abstinence only sexual education policy in public schools. “Before teachers and health professionals could only recommend abstinence, even if the teenager asked about birth control or other forms of contraceptives,” said Massengill. “Now, while we still always recommend abstinence, we can at least discuss methods to practice safe sex.”

This change was not something that happened overnight. “It took several years. It involved a lot of community outreach, public forums, hearing from parents, students, community members, and CCSD [Clarke County School District] board members,” said Heinze. “Most people were on board with introducing a comprehensive sex ed curriculum, but it took a lot of time to choose one appropriate for Clarke County schools, about a year. F.L.A.S.H. was chosen because it is comprehensive, easy to follow, and free online.”

Family Life and Sexual Health or F.L.A.S.H., the program Heinze is referring to was implemented this past school year in grades K-9. “It is not being taught to 10-12 [grades] because PE is not mandatory for those grades,” said Heinze. “The district has to decide how to introduce F.L.A.S.H. into other classes (English, Math, etc.), so they will introduce 10-12 one year at a time.”

The new program is comprised of curriculum that builds year after year and involves teachers, parents, administrators, and students. Field trips, guest speakers, and panel discussions on a variety of topics are also included in addition to reading materials. Topics discussed in the 11th and 12th grade curriculum include gender roles in society, HIV/Aids, and parenting, including a unit entitled “Focus on Fathering”.

While arguably the most important goal of the teen pregnancy team has yet to be accomplished, it is fair to say that the team has worked hard and is continuing to work hard to make its goal a reality.


Funding for the arts is on the decline

Athens has always been known as an arts-friendly city that provides various forums to engage in artistic experiences, but that may not always be the case.

Due to the current economic environment, funds are decreasing, and funds for the arts are consistently being cut.  “Funding goes through cycles,” said Stuart Miller, Administrator of the Arts Division at the Athens Clarke County Department of Leisure Services. “Now less of a percentage goes to the arts than in 2000. Over the past couple of years, the endowments have shrunk and people have to prioritize, unfortunately the arts are not always given top priority.”

According to Miller, the Georgia Council for the Arts, Georgia’s state agency is facing a huge budget crunch. “Their budget has decreased by 75 percent over the past four years,” said Miller. “They began with $4.2 million and they are now down to $800,000.”

In fact, due to the current economic climate, the Georgia Council for the Arts has amended its mission statement on its website, to read, “The mission of Georgia Council for the Arts is access to the arts for all Georgians, with the primary responsibility to the state’s nonprofit arts industry.” The council is choosing to add on the section about nonprofits, to highlight its new focus and responsibility to the nonprofit arts.

While the state budget is depleting, the federal budget is increasing. However, the increase in money is only to keep up with the increase in various groups and organizations wanting that money. “The good news is there is money to be had,” said Miller. “The bad news is more hands than ever are wanting that money.”

So, how is all of this effecting local arts organizations in Athens?

According to Miller, the Arts Division of the ACC Leisure Services is hurting. “Locally the ACC is cutting back and Leisure Services is a part of that,” said Miller. This cutting back trickles all the way down to the arts department and as a result we have had to cut our budget by 5 percent over the past two years. This means that we are not able to offer all the programs we offered two years ago.”

When asked about the option of private grants, Miller said that while they have received private grants before, they are currently using only public grants. “It is just a bad time to fundraise and ask for money,” said Miller.

Unfortunately, the situation is similar at the Athens Area Arts Council. Laura Inefh, President of the Athens Area Arts Council, notes that arts grants are down due to the economy, but that the organization is trying to get public assistance via SPLOST (special-purpose local-options tax) funds for public art installations in Athens. “So far we made the first cut, but I not sure yet how it will end up,” said Inefh.  “The Arts Council currently raises funds via private donations for the city’s art projects. We currently do all of our art installations and fundraising through a dedicated group of volunteers.”

However, the organization has faced challenges because of the economy. “We fund the artists’ portion of the artist designed bus shelters.  In our first round, we were able to obtain four sponsors who funded the shelters in their entirety ($5,000 each),” said Inefh. “Now we are faced with smaller private donations and fierce competition for grant funds as Athens is concentrating on poverty issues.”

Despite the challenges, Inefh remains positive and offers advice on how to improve the situation. “We (the city of Athens) are in the enviable position of being a small town with a national cultural reputation.  However, we need our town to organize a consistent funding mechanism, like a dedicated arts SPLOST, or Percent for Art fund, to assist nonprofits arts organizations with programming,” said Inefh. “That way they can spend more time developing arts events, festivals etc., that are tourist oriented, and not have to spend most of their waking hours trying to produce funding.  Most culturally savvy cities support their arts organizations this way.”

Luckily, there may be hope on the horizon if House Bill 1049 is passed by the Georgia House of Representatives. The proposed bill was introduced on Feb. 1, 2010 and “would allow each county the flexibility to pass a sales tax (be it a full penny or a fraction of a penny) to go toward supporting arts and cultural organizations, economic development incentives and quality-of-life initiatives,” according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.  

Each county would be able to vote on whether or not to implement the tax as well as the percentage of the tax that would go towards funding the arts. If the proposed bill is passed, a three-tier system would be implemented, with the organizations classified into three different levels.

According to the proposed bill, grants would be awarded as follows: “To the largest 10 percent of qualified local cultural organizations, excluding artist and support organizations, a total annual sum equal to 15 percent of their combined average annual gross revenues for their past three fiscal years; to the next largest 30 percent of qualified local cultural organizations, excluding artist and support organizations, a total annual sum equal to 17 percent of their combined average annual gross revenues for their past three fiscal years; and to the remaining 60 percent of qualified local cultural organizations, excluding artist and support organizations, a total annual sum equal to 19 percent of their combined average annual gross revenues for their past three fiscal years.”

If the bill passes, funding for the arts will increase and hopefully Georgia’s ranking of 47th in the nation for arts funding will improve, because the arts are an integral part of Athens and the state of Georgia as a whole.

Despite these trying times, many leaders of local Athens art organizations are optimistic. “As the economy improves and businesses start making money again, I suspect it will be easier to fundraise,” said Miller. “I am hoping that this improvement will begin by fiscal year 2012.”


Profile on Eve Anthony

            “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.”

             This famous first line stirs up yuletide memories for many.  For Eve Anthony, the song evokes memories of dancing with a dear friend.

            Her friend was a client at the Athens Community Council on Aging, who spent a lot of time in Anthony’s office. Being in the finals stages of Alzheimer’s disease, he could not speak, but as soon as he heard the melody and lyrics of White Christmas he would begin to dance. He would then go and find Anthony so they could dance together. This is just one of the many touching experiences that Anthony has had in her ten years working at the Athens Community Council on Aging, where she is currently the Deputy Director of the facility.

            Through her role as Deputy Director, Anthony is involved with many programs including Home Delivered Meals, Project Healthy Grandparents and a support group for caregiver’s of Alzheimer’s patients. Home Delivered Meals is similar to Meals on Wheels.  Project Healthy Grandparents assists grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, connecting them to valuable resources. The caregiver’s support group is in conjunction with the Rosalyn Carter Institute for Caregiving and is the newest program. It allows family members and the caregiver to meet with a specialist, and create a plan on the best way to provide care for their loved one. Anthony notes that the facility recently began hosting lunches for the caregivers, and these events have gained a lot of popularity.

            Anthony desired to work with the elderly at a young age, a drive she credits to her grandmother.

           “I had a wonderful grandmother. She was part of every social club, church groups, garden clubs, everything,” said Anthony. “She would always take me to the meetings with her, so I loved being around older adults.”

            Anthony nurtured her passion during her days at the University of Georgia, where she majored in recreation therapy with a focus on older adults.     

            She admits that her first experience at a nursing home during college did not start off as she expected. “I can remember walking in at age 21 or 22 and just feeling overwhelmed and nervous at the beginning of the day,” said Anthony. “But by the end of the day I had done a complete 180 and knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do.”

            Through her practicum experience, Anthony decided she wanted to work primarily with clients who had Alzheimer’s disease, because she liked the idea of “not looking at about what’s wrong, but what is still there,” she said.

            So why does she make the hour long commute twice a day from Snellville to Athens to work at the center?

            It’s simple, this is her dream job. “I had done a practicum at the Adult Day Center in Winterville, where I coordinated the activities, and I loved it,” said Anthony. “It was my dream job, but I knew it was a pipe dream.” One weekend she was visiting her best friend in Athens and looking through the classified ads, when she noticed that there was a job opening for a coordinator of the Winder Adult Day Care Center.    

            Anthony applied for the job and was hired. She stayed in Winder for a year and a half, before moving to the Athens site, where she currently works. In Athens, she began as a coordinator, and over the past ten years has worked her way up. Anthony’s positions at the facility have included overseer of all day care programs and Co-Deputy Director. Now she is the sole Deputy Director of the Athens Community Council on Aging, and could not be happier.

            “The thing I love about my job is the people that I work with, said Anthony. “I am so fortunate that everyone is here for one thing, giving the clients good quality care. It’s neat to be part of an agency that truly makes a difference.”

            It is clear that Anthony’s former and current co-workers feel the same, “Eve is the person I have always turned to when a tough question or situation comes up.  She is always careful to call upon her years of experience to explore all angles of a problem and come up with a viable solution,” said Keith Adams, the Program Coordinator for the Winder Adult Day Health Center.  “Eve also always does her best to assist families in need of our services.  She organizes the grant funding for ADH [Adult Day Health Center] and will work with the families to ensure they can receive as much service as possible.”

            It is not just Anthony’s professionalism that her friends and co-workers admire.  “Eve is a pleasure to know.  She is an incredible person with a wonderful sense of humor.  She has a level of professional maturity and dedication that comes through all of her work and interactions with others,” said Melany Sattler, a former co-worker and friend of Anthony’s. “Given that, she can still be counted on to laugh and share an inappropriate moment with you. She is a lovely and balanced person.”

            When asked what inspires her, Anthony thinks awhile before answering, “I always tell my six-year-old daughter that the most important thing is to be kind, and to treat people the way they deserve to be treated,” she said. “I am also inspired by the actions of the woman in the movie The Blind Side. She stopped and she acted. People who act and impact someone’s life for the better inspire me.”

            So whether she is jamming out to her favorite George Michael song on her drive home to Snellville or coordinating a caregiver’s lunch, Anthony inspires everyone around her with her well-balanced disposition. She is someone to come to with a problem or a funny joke, and that combination is hard to beat.


Planning Commission allows Milledge Avenue overlay to proceed

                                                                                                           

The March 4 meeting of the Athens Clarke County Planning Commission began with business as usual. At 7:00 p.m. commission members and citizens alike assembled into the gray room of the government building on Dougherty Street, and sat in their respective seats. All members were counted present, the rules on public commentary were stated, and the meeting was motioned to begin.

The first item of business, according to the agenda, was old business involving the proposed Milledge Avenue overlay and text amendments. The commission voted a unanimous yes on this item, which allows the proposed overlay to proceed. The next step for the proposed overlay is a presentation to the Mayor and Commission at their April 6 meeting at City Hall.

Brad Griffin, a staff member of the Planning Commission, was present at the meeting to answer any questions the commission members had about the proposed overlay. He conducted one final presentation using props such as a large-scale map, and a projector, to visually illustrate the exact area of land that the proposed overlay would cover.

Griffin spoke again of the importance of this proposed overlay and its pairing with the historical document, which, has already been approved. “The historical document does not cover parking or tree conservation,” said Griffin, “and tree canopy is a significant part of the character of Milledge Avenue.” Griffin noted that the objective of the proposed overlay was to reduce parking requirements by 30%, increase bicycle parking, and promote alternate transportation.

Upon completion of the presentation, the approximately 20 citizens in attendance, including Athens mayor Heidi Davison, were asked to step forward to the wooden podium if they wished to comment on the matter. No one stepped forward, so the members of the commission began their discussion.      

As the members discussed the item seated at the two rectangular tables facing each other, most seemed in agreement that the overlay should be approved and presented to the Mayor and Commissioners.

However, a slight bump in the road arose, when wording in the part of the report referring to bicycle spaces appeared to cause some confusion.

The exact section in the report causing the problem was the following, “Fraternities, sororities, semi-public halls, clubs, and lodges shall provide four on-site bicycle spaces for every 20 required auto parking spaces. Fractional spaces shall be rounded up to the next whole space.” The source of the confusion was the phrase “fractional spaces.” Commission members were unsure if this meant bicycle or automobile spaces, and they were unsure of the specific measurements of a fractional space.

As comments and suggestions went back and forth between the two tables, commission members joked that “it[the parking language issue] could be something for the Mayor and Commission to figure out,” which produced a chuckle out of Mayor Davison.

About 20 minutes later an agreement was made to change the phrase to a more specific “bicycle spaces” and to determine that fractional meant anything less than a regulation size parking space. Following the agreement, a motion for adoption of the text amendments with the language change was voted on, to which the members of the commission voted a unanimous yes.

So how do residents of Milledge Avenue feel about the vote allowing the proposed overlay to proceed?

According to Lennie Cole, a Milledge Avenue resident and president of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority at the University of Georgia, many of the Milledge Avenue residents, including her, are happy about it. “Our[the Alpha Gamma Delta] house has already been granted historic status, so we [members of Alpha Gamma Delta] are excited about the possibility of all of Milledge Avenue being able to achieve this status as well,” said Cole.       

“Milledge Avenue is such a special and important part of Athens and the University. We need to make sure that we do all that we can to ensure that it is preserved and protected. I have spoken to leaders of the other Greek organizations with houses on Milledge Avenue and they all agree. We want to be supportive of this and make sure that it happens.”

Due to the lack of negative commentary at the meeting, it seems that most Milledge Avenue residents feel the proposed overlay would be a positive thing for Athens. With support from the Planning Commission and members of the Greek organizations it seems certain that the proposed overlay will proceed successfully, and go on to be approved by the Mayor and Commission.

In other news, land developer Thomas Dekle’s request to amend binding requirements for his land off Barnett Shoals Road was not approved, and Frankie Gatrell’s request to use his Lavender Road property as a personal care home was unanimously approved by the board.

The next meeting of the Planning Commission will be on April 1 at 7:00 p.m.


Planning commission to vote on proposed amendment

The Athens Clarke County Planning Commission will hold a meeting today to decide on whether or not to proceed with its amendments and rezoning of the Milledge Avenue District.

 The commission will vote on whether or not to proceed with the amendment and allow it to be presented to the Mayor and County Commissioners at their April meeting.

 This item mainly involves land use, parking issues and the conservation of trees.

 It is also being paired with a request to allow the Milledge Avenue District to obtain historical designation.  The overlay and historical designation will work together as a pair, to cover the most land, allowing for thorough preservation of the area.

 The overlay has been so controversial that is has required its own committee of area residents, business owners, and Greek representatives, many at the Planning Commission are certain that it will be allowed to proceed.

 According to Amber Eskew, preservation planner of the Planning Commission, many think the amendment and historical designation should have happened a long time ago.

“We have not had much in the way of negative concerns for the overlay or other amendments,” Eskew said. “I think most people see Milledge Avenue as so iconic when it comes to Athens and protecting it so overdue that they are more surprised it didn’t happen sooner than fighting it now.”

 This item has been on the agenda for over a year and is important because the previous moratorium for the area will soon expire.

 The moratorium was adopted by the Mayor and Commission, and requested a temporary halt to any kind of construction work on Milledge Avenue, with the exception of a very few special circumstances.

 According to the minutes from last April’s Mayor and Commission meeting, the moratorium called for the “acceptance of all applications for all demolition permits, for all relocation permits or for building permits for exterior construction or renovation” for all of Milledge Avenue from Broad Street to its intersection with Lumpkin Street.

 “The goal has always been to proceed with the overlay and historic designation together,” said Eskew.

 For all of Milledge residents, however, this would mean a change in the rules for land use in this area.

 “The overlay is a regulatory based approach addressing some land use and site planning criteria that cannot be controlled through historic district guidelines,” Eskew said. “The change created by this ordinance allows for those land uses with the L(13) note to be processed as permitted uses that do not require public hearings versus special uses, which do require public hearings for those properties outside of the overlay boundaries. This is a very important part of the overlay.”

 According to the Planning Commission’s website, L(13) refers to buildings affected by the proposed document, including boarding houses, rooming houses, dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, institutional categories, semi-public hall, lodges, and clubs.

 Buildings, however, are not the only component of the proposed amendment. Parking and trees are also issues of concern.

 “The proposed tree changes apply to all properties on Milledge and that the proposed parking changes to shared parking would be just for this area of Milledge,” Eskew said. “The changes to the Greek house parking requirements, however, would be for all houses, not just those on Milledge.”

Not very much will change regarding the parking issue. According to Eskew and the report, there is already an equation in use that determines the amount of required parking spaces. This change would reduce the number of parking spaces required by about a third, and would only be a bother to Greek organizations during their weekly chapter meetings. However, bike parking spaces will be increased and other forms of transportation will be recommended.

“The amendments proposed directly address the concerns brought by the committee,” Eskew said. “They seek to find a better way to embrace Greek organizations on Milledge and ease some of their parking constraints while satisfying adjacent property owners that the side streets won’t be further hampered with parking problems on chapter, meeting nights, football games, parties, etc.”

Moving on to the tree issue, according to the report, the tree preservation section is for all trees greater than eight inches dbh (diameter at breast height). The report also notes that this applies only to trees in the front yards, and is in accordance to existing countywide protection regulations.

The main idea according to Eskew is “to limit tree removal in front yards, yet at the same time allow those removals that can’t be helped, provided new trees are added back.”

The proposed amendment seems likely to bring a positive change overall.

“There are always people out there who don’t want any more regulations that they see limiting the development of their property,” Eskew said. “The amendments try to make sure that new development respects the more residential character of the now commercial area.”

For those interested in attending the meeting, it will take place at the Planning Department Auditorium located on 120 W. Dougherty Street in Athens at 7:00 p.m.