As we continue to work our way through Rick Baker’s book The Seamless City, I have found that one of the things that former St. Petersburg Mayor Baker shares with Mayor Ronnie is joy mixed with dogged optimism, and tempered by the “complicated-ness” of running a city in 21st century America. Mayor Baker, upon announcing the Grand Prix racing series in Florida, made the following statement: “We have a saying here that “It’s another great day in St. Pete…It doesn’t get much better than this.” Mayor Ronnie has made that statement his own, substituting Athens for St. Pete, of course, and catches himself saying it often.
He got a chance to experience a “great day” this week when the ASAHI Kasei Corporation broke ground on their second American plastics plant, to be located on Wilkinson Street. He was among several who spoke at the gathering, including Alabama Secretary of Commerce Canfield, State Senator Orr, Limestone County Commissioner Menefee, the Japanese Consul General, and several officials from ASAHI Kasei. Interestingly, the stated corporate values of ASAHI Kasei are “Sincerity, Creation, and Challenge,” which applied correctly will make for many “great days” as they build the local economy and our community. They made the promise to be a “good corporate citizen.”
Mayor Baker and Mayor Marks have determined that their respective cities will be the best in America. This goal is both lofty and smart, because the better a city is, the stronger are its boundaries. We face a perplexing situation in Alabama, and that is the State Supreme Court has ruled that cities can annex parts of neighboring counties and make them their own. Conversely, citizens can ask for their neighborhoods to be annexed by a neighboring city. Our only defense in avoiding “becoming Huntsville” is to become the best city, with the best schools, the best roads, the best infrastructure, the best economy, the best hospitals, the best protectors and first responders, and the best quality of life within our own local borders.
“You have to have pride in your city,” said Mayor Ronnie, and added that a healthy proof of that pride would be “that young people would want to return to Athens to visit, and hopefully to live.” He talked about the many things that “layer in” to improve quality of life, such as walking trails, schools, parks, pavilions, and of course, festivals. “There has to be a demand from the citizens for quality, coupled with pride,” he said.
Speaking of young people, the Mayor’s Youth Commission is experiencing growing pains. The program has become so popular among our high school students that this year the number of kids interested in being a part during the 2014-2015 school year has doubled from 40 to over 80. “I don’t know what we are going to do yet, how we are going to handle the growth,” he said, but his smile told me this was a “pain” he enjoyed having.
We talked about attitude, and noted that the eternal “cup-half-empty-half-full” view of life came in on the “half-empty” side of some when it came to the recent attempt at Grease Festival to break the world record for a toga party. Rather than celebrate the attempt, and the fact that the attendees greatly enjoyed themselves, a neighboring city newspaper underscored the fact that we had “failed.” Failed? I don’t think so. “We’re just getting started” he said, and then we prayed. Togas and teenagers, that’s some of what makes Ronnie roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner