By Joy Bratcher
The Board of Education tonight will vote on the $130 million budget proposed by Superintendent Phillip Lanoue.
Lanoue says the budget includes expenses needed to equip the renovated Clarke County High School and the rebuilding of Whitehead Elementary and Barnett Shoals Elementary schools.
A special purpose local option sales tax, SPLOST, financed the construction. In addition to the operating budget, the board will vote on matters related to the SPLOST tax
Construction began in mid 2014 on Clarke Central High School, Whitehead Road Elementary School, and Barnett Shoals Elementary School. At Clarke Central High School, a $30-million renovation and partial reconstruction is taking place according to the Clarke County School District Update presented in August of 2014.
Tonight, Lanoue will update the board on the construction.
Much of what has happened so far is demolition, but some of the restoration process is already finished. At the start of this school year, students seen restoration to their classrooms in the west wing second and third floors of the high school.
The wing’s classrooms have been expanded from 660 square feet to 930 square feet, Shearer’s article stated. This is to accommodate larger class sizes Clarke and other schools have been forced to form due to cutbacks in education funding.
Students at Whitehead Elementary will be anticipating a new building this fall as construction is scheduled to conclude in August. The new school will also be welcomed along with a new Barnett Shoals Elementary that will be finished at the end of 2015 and opened in January of 2016.
According to the budget presentation, the goals of the 2015-2016 budget also includes:
Goal I – Select, support and retain a highly dedicated, talented and diverse professional workforce.
Goal II – Create dynamic learning experiences for all students to close the achievement gap and to prepare them for college and careers.
Goal III – Strengthen neighborhood schools through strong collaborations with parent, district and community members to support student academic growth, socio-emotional development and physical well-being.
Goal IV – Strategically leverage resources to improve district programs and implement new initiatives.
Tonight’s meeting will begin at 6 pm at 240 Mitchell Bridge Road.
By Joy Bratcher
On Jan. 7, citizens of downtown Athens saw a new pilot program take affect on the street of Prince Avenue. The six-month program focuses on the crosswalk located at Newton Street and Pope Street and places orange flags at each side of the crossing. The flags are to make pedestrians more visible as they cross the street.
“In a few months we are going to do an after study of the success of the flags,” Traffic Engineer Steve Decker said. We will be looking for increased compliance with motorist.”
Kelsey Butler is a student at the University of Georgia and lives near downtown Athens. She describes herself as someone who enjoys walking around downtown as much as she drives through it to go to her hometown. As she crosses Prince Street, she admits she feels silly waving the flags so drivers will supposedly “see her better.”
Butler said that she has seen more close calls in pedestrian accidents than she has cared for especially on the infamous avenue. Yet, she is not sure if the flags will be successful.
“As a pedestrian, I can see the benefit of the flags,” Butler said. “Yet, as a motorists, it is very distracting. I could see how more accidents could be caused by motorists staring at the flags without paying attention to the person carrying the flag.”
Every five years, the Traffic Safety Research and Evaluation Group examines Athens roads to tally up the number of pedestrian and cyclist accidents due to being struck by motorists. In the most recent study released in 2012, one street stood out to researchers- Prince Avenue.
According to the report, while bike crashes are down 46% from the previous five year span complied between years 2003 and 2007, pedestrian crashes are up 160%.
Cities as far as Washington have seen success stories from the new program, but the idea of whether or not this statement is accurate is still being debated in larger cities across the country that carry a high number of pedestrians.
Salt Lake City has been using the flags since 2000. It’s city website states that due to the success of the program, in 2001 the city had to create an Adopt-a-Crosswalk program opening the doors for businesses and individuals to maintain crosswalk flag cites for little or no cost. As of 2013, more than 200 crosswalks were adopted.
Even with the program trying to help pedestrians, some see them as a joke to pull on one another. Looking in the flag pit, one may see a United States Flag, rebel flag, German flag, or Georgia Bulldog flag instead of the orange flags
According to an online article on the Athens Banner Herald website, the cost of replacing each flag costs the city $2. <http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2015-01-12/prince-avenue-pedestrian-flags-get-mixed-reviews>
Decker is quoted in the article saying, “the occasional loss of a flag would be a small price to pay if the program is effective in improving pedestrian safety.”
When using the flags, pedestrians are not to solely rely on carrying their flag. “It’s just an enhancement” for the crosswalks, and “not a cure-all” for pedestrian safety, Decker said in the article. <http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2015-01-06/pedestrian-crosswalk-flags-be-tried-prince-avenue>
In June, the city will examine Prince Avenue to see if statics have improved since the start of the project.
“I’m not sure what the results will be from this,” Butler said. “If it works to help make us safer, then it won’t matter any cost or problem it could cause. Even if it saves one life, it will be worth it.”
For activist Gretchen Smith, the environment is something worth fighting for. At a young age, she began to make changes in her life to lessen her own footprint in the environment.
“I have never owned a car,” Smith said. “I have always ridden my bike wherever I need to go. I am building a home in Athens that will run off of Solar Energy and recycle my water whenever possible. I am unplugged to the technological advances that have caused the environmental damages around us.”
The Keystone Pipeline Debate in Washington D.C. has sparked a debate across the country for people like Smith. For activists, the pipeline represents more than an oil line coming through the northern parts of the United States.
It means opening up more chances for oil and natural gas companies to bring pipelines all over the country and eventually cause harmful environmental changes to the Earth as we know it.
“Pipelines bring the access debris from the burning of oil to the water sources in order to dump it,” Smith explained. “By doing this, the pipeline threatens water supplies all around the country.”
Smith is an advocate with the Georgia Climate Change Coalition (GCCC) which has been organizing protests all over Athens and has staged protests at the University of Georgia Arch. The GCCC is responsible for shedding light to Georgians about the recent statistics involving the changes in the environment because of oil and natural gas practices such as the pipelines.
“If the Keystone bill is passed in congress, more pipelines will stretch through the States. A new pipeline is being debated to come from Texas into the southern states to ruin our waters,” Smith explains. “Texas will profit from destroying our waters with their oil.”
University of Georgia (UGA) Professor in Multi Cultural Literature, LeAnne Howe, knows the effects of laws impacting Native American Tribes. At UGA, she teaches her students about the Native American prespective of being overrun by government for the past hundreds of years through literature. As a member of the Choctow tribe in Ada, Oklahoma, her people’s homelands, natural resources, and waters await the decision in Washington.
Howe was not willing to comment on the impact of the Keystone Pipeline as a whole on the Native American people due to tribal sovereignty, but she was willing to offer her own general prespective.
“The pipeline will affect the wildlife in the areas without creating jobs per se,” Howe said.
Tara Houska is a tribal rights attorney in Washington D.C. In an article on Indian Country Media Network’s, she stated: “The bill will approve a pipeline that will send tar sands oil through traditional tribal lands and the Mni Wiconi Rural Water Project, which provides the drinking water of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.”
GCCC Dan Everett states the overall climate change is something to be aware of as well.
“Climate changes everything. Every person on earth, every non-human species, and everything you care about will be damaged by this unfolding catastrophe,” Everett said. “We need to pay attention to the sheer magnitude of the impacts.”
According to Everett, The projected level of global warming — 4 to 6 degrees Celsius or more will make it difficult to maintain a “functioning and compassionate” human civilization as well.
The Keystone Pipeline and other pipelines like it impact moves to discover a gas better for the atmosphere to try to prevent more lasting damage.
“Oil from these pipelines burns dirty,” Smith explains. “It causes unsafe levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This would mean continuing impacts around the world.”
University of Georgia students have protested with members of the GCCC to raise awareness about the impacts of the pipelines on the environment in Clarke County.
A bike ride was planned by the organization to deliver a petition to Governor Deal to persuade Georgia politicians in Washington D.C. to vote against Keystone.
“By riding our bikes,” Smith said. “We also showed how we were making changes in our routine to save our environment in Athens.”
On Feb. 24, President Obama vetoed the bill to expedite the Keystone Pipeline; however a vote in the senate scheduled on Thursday is expected to override President Obama’s veto.
On Feb. 4, Mayor Denson appears before the Athens Rotary Club to give her annual State of the City address. She is excited to stand before her peers, colleagues, and opponents to report encouraging statistics about the city she loves.
Walk into her office the next week, and you’ll see the different folders with papers she has to go through before past Tuesday’s meeting arrives. She also shows me the folder of the data she presented in her State of the City address.
“Athens has an unemployment rate of 4.9% the lowest in the state.” she says. “The city is finally getting back to where we were before the recession, but there is still much room for improvement.”
Mayor Denson cites the poverty rate being 38% in Athens as a reason for her concerns.
“We offer a lot of ways to help those in need, many of which isn’t seen in others places in North East Georgia,” Mayor Denson. “Yet, it is not a problem that can be fixed fast.”
According to Online Athens, Athens also saw an 8.5 percent increase in sales tax revenue totaling approximately $900,000. Mayor Denson is also quick to point out that the business proposals coming through her office also totaled well over a million dollars.
“One of the reasons why I ran for mayor in 2010 was because of what I was hearing on my radio,” she says. “Athens once had the highest unemployment rate in the state and was constantly deemed business unfriendly.”
One of the ways Mayor Denson has chosen to change the views of Athens is by starting an Economic Development campaign when she first took office in 2010.
“When I first came into office, I appointed 29 people to a task force to examine the businesses in Athens to see what needed to be improved,” Mayor Denson continued. “It took them nine months to present me with a document that I then appointed a committee of five commissioners to begin to examine along with myself.”
Mayor Denson recalls how Athens has changed since the start of the campaign.
“Since beginning this campaign, I have had people come up to me and comment how Athens has changed,” Mayor Denson said. “I had a builder come up to me while I was at lunch with a friend of mine and say, “Mayor Denson, you are doing a great job for businesses. The departments are much easier to work with,”” Mayor Denson recalled. “I told him that I hadn’t done anything, and he replied that just by starting the philosophy, things were getting better.”
Being the mayor also means Mayor Denson is involved in key negotiations with businesses planning on coming to Athens. A job she describes as no easy task.
This was seen in 2012 in talks between Oconee and Athens-Clarke counties began to see who would gain a new Caterpillar Plant desiring to open in one of the two counties.
“I always have said if I didn’t get an ulcer from that, I never would get one.” Mayor Denson laughs.” She paints the day very clearly.
“I was on the phone with the company and Oconee County,” Mayor Denson recalls. “Their negotiator said that they wanted Athens to bring more to the table then what we were.”
What she describes happening next is nothing but “a gut feeling” taking over.
“I told the negotiator that Athens had offered all that it could,” she continued. “All sides were astonished, and my team was as well. I knew it could cost us the company, but I was hoping not.”
A few days later, Mayor Denson received the call that the Caterpillar Plant would be coming to Athens.
“It’s a very secretive process,” Mayor Denson remembers. “We couldn’t tell anyone what was going on until it was said, done, and over with. When the community received word of what had happened, Athens was all smiles.”
As they should be, an Online Athens article from 2012 stated that the plant would bring 4,200 jobs, $2.4 billion to Athens.
“It was amazing,” Mayor Denson said. “It still is and comes up a lot.”
When Denson talks about the 2014 campaign, she is not hesitant to admit it was full of nasty politics that was not there in her 2010 run for mayor.
“It was just two people running opposed to their being five of us last time,” Denson said. “There were a lot of personal attacks.”
Some of those attacks came from the mention of the Caterpillar project. According to Flagpole.com, in an article complied before the election, writer Blake Aued says that Mayor Denson eventually winning the mayoral race against opponent Tim Denson would be no surprise.
He states, “Yet the conventional wisdom in political circles is that Nancy is unbeatable, that all she has to do is stand up and say “Caterpillar” and bulldoze the opposition.”
Mayor Denson has a different opinion about her winning the mayoral race.
“It was much more exciting since it was a validation not only for myself, but that this was the right thing for community,” Denson said. “It was very intense.”
Mayor Denson’s life is now revolving around the possibility of her daughter Georgia District 59 Representative Margaret Kaiser running for Mayor of Atlanta in 2017.
“She is about 95% sure she is going to run,” Mayor Denson said. “I couldn’t be happier for her. She is someone Atlanta needs.”
Mayor Denson smiles as she talks about the possibility of having another mayor in the family.
“She is willing to listen to all sides of an issue and is willing to put her money where her mouth is,” she continued. “Atlanta would be lucky to have her.”
When Mayor Denson is not behind her desk, she enjoys many leisurely actives such as watching Law and Order.
“I believe I have seen every Law and Order there is,” she laughs. “That’s why it is ok when I fall asleep watching it, because I am sure I have seen the episode before some time or another.”
She also enjoys spending time with her friends and family. Nine years ago, her husband, Bob, died suddenly.
“When I won the Mayoral Election in 2010,” she said. “I looked up to God and said, “I hope you didn’t take Bob away from me for this.” I hadn’t ran for mayor before because it had been something I would have never did if he was still here, but later on he became very active in Margaret’s campaign for Representative. I missed having him helping out in my election.”
Despite the day drawing to a close and the sun beginning to set, Mayor Denson decides to stay in her office before going to an engagement later that night. She laughs and says that some days she forgets what her house looks like in the daylight.
“Being mayor is a tough job, but I love it.” Mayor Denson said.