Keeping an Eye on Athens’ Congressional Representation

Georgia’s tenth district is represented in Congressional House of Representatives by republican Paul Broun, Jr.

This congressional district encompasses most of Northeast Georgia and includes 20 counties, an approximate population of 629,702, and the cities Augusta and Athens.

A University of Georgia graduate, Broun keeps a residence in Athens. Before running for public office, Broun worked as a physician in the Classic City. He also graduated from Georgia Medical College.

Following the death of Rep. Charlie Norwood in 2007, a special election was held to name his replacement. Broun defeated democrat Jim Whitehead in that election and took office on July 25, 2007.

The Center for Responsive Politics is a national, nonprofit, independent research group that tracks the monetary effect in U.S. politics. In their 27th year of existence, the Center operates the website OpenSecrets.org, which contains information on lobbying, elections, and individual politicians.

This organization is just one of many that seek to inform voters and keep politicians accountable for their decisions.

As of the Center’s last report on March 31, 2010, Broun has gathered a total of $1,227,123 for the 2009-2010 campaign cycle.

Of that total, Broun has spent $1,071,052, according to the report.

Individual contributions make up $1,049,898 (86%) of this total. An additional $164,004 (13%) came from Political Action Committees (PACs), according to the information on OpenSecrets.org.
Political action committees are private groups that advocate for specific political candidates or political issues.

Broun contributed none of his own money to his campaign.
Two-thirds of Broun’s contributions have been generated from within Georgia. Among metro-areas, Athens contributed more money to Broun’s office than any other.

During the last year, the top contributor in Broun’s name is a PAC named Every Republican is Crucial, who sent $10,000 Broun’s way. The University of Georgia also donated $3,500, making it one of the top 25 contributors.

Three organizations on that list of top 25 contributors fall into the medical field, Broun’s original profession. Those organizations include the American Associations of Clinical Urologists, of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and that of Anesthesiologists.

Broun’s office spent that money in a number of ways.

Within those expenditures, the majority (32%) went towards a reelection campaign. Thirty-one percent are considered administrative fees. 

During the past year in office, Broun has sponsored 26 bills sent before Congress, according to OpenSecrets.org. The average representative sponsored 13 bills during that same span, but quantity does not always indicate quality.

Of these proposed pieces of legislation, almost all show a certain conservative leaning in Broun’s policies.

During 2009, Broun sponsored a bill “encouraging the President to designate 2010 as the ‘National Year of the Bible,'” according to information on the Library of Congress’ website.

In the same year, he supported bills for the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of life.

His last sponsored bill to pass through the House expressed “support for designation of the first weekend of May [2010] as Ten Commandments Weekend,” according to the Library of Congress.

Although not unpredictable for someone with his republican affiliation, these efforts do little to address issues directly facing Athens.

Of those 26 bills, only one had a direct impact on Athens.

On March 19 of last year, Broun passed a motion to congratulate the University of Georgia Gymnastics team for winning the 2009 NCAA National Championship. This practice is not uncommon for members of congress, but isn’t entirely helpful either.

On his own website, http://www.broun.house.gov, Broun lists health care, homeland security, second amendment rights, tax reform, and water management as his priority issues. Of these, only water management makes direct reference to his district.

Broun’s address of water management seeks to address the low water levels in the lakes and rivers of Northeast Georgia. No legislation sponsored by Broun in the past year has sought to address this issue.

Personally, Broun is a supporter of the second amendment as evidenced by his membership of the NRA and Athens Rifle Club.

These personal opinions seem to reflect in his policies more so than the concerns of his constituents in Athens.


University Student in Athens Mayoral Race

Getting a job straight out of college is something that every graduate hopes for. For Glenn Stegall, that job could be mayor of Athens.

The senior political-science major from Douglas, Ga. announced his candidacy for the position on Nov. 15, 2009.

“Most people wait until it is convenient for them to do something that will help other people.” said Stegall. “I don’t want to wait until I am 30 or 40 to get involved because it maybe too late. When you can potentially help people you should to do it right away.”

Stegall plans to graduate from the University of Georgia a semester early, following the Fall 2010 semester, in order to fully dedicate his focus on politics. The next mayor will take office in January 2011.

When he originally decided to run for political office two years ago, Stegall considered running for several offices. His interest in education made him especially consider the school board. In the end, mayor seemed the best fit.
“Mayor is the position where I feel I can do the most good,” he said. “The mayor’s office offers a panorama of the entire county and the issues that we face. You get to affect all of those issues and have the opportunity to set a vision for where you want the city to go.”

For Stegall, that vision is progress.

“Innovation is the new goal,” he said. “What we have to do now is not just elect someone who will sustain where we are as a city right now. We need someone who can see beyond that to where we could be. I believe I am that person. I have proposed several innovative ideas that have already gained some traction.

When asked what his hypothetical first act in office would be, Stegall laughed and said that he had considered that very question earlier that morning.

“My first act as mayor would be to begin to re-shift our focus as a community from sustaining what we have to where we are going.” he said. “I would meet with every department head and find out what we can do within that department to move this city forward. I want to get everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction.”
Although his youth and political inexperience are the obvious knocks against him, Stegall hopes to use these traits to distinguish him.

“Responsibility does not have an age limit has been our slogan,” Stegall said. “If I leave any kind of legacy, it will be to have shown young people that there is a lot more that we can do in our community and to shape the world that will one day be run by us.”

By the time of the election, Stegall will be 21-years-old, the minimum age to qualify for the position.

Amongst those who oppose Stegall for the position is another student, Brandon Shinholser. In a race that nearly never has candidates in this demographic, there are suddenly two.

“I commend him for what he is doing.” said Stegall of Shinholser. “He has the same commitment for not waiting until it is convenient as I do. We often get clumped together because we are both students, when our campaigns are quite different. I hope that people stop clumping us together and start judging us on our individual successes.”
Stegall hopes to use his age is to connect with a younger demographic of voters.
“The medium age in Athens is 26,” he said. “That surprises me because our representation seems so much older than that. It is often difficult to get younger people to vote.”

If he is to have success during the election, Stegall must involve this demographic and get them involved in the political process.
“We need to get people who don’t see how politics affects their lives reengaged,” said Stegall. “My campaign has been working on registering new voters, getting those already registered more information on our campaign. The key is going to be an overall increase in turnout.”
A keystone in his campaign has been the use of social media like Facebook. His campaign also created a contest to give away a new iPad to involved voters.

“[During the 2008 presidential election] Barack Obama was able to make politics not look so boring,” said Stegall. “He made it cool while at the same time informing people how they can change their community by participating in politics. I would like to make this election cool and get young people interested and inform them of all the things we have the power to do.”

Being a full-time student and a potential politician can take its toll.

“It’s like working two full-time jobs.” he said. “I am taking 16 hours of classes which is more than a full load. It equates to about a 12-hour work day. When you like this kind of stuff, it doesn’t stress you out. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I didn’t like it.”

Regardless of the outcome of the election, Stegall has made his name known and has already gained valuable experiences for his future.

The general primary for Athens Clark-County takes place on July 20. The general election is on Nov. 2.

If he is declared the next mayor of Athens, the 21-year-old will be just old enough to pop open the champagne in celebration.


Citizens Still Adjusting to New Parking System

Sixteen five-foot tall black machines line the streets of downtown Athens.

Installed in January, these boxes are crucial to Athens’ new downtown parking system. 

Each machine prints out parking tickets to be placed on the driver’s side dashboard. Violations may be given if the ticket is not visibly displayed. 

This multi-space pay-and-display parking system was instituted by the Athens Downtown Development Authority to ease parking woes.

It took effect on March 22 and applies to the spaces on Broad and Clayton Streets between Lumpkin and Thomas Streets.

“Those are some of the busiest and most heavily utilized parking areas in downtown,” said Laura Miller, director of parking services. “We hope that the new system will help make parking easier to find and access.”

The rest of downtown still uses the traditional single-space parking meters. The individual meters are still in place where the new system is used, but now feature red stickers reading “Please Use New Pay Station.”

Thus far, the success is difficult to judge.

“This is similar system that they’ve been using in Savannah for the past year or so,” said Brian Wardlaw. “Since I work downtown, I park here almost everyday and haven’t had any problems so far.”

First time-user Heather Carrey wasn’t as familiar with the system.

“It is just so confusing,” said Carrey, furiously searching a machine for her ticket. “I never even understand how to use the old meters either and this is even harder.”

Taylor Wood disagrees.

“It’s not confusing once you get used to it,” said Wood, who also works downtown. “The only time this system is not worth it is when it rains.”

Carrey admits that she doesn’t often park downtown and could probably master the operation with practice.

“Users seem to like the portable time, which was not applicable with the traditional meters,” said Miller. “Patrons can now move their cars any time and not lose the time they paid for.”

Another positive is the number of payment options. Motorists can buy time with coins, bills, or credit cards.

“A negative is new users cannot readily locate the payment machines,” said Miller. “We plan to add more signs directing drivers to the machines.”

Parking department employees can usually be found near the machines, ready to help wayward drivers. Miller has also noticed that members of the community experienced with the machines are willing to help out their fellow drivers who may be confused with the operation.

“When you use them, you will find that it is fairly simple equipment,” said Miller. “There are step-by-step instructions that walk users through the payment process. They were designed to be fairly intuitive.”

The ADDA set up a number of informational meetings in March to help acclimate new users. Although no new meetings are scheduled, Miller says that they are still willing to meet with members of the public upon request.

To ease the transition, no parking citations were given for the first two weeks while the machines were in use. Instead, friendly reminders of the new system were left on a vehicle’s windshield along with instructions on how to use the new system.

“We’ve been in ambassador mode to this point,” said Miller.

It took over a year for the change to be approved. It was processed during a Mayor and Commission meeting, bid on by companies, and then came the manufacturing process.

The success or failure of the machines will be closely monitored by the department of parking services over the course of the next few years to determine if more machines should be added.

On July 1, 2009, parking rates downtown were increased. It raised the rate for one hour from a quarter to 50 cents. The fine for an expired meter was raised from $3 to $10. The maximum time allowed was increased from an hour to two.

The Downtown Athens Parking System consists of 750-short term, on-street spaces, 4 surface lots and the College Avenue Parking Deck for long-term parking.

Parking downtown is enforced Monday through Saturday 8 AM to 7 PM.


Construction Sensitive to Historic Character

The house on 440 W. Cloverhurst Ave. will soon change, but it’s historic charm will not.

Architectural designs detail a proposed extensive addition to be added onto the back of the property.

“We’ve always been proud of our district,” said Diane Adams, a neighbor and the realtor who sold the house to the current residents. “That house has long been many people’s favorite in the area.”

Neighbors like Adams who appreciate the traditional character of the house need not worry about the change. The plans were approved by the Historic Preservation Committee at the most recent of their monthly meetings.

This body oversees all exterior construction on buildings in Athens’ 10 historic districts. At 5:30 on Wednesday, March 17, the Committee addressed three such construction projects, including the Cloverhurst case.

“People like to walk up and down Cloverhurst Ave. because of its character,” said David Dwyer, another neighbor. “We’re all pleased that this character is being maintained by the project.”

Adams and Dwyer were both on hand at the meeting to speak in favor of the proposal, citing the sensitivity and care being taken not to disturb the house’s integrity.

All committee meetings are open to the public. Before discussing matters, the committee opens the floor to public commentary on the issues under consideration.

“This is a significant addition with a minimal impact on the appearance of the house,” said board member Helen Kvykendal.

After approximately a half hour of discussion, the board unanimously passed the measure with minor conditions that some windows in the design be moved and additional retaining walls be constructed around the property.

The board often approves plans with conditions in the effort to aid property improvement.

“We want to allow people to move into historic Athens,” said board member Alexander Sams. “People sometimes need to make changes to improve a home’s functionality of use.”

Another condition of the approval is that the improved design be resubmitted to the Planning Department to ensure that the specified conditions will be met.

Although these may seem like small details, the Historic Preservation Committee is responsible for protecting the consistency and charm held by these historic zones.

“I’ve know that house forever and always admired it,” said Sams.

The majority of the two hours of the meeting was spent by the committee hashing out the specific details of these approval conditions.

Also present at the hearing were the new owners Tom and Donna Murphy and Jim Robinson, the architect who designed the renovation plans and submitted the proposal to the Planning Department.

“I see this as one of the most beautiful homes in the Five Points area,” said Robinson. “This is probably one of the oldest houses in the area and has a great deal of historical significance.”

The two other items on the agenda were also residential cases requesting permission for significant construction projects. Both were also handled a similar manner to the Cloverhurst property.

Robinson also designed the proposed carport for a property on Woodlawn Ave.

Like the Cloverhurst case, both other proposals were passed conditionally. Most of the conditions considered came from an introductory report given by Amber Eskew, the historic preservation planner at the Athens Planning Department.

Eskew bases her recommendations on prior research she compiles on the properties and plans. These recommendations are presented prior to any discussion and have no direct affect on the board’s final decision.

The meeting was held in the main auditorium of the Planning Department Building at 120 W. Doughtey Street downtown.

All seven board members were present.


Main Street Leads to Success

Broad Street isn’t the only main street in downtown Athens.

Despite a nationwide economic downturn, cities’ downtown areas are actually experiencing moderate fiscal success thanks in part to the Main Street development program, opperated on the state level by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Office of Downtown Development.

“Downtowns are doing better than most other retail areas,” said Billy Parrish, GDCA Downtown Development director. “Most people are experiencing a budget crunch, but there are still quite a few who want to get on board with the Main Street program.”

Athens was one of the first five cities to join the movement in the incipient year of 1980. Since that time, approximately 1,800 cities in 44 states have earned the same certification, including over a hundred in Georgia.

According to a report submitted by the Athens Downtown Development Authority, Athens added a net gain of 386 jobs and 17 businesses to downtown during 2009. During that time, approximately $40 million dollars was invested into downtown, through both private and public sources.

“Main Street provides us with a network that allows us to bounce ideas off of one another,” said Katheryn Lookofsky, director of the ADDA. “No one ever has to reinvent the wheel, because nearly all issues we face have been dealt with some where else before.”

The ADDA is Athens’ Main Street sponsoring organization and has been an integral part in establishing Athens as a trailblazer in downtown development. Not only was Athens one of the first cities to join Main Street, but it remains one of the largest in the state.

“While Downtown Athens has its own unique set of challenges, it is unquestionably the envy of many cities in the Main Street program.” said Brenda Hayes, a public service associate at the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute. Fanning is a social outreach program within the University that participates in similar municipal growth projects.

“With the amount of visitors we routinely have coming into downtown, Athens faces different issues than smaller communities,” said Lookofsky. “Still, each town has a unique perspective and we can easily learn from smaller cities.”

The GDCA operates a similar program called Better Hometowns for communities with populations less than 5,000. Athens has an estimated population of over 100,000.

To achieve its goals, Main Street focuses on four areas of municipal development: design, organization, promotion, and economic restructuring. The program provides a number of resources to their members including professional consultation, technical assistance, leadership training, and regional networking sessions.

A focus of the Main Street ideology is preservation with the hope that a downtown will make the most of what it already has. This approach is more manageable for smaller communities that do not have large budgets to spend on rebuilding.

Only a few years ago, the GDCA has altered the way cities are accepted into the program. A monitored start-up period is now involved to assure that the community is committed to a long-term development initiative.

“It’s not enough just to develop initially,” said Parrish, from the GDCA headquarters in Atlanta. “We want a community to maintain the basics of the program over time. This isn’t the old fashioned beauty contest.”

Clarkesville, Ga. is the latest Main Street city. Woodstock and Canton were predicted by Parrish as the next two in line. City leaders new and old to the program alike can attend the program’s state training session on March 17-19 held in St. Mary’s, Ga.

Athens has long been a good example of how to effectively manage available resources.

Downtown Athens does not have any alleyways to use for trash disposal and truck delivery. To address the truck issue, the city has adopted the infamous middle delivery lane.

“Having trucks constantly parked in the middle of the street isn’t the ideal situation, but it is the best available option for what we have,” said Lookofsky. “At least it works well to slow down traffic.”

This example might not have ever been used anywhere else before, but can be used as a teaching moment for places with similar issues in the future.

Preservation doesn’t only apply to a city’s buildings or resources, but also extends to each citiy’s unique identity.

“It is good to be able to collaborate on issues, but in the end each specific town has its own perspective and its own issues,” said Parrish. “After all, there’s only one Athens.”


Construction in Historic Zones Requires Approval

Any change in design or materials to the exterior of buildings in all ten of Athens’ historic districts must be approved by the Athens Historic Preservation Committee before construction can begin.

On Wednesday, March 15, the committee will hold its monthly meeting to decide three cases of residential home improvement in designated historic zones.

Held in the Athens Clarke-County Planning Department building on West Dougherty Street, the meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30. The meeting is open to the public and opportunity will be given for expression of public opinion on the items being discussed.

Prior to the start of the meeting, the committee will set an agenda for their next meeting on April 21. The agenda setting is also open to the public, but will not include an opportunity for public comment.

The three cases currently pending approval include requests for the construction of a new house, the building of a rear addition, and the building of a detached carport. Although these properties are in different locations around Athens, they all fall into one of the ten historic districts in Athens.

Jim Robinson, an architect for Design South Builders, designed the plans for two of the three properties up for approval.

“This is my first experience with the committee, but so far they have been reasonable as to what they require and leave a wide variety of options that can be used,” said Robinson.

Although historic areas do not inherently carry any zoning restrictions on property use, the committee was established with the effort of protecting the character of areas determined to be of historical significance.

“There is a comfort in knowing that your neighbor cannot build something out of character that would detract from your property,” said Amber Eskew, the Historic Preservation Planner at the Planning Department.

Robinson agrees.

“The work they do is important because it preserves the valued character of these historic neighborhoods,” he said. “I’ve seen beautiful communities ruined by the construction of a monstrosity that is not consistent with the other houses.”

All properties wishing to make renovation must submit a formal request to the Planning Department with the planned changes. These applications are reviewed by Eskew who makes recommendations to the committee based on researched findings.

“Some people see the timeframe and planning involved in applying to be a negative,” said Eskew. “Others find that it forces them to think through their plans thoroughly, resulting in fewer changes during construction.”

Certain minor changes can be approved by Eskew without the involvement of the committee. Examples of minor changes include window alterations or addition of signage.

“From a design standpoint, I did not do anything differently than I would have normally done,” said Robinson. “I tried to say sensitive to the overall character of the house and in turn with the houses around it.”

Because the majority of buildings in Athens’ historic districts are residential, most requests come from residents. There are a number of commercial and business requests, most of which come from downtown, which is entirely zoned as historic.

“Most people living in these areas don’t mind the approval process because of the results,” said Eskew. “The historic character initially draws many to live in those areas.”

Applications that are not met with approval can be passed with conditions for how to make the plans acceptable. This is in the attempt to make the process less repetitive for applicants.

The committee seeks to work with residents trying to improve the property as appropriate changes can serve to increase property value in the area.

All seven committee members are volunteers appointed by the Athens Clarke County Mayor and Commission and serve three year terms.

Although members tend to be professionals in the fields of construction or property development, the only requirement to be on the committee is a sufficient interest in historic preservation.

All decisions by the committee can be appealed to the mayor and commission. If still not satisfied, applicants can have request to have their property permanently removed from a historic district.