Preserving the Classic City

By Audrey Milam

Sean Hogan of Hogan Builders ruffled some feathers at the March meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission when, in his construction application for 380 Boulevard, he requested some alternatives to the pre-approved siding and windows. Jim and Sheila Payne, the owners of 380, requested an efficient “one over one” style window and a more prominent siding material on the rear extension to their home.

The Commission approved the siding but favored a traditional “six over six, divided light window” in keeping with the rest of the house and suggested entirely relocating the window.

Hogan’s conflict with the Commission is an example of historic preservation at its smallest scale. Most people know about big projects like saving the fire hall within the Classic Center, but few know about the Jim Paynes and their back windows, yet the vast majority of cases are on the scale of a single alteration to a private home.

The Historic Preservation Commission, a board of seven mayor-appointed citizens, handles the minute details, the nuts and bolts, literally, of preservation enforcement.

On the grander side of the spectrum, the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation works to preserve entire properties and neighborhoods.

The Heritage Foundation is responsible for registering twelve Athens neighborhoods as local historic districts. The Boulevard neighborhood, home to Payne and Hogan, is one of the city’s most prominent historic neighborhoods.

Cobbham is one of twelve local historic districts in Athens.

Cobbham is one of twelve local historic districts in Athens.

Historic designation means strict rules for neighborhood consistency and period-appropriate exterior repairs.

Because the upkeep can be burdensome, the Heritage Foundation’s “Hands on Athens” program has provided “free maintenance, repairs and landscaping improvements,” according to their website, for more than 100 homeowners since 1999. Most projects helped elderly and low-income homeowners in Newtown, Hancock, and East Athens neighborhoods.

Sometimes these rules can be difficult to follow and, according to Heritage Foundation Executive Director Amy Kissane, Commission approval can be hard to anticipate.

Kissane recommended in the Heritage Foundation’s Fall 2012 newsletter that city government provide architectural and legal training to the Historic Preservation Commissioners to turn out more consistent decisions.

She still hopes a regular training routine will be implemented.

“I can understand where the commissioners are coming from,” she said, referring to the difficulty of balancing neighborhood wishes with owner requests and preservation ordinances.

However, Kissane said, ultimately the Commission’s decisions must be “legally defensible”.

Drew Dekle, vice-chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, expressed similar concern after the March 12 meeting, saying that Hogan’s request to alter the submitted design was ultimately appropriate, but could have been controversial.

If there were a major change, more than a siding or window change, Dekle said, “Would there be a vote taken to see if what’s presented at the podium is acceptable?”

“Clarification is always the key,” said Planning Department staff. “You can’t change the substance of the application on the fly.”

Whether a modification changes the substance would still be up to the Commission to decide, meaning the application may still vary from the notice given to the public before each meeting.

“I know it’s not really your job to be concerned about citizens,” said Amy Gellins, of the Athens Clarke County Attorney’s Office, “but we all are concerned about citizens, so you’re always looking for a balance in carrying out your responsibilities.”

Gellins answers questions of procedure for the Commission but does not make recommendations.

The Historic Preservation Commission is fulfilling its duty, whether the Commissioners are comfortable with their roles or not.

Ultimately, Jim Payne said, the experience was painless and the back window will have six over six panes.

The Historic Preservation Commission approved a renovation to 380 Boulevard with a number of caveats.

The Historic Preservation Commission approved a renovation to 380 Boulevard with a number of caveats.

“It would definitely look better with that window there [in the new location].”


Freeganism in Athens?

By: Patrick Adcock

It is broad daylight and Charles Bond is assessing the situation in front of him; he’s been here before. Four trash containers sit against the back wall of the parking lot behind a local grocery store. Four chances to hit the jackpot.

Bond has spoken with the employees of this particular store before. They would prefer that any scavenging take place after dusk, when there are fewer customers coming and going and so that day-to-day operations aren’t disturbed. It’s not dusk, but there aren’t too many people around either.

Unperturbed, Bond hops up onto the nearest container. The results are disappointing; the bin is empty.

Bond moves on to the next bin. He pulls back the lid and is immediately hit with the smell of rotting vegetables. This bin is obviously a no-go. It’s not a surprising situation; sometimes one has to go home empty-handed.

The third bin is opened to reveal more vegetables – fresh this time.

This is the experience of Freegans, a subset of people who “look outside of capitalistic systems” to obtain their food according to the movement’s website. This can include growing their own vegetables in gardens, but most commonly it means digging through trash thrown out by grocery stores.

Grocery stores have an obligation to sell fresh food to customers. The result is that a lot of food gets thrown out, either because it was damaged in shipping or has passed its legal sell-by date. A lot of this food is still edible or can be used for other purposes.

Freegans see this situation as an opportunity. Dumpster diving is not a new phenomenon; however, this is the first time divers have been part of a larger movement. For them, supporting Freeganism has a moral element.

According to the official website of the movement, “After years of trying to boycott products from unethical corporations, we found that no matter what we bought we ended up supporting something deplorable.”

Many have thus turned to diving in order to obtain the necessary food supplies while in turn not spending money on companies that they feel don’t have the customers’ best interests at heart.

A problem comes with diving, however. The legality around the practice is a murky at best. For example, there is no federal law that labels diving as illegal. At the same time, state laws can sometimes prohibit the action.

In the case of Georgia, diving is not illegal. Trespassing and entering private property, however, will result in a fine for the offender. Even diving in unmarked bins could result in being questioned by police.

University of Georgia Police Chief Jimmy Williamson is careful not to condone diving, but also acknowledges that nothing can be done about it.

“It’s legal in Athens, but a lot of problems can still come from it.”

There are also serious health and safety issues, the least of which can be broken glass shards littered on the bottom of some trash bins.

These are the issues facing Charles Bond as he rummages through the bins of the back parking lot of a local grocer.

Bond is a 21-year-old student of bioengineering at UGA. He lives off-campus on a plot of land that he helps to farm as part of an agriculture group. Chickens wander his backyard where he also grows his own vegetables. Bond plays drums for several local bands.

About once a month, Bond goes diving. He has a few hotspots, such as the Earthfare on Milledge and the Kroger on Baxter. These places, he says, are relatively nice to divers and will allow them to take refuse as long as they don’t disturb daytime operations.

“Earthfare is the best,” says Bond. “I’ve heard about Trader Joe’s but I’ve never been there to look.”

Bond goes diving about once a month and has so far never been caught by either management or curious police officers. Store managers for Earthfare referred this writer to the PR department for comment on this story; however, the department never returned any emails or phone calls.

Some stores will put up signs prohibiting diving, which will result in trouble for offenders. There are also others methods for to stores hoping to deter people digging through their trash.

“In a block of buildings, because it’s not easy to get around to the back, it makes it feel more sketchy,” said Bond.

A good piece of advice for all divers is to ask someone in the store about their policies around the practice before engaging. It’s ultimately the store’s prerogative to allow or disallow diving into their own trash containers.

Bond doesn’t care much for any stigma associated with people who dive. Many people assume that Dumpster divers physically dive headfirst into trash. Bond has a technique of balancing against the side of the container so that he can reach inside without actually entering the Dumpster.

“If you are adventurous and you like free stuff, then diving is for you,” said Bond.

Bond does not eat anything that he obtains from diving, however. He uses the vegetables he obtains to feed his chickens. He is also not too enamored with the term “Freegan.”

“It sounds like a mixture of foodie, animal rights, pseudo-Marxist kind of stuff,” said Bond. “I went to Occupy, so I’m kind of tired of people using that rhetoric and not really doing anything about it.”

He hasn’t seen any evidence of the Freegan movement arriving in force in Athens, either.

“You just put a name on it and then people will attribute more value to it than there actually is,” said Bond. He is a supporter of urban gardening, but for him that is far different from a loose movement of Dumpster divers.

Bond says that the Freegan movement can gain publicity by advertising their label but it would be more meaningful if the movement was actually accomplishing something tangible.

Despite all this, Bond says he will definitely be diving again soon.

“Dig deep, don’t be afraid to get dirty, but try to stay physically outside of the trash container.”


Georgia GOP Convention advance

Paula Baroff

3/26/2015

Though he may be young, Brennan Mancil has no short list of responsibilities. A delegate to the Georgia GOP Convention, an active member of Athens GOP, and the Vice President of the University of Georgia College Republicans, Mancil is working hard to prepare for the next election cycle.

Eager to speak about Republican politics, Mancil talked openly about the upcoming Georgia GOP Convention. “Everyone already has their delegates in,” he said, “and the Convention is in May.”

The Georgia Republican Convention is looking to be star-studded this year, with the list of invited speakers including several potential presidential candidates. Secretary of State Brian Kemp reportedly has invited a growing list of speakers, which include presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz as well Gov. Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and John Kasich; Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Lindsey Graham; and former Gov. Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush.

The focus so far has been on Cruz, with Kemp saying that he “will personally help coordinate all the details to ensure a smooth and successful visit,” if Sen. Cruz is able to attend.

With Ted Cruz’s announcement Monday that he was throwing in his name as a presidential candidate, pressure on local Republican activists to begin preparing for the elections has been progressively intensifying.

Mancil, as a local GOP delegate, said that there has been a scramble, especially for candidates, to begin campaigning earlier.

“I would say that organizations that support candidates are getting out earlier,” Mancil said, “And the local GOP—we’re always trying to fund raise. But if you start really campaigning now, people will forget about your candidate quicker.”

With 2016 fast approaching, Athens GOP members like Mancil are already feeling the campaign buzz. For the Athens branch of the GOP, state nominations are a direct reflection of future political circumstances, and the beginning of a two-year race towards a Republican presidency.

Georgia, Mancil says, is a fairly good indicator of the Republican Party’s atmosphere leading up to the presidential primaries next year. “I think that Georgia accurately represents the more conservative side of the Republican Party,” Mancil said. “We have the second most number of delegates. Nationally Georgia is to the right, but Georgia regionally, certainly, we meet it perfectly.”

Georgia’s large number of delegates is drawing both candidates and divisiveness, according to Mancil. The invitations to the Georgia State Convention from Secretary Kemp were extended to a wide range of ideological leanings, from right-of-center Ted Cruz to perceived establishment moderate Jeb Bush.

“There’s a lot of disagreement on who to back.” Mancil said of this, “In Athens, and out of state.”

According to Mancil, there are already people leaving Athens and Georgia to help with super PACs and work on Ted Cruz’s campaign. The Tea Party, Mancil said, is “strong in Georgia,” but he expressed some skepticism that Cruz would win in the primaries.

“In is announcement speech, Ted really tried to appeal to religious conservatives,” Mancil said, “because it’s the second biggest demographic in Georgia.”

The State Convention will include much divisive language, according to Mancil. “There’s a lot of internal party drama,” he said. Besides the disagreements regarding presidential candidates, this internal disunity can be seen on a more local scale, he said, in state politics, especially the Georgia Republican Convention.

The Georgia delegates will be voting for the next chairman; the incumbent chairman is John Padgett, with Alex Johnson running as a challenger. Mancil said he is looking forward to an intense convention, but doesn’t anticipate an intense election.

“It’ll be heated in the rhetoric, but not in the actual results, he said. “It won’t be a very close election.”

When pressed on this, Mancil smiled, shook his head, and said, “It’ll be an easy win for John because Alex really represents the libertarian wing. He won’t win.”

The Convention itself, a weekend-long event, will be held in Athens on May 15 and 16. Most of the big name Republican speakers, according to Mancil, will be speaking on May 15, while May 16 is mainly the actual voting.

While the Republican speakers will be of most interest to average voters, he said, the really heated rhetoric will take place the next day, when the Georgia representatives and senators speak, moving up to the chairman: “It gets more heated the higher the level.”

The Georgia GOP convention cycle is an important aspect of pre-election political groundwork. While there may be off-years for the average citizen, party members, Mancil says, are involved in a never-ending cycle of intense politicking. When not aggressively working towards elections, they are constantly preparing to do so.

While they are not yet actively campaigning, Mancil said, “everyone is talking about 2016.”


Businesses still struggling to comply with recycling ordinances a year after deadline

By Evelyn Andrews

Krysten Dryfus finishes a milk container, but walks past the trash can to her outdoor closet where she stores her recyclables. Dryfus lives at the Connection at Athens and she is not aware of any recycling at the complex, so she keeps her recyclables and takes them to a recycling center.

“I just want to help the environment and recycle, but it’s so difficult and inconvenient because I have to collect all my trash and take it to a recycling center,” said Krysten Dryfus. “I wish more apartments in Athens recycled like they do in the dorms at [The University of Georgia].”

Under an Athens-Clarke County ordinance that took effect on Jan. 1, 2014, businesses and apartment complexes are required to have recycling bins, educate residents and customers about their recycling program and have adequate recycling space.

It turns out that the Connection does have recycling bins, but residents seem to be unaware of them because the apartment has failed to educate their residents at the proper level, said Joe Dunlap, a commercial recycling specialist at the Athens-Clarke County recycling division.

“If an apartment complex installs a recycling Dumpster and doesn’t tell anybody about it, yes, they are recycling but they’re not compliant with the ordinance,” he said.

“All residents are given information on recycling the day of move-in and we do encourage them to utilize the resources provided,” said Melissa Brand, the bookkeeper at the apartment.

However, Dryfus said that she doesn’t remember receiving information and has not heard about recycling programs since moving in.

Apartments are also not compliant if they do not have adequate recycling space. The Connection has one recycling container, the same size as a typical garbage disposal container, Brand said. However, Dunlop said one container is not enough space for a complex of that size.

Dunlop said about one-third of all businesses in Athens, which includes apartments, comply with the regulations. The number is fluid, Dunlop said, but a January Red & Black article said about 74 out of 284 apartments comply. Many apartments that are not compliant do have recycling, but lack education.

“A lot of apartments have put recycling in place, but it hasn’t been promoted as well as I would like and there is not the education level that I would like for residents,” Dunlop said.

Other businesses or apartment complexes are either unaware of the ordinances or waiting to see if Athens-Clarke County will enforce them. The recycling division is now pursuing businesses that don’t comply with the regulations more aggressively since the deadline to comply was Jan. 1, 2014.

“We are now more aggressively going after those that are not compliant,” Dunlop said. “If we have been working with somebody for a while and they still do not have the recycling in place, then there is a process where we turn them over to code enforcement and they are issued a citation.”

The Club apartment complex is the most recent to be turned over to code enforcement, Dunlop said, but an apartment representative reported that they do now have recycling.

The county has a benchmark to reduce waste in 2015 by 40 percent from levels in 2010 and Dunlop said they are ahead of schedule. The county has reduced waste by 47 percent and is working toward their next objective – reducing waste by 60 percent in 2018 and 75 percent in 2020.

All of this work by the county was in jeopardy of being stopped before completion. Earlier this month, the Georgia Senate passed a bill, Senate Bill 139, intended to prohibit local governments from restricting the use of plastic bags.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Athens Sen. Frank Ginn, also would have had significant consequences for Athens – it originally eliminated local governments’ ability to regulate recycling. This would have overturned the ordinances that require businesses and apartments to recycle.

However, work by Jerry NeSmith, the ACC District 6 commissioner, and Dunlop helped convince legislators to change the language so that local governments still had control over

regulations. NeSmith argued in an opinion piece for Athens-Banner Herald that the bill “does exactly the wrong things.”

Environmental factors also motivated NeSmith to try to stop bill, citing statistics that 24 million tons of plastic are disposed of every year and less than two million are recycled.

“My effort was, of course, to completely kill the whole idea of not allowing us to have ordinances regulating plastic bags,” NeSmith said, “but at the very least, don’t make us go backwards by making our existing recycling ordinances illegal.”

Although the part of the bill that would overturn the county’s ordinances has most likely been changed, it may still be included when it leaves the House Rules Committee.

“We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the Rules Committee, but I believe we have been successful in changing that part of the proposal,” NeSmith said.

Dryfus is grateful that the bill has been rewritten so that recycling will continue to become easier for her and others in the community.

“I’m glad the bill won’t make it so that Athens business don’t have to recycle,” Dryfus said. “I hope the Connection starts to make it easier to recycle and more businesses and apartments start to recycle.”


Economic Development Department off to a Good Start in Athens

By Luke Dixon

Secret and government rarely mean good things in the same sentence.

For the Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Department, a “government secret” or a temporary secret brought one of the world’s largest construction companies to the Classic City.

That secret was Caterpillar.

Just over two years ago, in February 2013, the Athens-Clarke County Commission passed a resolution, establishing the Economic Development Department. According to athensbusiness.org, the department’s website, their mission is to encourage and bring large industrial companies to Athens.

Eight and a half months following the commission’s resolution, the Caterpillar factory celebrated it’s grand opening on October 31, 2013.

Caterpillar’s arrival to the Athens community was a great first step with a large company, Alan Reddish,. the Manager of the Athens-Clarke County government, told the Athens Banner-Herald in 2012, but they are still focused jobs, regardless of the size of the company.

“We’re looking to try to build tax base and bring sustainable jobs,” Reddish said to the Athens-Banner Herald in 2012. “But we’d also say to you that there are a lot of good jobs with a lot of smaller companies. So we’re not looking for just Caterpillar-sized companies, but a lot of diversity in smaller type businesses as well.”

Bringing these large industrial businesses to Athens not only adds to the variety of businesses, it adds jobs, one of the major points of emphasis from the commission when they created the department just over two years ago.

That two-year anniversary has come and gone, and through their first two years the department has seen steady and stable growth, according to its director, Ryan Moore. They’ve brought new industry to Athens – Caterpillar and Noramco to name a couple of specifics. In those three companies, they work on excavators and tractors, medical grade products, and automotive motors, respectively.

According to Moore, his department has had success in their first two years, especially getting the word out about Athens and its economic opportunities.

“We’re out seeking for development, looking for ways to improve our quality of life here, add to the jobs base,” Moore said.

Between Caterpillar, and Noramco, they employ 1,110 people, approximately 30 percent of all industrial business jobs in Athens, according to the Economic Development Department’s website.

Through their efforts, the department maintains a strong relationship with the State of Georgia’s economic development department, according to Denise Plemmons, Program Support Analyst in Athens Economic Development Department.

“When a lot of industries are looking to relocate, they’ll contact the department of economic development through the state, and they have their people that they then research what all the industry’s looking for,” Plemmons said. “They’ll go into some very specific details about our region or resources that are available in the community. Then they kind of do a spot analysis and that kind of stuff and decide who they think the best fit is and then they’ll go start asking questions.”

In the process of asking their own questions, the companies will occasionally contact the department directly, a rare occasion, but one the department will handle with the utmost sensitivity.

“A lot of stuff is secretive because they don’t want somebody to know that they’re coming,” Plemmons said.

Although the aforementioned Caterpillar project was given one of those secret names, that did not guarantee their arrival, according to Plemmons. None of the secrecy guarantees anything.

Plemmons compared the waiting an actor will often go through following an audition, or anyone interviewing for a job. If they do not get a call back or hear back, they assume they didn’t get it.

Regardless of secrecy or wooing processes the department will undertake, the department makes sure to maintain a relationship with the State Economic Development Department and use that as their main recruiter.

That relationship and others will help the department reach their long-term goals, one of which is developing more property throughout Athens.

“That’s something we need to continue to keep in mind of, and innovative in our approach, is to setup some avenues to have good developed, pad-ready property,” Moore said.

Moore knows it won’t be all easy, like it appeared to the public when Caterpillar arrived. Regardless of the hurdles, Moore said he and his department are 100 percent committed to the industrial sector.

In addition to more industry, they also plan to add a fourth member to their staff in addition to Moore, Plemmons and Amy Lopp, the business development specialist for the department. That position will be established by the Commission at a later date, according to Plemmons.

The position will focus on facilitating the planning of where the potential new businesses will be as well as looking at small industrial businesses that could setup shop in Athens.

If all goes accordingly, Moore believes Athens will be a booming community in as little as five years.

“I would see Athens having a very vibrant industrial sector that coordinates well with the community,” Moore said when asked about Athens in five years. “A research park of sort in collaboration with the University of Georgia, and also some tie-ins to small business and entrepreneurship and just some good ecosystem of growth.”


Athens Resource Center for the Homeless: The Untold Story

By: Aaron Conley

Throughout the day, many people walk to and from cars in front of Advantage Behavioral Health Services on North Avenue, where anyone in need can receive behavioral health, development disability, and addictive disease services for free.

In recent years, the acre in front of Advantage has sat empty.

Now, the lot is full of construction equipment, and the beginnings of what will become the Athens Resource Center for the Homeless, known as ARCH. When the project is completed, ARCH will house or expand several key services for the homeless, even though they may not know it yet.

When the center opens Athens Area Homeless Shelter, AIDS Athens, the Athens Nurses Clinic, as well as Advantage will be able to provide for the individuals they serve in way that has never before been possible.

Through interviews with leaders behind the center’s creation, it becomes clear that ARCH is the product of conquered challenges. The project has overcome bias and stigma, government red tape, and financial difficulties on the way to where it is today. Those past experiences instill ARCH’s leaders, they say, with the confidence to face their newest challenge head-on. Read the rest of this entry »


Athens pushes initiatives to increase number of foster parents

Alan and Nicol Seider lounge across their couch, the foster care agency website pulled up on their laptop. They turn the computer so that it faces outward. A picture of a small blonde seven-year-old, front teeth missing, smiles from the screen.

“This is Crystal. Isn’t she cute?” Nicol Seider said, smiling. “We aren’t getting her—she’s going to a different family. But I’m just happy she’s going somewhere. So many children need a home. There are so many kids in foster care.”

Nicol and Alan Seider have wanted to adopt a child for years, and decided to adopt out of the foster system, due to what they see as the dire need for these children to find homes.

“They go from home to home a lot of times, and often there are a lot of kids in one home, because there aren’t enough foster parents,” Nicol Seider said.

Around 8,800 children in the Georgia foster care system, according to data from the Division of Family and Children Services, or DFCS. In Athens-Clarke County alone, there are at least 180 foster children, and nowhere near enough homes to take them all in. According to the most recent DFCS data, there are fewer than 20 registered foster homes in Athens.

This lack of foster homes has become a growing concern among DFCS workers.  Worried about the shortage of foster parents, DFCS last year began new initiatives to increase the number of foster families in Georgia, and specifically in Athens-Clarke County, where the poverty rate is high; 39.1 percent of children in Athens-Clarke County live below the poverty line, compared to the statewide 22.1 percent, according to city data.

The recession took a toll on the willingness of families to foster children, according to community foster care workers. Children in foster care have been removed from homes due to abuse or neglect, often specifically neglect due to poverty or poverty related issues. Since caseworkers try to place children in homes that are able to accommodate them, there are fewer potential homes in Athens-Clarke County, due to both personal choice and inability to meet basic qualifications.

Athens has a high rate of placing children in other counties. About 40 percent of children in the district are placed outside of the area, which also increases expenses, giving Athens the third highest transportation cost in the state. Placing children in other regions also sets back the main goals of the foster system, which are reunification with parents and familiarity while the children are in foster homes.

Placing children far from their original homes makes achieving these goals challenging, according to orientation leader Brigette Love, who says that transporting children to other counties breaks up families even further.

Athens began to experience an even more serious shortage of foster families after proposed Senate Bill 350 in the Georgia legislature that would privatize foster care in the state fell through. Athens was supposed to be one of the few first pilots for the system, so the county had been referring potential foster parents to private foster care agencies instead of government agencies. This made it more difficult when privatization was suspended, because the government was now lacking even more parents.

These referrals to private agencies combined with state budget cuts that laid off DFCS resource workers, and a new child protective services reporting system that greatly increased the number of cases DFCS is currently handling, to cause the current dire lack of foster families, according to DFCS region V director Mary Havick.

The Athens-Clarke County DFCS began pushing initiatives last year to encourage people to become foster families in response to this huge disparity. New efforts to recruit foster parents include monthly orientation meetings that allow people considering becoming foster parents to ask questions in a comfortable environment.

Volunteers are also finding other ways to help foster children. Private organizations work closely with the foster system and provide temporary childcare, transportation, or foster child sponsorship. Volunteers work to collect needed items like bedding, clothes, and diapers for the children.


Athens taxi drivers support Atlanta Uber lawsuit, cite safety concerns

By Evelyn Andrews

“It was hard to get a ride with Uber when they first came to Athens, but now it’s easier and cheaper than a taxi normally,” said Sydney Browning, who has ridden with the service several times.

Affordability and the easiness of getting a ride with Uber is often cited as a reason people choose the service over traditional taxis, but Uber’s lack of government oversight and background checks has led to some people to question the safeness of using them.

“I did not know that Uber doesn’t have some requirements that taxi drivers have and I do feel a little more worried getting a ride with them now,” Browning, a student at the University of Georgia, said.

Uber, a ride-sharing service, has been expanding across the globe since 2012 and debuted in Athens in August 2014. Uber, a part of the sharing economy such as Airbnb and bike rental services, operates in 55 countries and over 200 cities as of December 2014.

Uber has not been immune to mishaps, including being banned from India after allegations of rape and surge pricing during the hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia. Several taxi cab companies worldwide have sued Uber on the basis that they do not follow regulations. Athens Uber operations also have not been immune to these types of controversies, but no lawsuits have been filed.

“The real question should be is, ‘is it safe?’” said Ted Ledall, a dispatcher for United Taxi Cab in Athens, Georgia. “To be an Uber driver, there are no qualifications.”

Several taxi cab owners and drivers from Atlanta sued the ride-sharing service in September 2014, claiming Uber is operating a taxi service without a license. Many Athens taxi cab owners and drivers agree with their decision and are supporting them, Ledall said.

“We support them 110 percent,” he said.

But taxi companies in Athens are not planning their own lawsuit. Instead, they are relying on Mayor Nancy Denson.

“Everything is on the mayor’s table rights now,” Ledall said.

He said Mayor Denson should require all Uber drivers in Athens to adhere to the same regulation that taxi companies are required to follow. Athens ordinances require taxi cab drivers to receive a background check through the police department and to have a valid driver’s license with no points acquired in order to be issued a taxi license drivers are required to have.

“We check our drivers so much, there is no felonies, nothing in their background,” Ledall said.

However, one in five taxi drivers in Athens have accumulated a number of traffic or other violations within the last 10 years, according to The Red & Black.

No ordinances exist in Athens-Clarke County or state laws in Georgia that stipulate requirements for Uber, but city officials, according to The Red & Black, are reviewing ordinances that could be passed.

Hasan Ahmed, an Athens Uber driver, said the company does have stringent requirements for drivers. They do an internal background check, making sure the drivers have a valid license with a clean record.

“I don’t think you could make the argument that Uber is any less safe than taxis,” Ahmed said.

But some law makers argue that Uber still needs official government regulations, including Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) who is trying to pass legislation requiring Uber drivers to pass a government background check.

The government also requires taxi drivers to pass a drug test in order to obtain a license. Uber does not make drivers pass these tests, which Browning said is worrying.

Uber drivers are also required to have a car that is less than 10 years old, Ahmed said. Many people have said they feel safer riding with an Uber driver for that reason. Athens’ taxis are often in bad condition, older and poorly maintained, Browning said.

“I have ridden in a few taxis that do not even working gauges for speed and gas before,” she said.

Ledall deflected that argument by arguing that taxis still have more regulation than Uber. Additionally, Uber price gauges riders and charges them exorbitant prices for vomiting in the car, neither of which taxis do, Ledall said.

However, taxis in Athens do not have meters that measure the distant driven and assign a price for the riders. This makes the price taxis drivers tell riders seem arbitrary, Browning said.

No taxi drivers have harassed Ahmed, but he has been stopped by police several times, he said. However, he does not fault the officers, but rather the lack of awareness about the laws guiding Uber.

“Everything is so new and no one really knows what the rules are so sometimes the police just get confused,” Ahmed said.

According to an Athens-Clarke County police report, an Uber driver was stopped by a police officer on Jan. 9 and told to finish the ride and not take any more riders because Uber is not a licensed taxi.

Athens Uber operations has acquired several more drivers since beginning in the city in 2014 and will remain a competitive force against taxis, Ahmed said.

“I think everyone has noticed that they are many more Uber drivers,” Ahmed said.


A Profile on Athens Mayor Nancy Denson

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.


Georgia laws stymie craft beer sales

By Evelyn Andrews

Many people visiting breweries come in expecting to buy beer or bottles to take home. Laws restricting brewery sales make that impossible in Georgia, a fact Erin Moschak, a manager at Creature Comforts Brewing Company, says causes confusion for customers and ultimately, lost profits for breweries.

“At least 10 people a day will just not understand. They want to walk in and buy a beer,” Moschak said. “They don’t understand that they cannot buy a beer directly and sometimes they will get extremely confused and even leave.”

Instead of selling beer, Creature Comforts and similar breweries sell a glass that the beer is distributed in along with a wristband that allows a customer six samples of free beer since they are not allowed to sell beer to consumers. Moschak said this system “essentially the same” as selling beer directly.

The laws in Georgia restricting breweries that cause these situations were enacted during the post-Prohibition era and have remained largely unaltered since then. These laws restrict breweries ability to sell alcohol directly to consumers, force them to be open to the public for a certain number of hours and do not allow them to sell beer that consumers can take home. Georgia beer brewers and state legislators are hoping to change that.

Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) introduced last week the Georgia Beer Jobs Act, Senate Bill 63. The bill would allow breweries, such as Creature Comforts or Terrapin, to sell up to 72 ounces of beer per person. Copper Creek Brewery and other brewpubs, breweries sell food in addition to beer, like it would be able to 144 ounces per person. Both breweries and brewpubs would be allowed to sell a 12-pack of beer that a customer could take off the premises of the business.

Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Athens), one of five co-sponsors of the bill, said Georgia is losing revenue and tourism because of the restrictions.

“I think we are missing some opportunities on growing our industries and, more particularly, a lot of tourism capabilities,” said Sen. Ginn, the chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

However, the amount of revenue that Georgia would gain if the laws were repealed is unclear, Sen. Ginn.

Many local brewery owners agree that the laws hurt their businesses’ growth and stifle the creation of new breweries.

Data from the Brewer’s Association shows Georgia is No. 44 in the nation for breweries per capita, a fact many hypothesize as a result of the restrictions placed on the businesses. The state is No. 29 in the nation for total breweries with a total of No. 22, according to data by the New Yorker.

Only five states in the U.S., including Georgia, do not allow breweries to sell alcohol directly to customers, according to statistics from the Brewer’s Association. The last in the Southeast to continue enforcing these laws is Georgia.

Repealing the three-tier system comprises a core part of the bill, which has to be done in order to for breweries to sell alcohol to consumers. The three-tier system divides the groups involved in selling beer into three sections that define their limitations on selling beer.

“The three-tier system keeps a strict line between the people that manufacture alcohol, distribute alcohol and retail alcohol,” Sen. Gill said.

Breweries manufacture the beer that is sold to distributors who then sell the beer to retailers which consumers buy the beer from. This system was created to stifle the creation of monopolies and protect consumers.

Distributors of alcohol comprise the majority of the support base for the current laws, contending that the laws protect concerns, according to a Flagpole Magazine article. However, Sen. Ginn said that while that was a concern during the Prohibition era when the laws were created, enough consumer protection laws now exist to eliminate that issue.

“There were not as many consumer protection laws during the Prohibition era that there are today,” Sen. Gill said. “That is one of the arguments against the three-tier system, that there is more opportunity to protect the public today.”

The three-tier system still in effect, in part, because of the effect religion has on people’s perceptions of alcohol, Sen. Ginn said.

“The way that we treat breweries in Georgia has a lot to do with our history and people’s upbringings and beliefs, such as people look at like alcohol is a sin,” he said.

Passing the bill could be a formidable task due to the power of distributors’ lobbying efforts, according to a Flagpole Magazine article, and could amount to a two-year process. However, Sen. Ginn said the bill has been assigned to a committee and will vote on the bill in the coming weeks.

The supporters of the bill hope that the bill will also define brewpubs restrictions, allow breweries to set their own hours and change tasting room restrictions.

Creature Comforts will still likely have a wristband system to limit consumers’ beer consumption to the legal amount, but the law will still help their business, Moschak said.

“We do not even know yet what we will do if the bill passes, but it definitely will help stop how confused our customers are,” Moschak said.