As Mayor Ronnie fetched water and I put coffee in the Mr. Coffee machine in the temporary City Hall conference room, we began to talk about what a year it had been. With his characteristic “positivity,” he made the following comment: “I am more excited now to be a part of Athens, and the future, than I have been since 2004.” We began to look at the last decade, not just the last year, and on ahead a few years to the bi-centennial of the City of Athens, which will be in 2018.
We have, in the last decade, had literal killer tornados and an economically killer recession, and through all of it, by God’s grace, we came together as a community, over and over again. We talked about the slow, but definite turnaround in the economy, and what a blessing it has been to have had several corporations choose our area in which to set up shop, particularly in 2014. Right before he walked in, he was informed of yet another possible corporation interested in the Athens Limestone area, but of course could not discuss any of the details other than to say that it was “important.” I appreciate his “tight-lipped-ness” as much as I appreciate his joy. As always, he was sure to mention that the successful influx of economic projects only comes about by a team that works together, sees it through, and ultimately makes it happen.
He showed me a white board in the conference room that had all the figures for the new storm shelter projects. Athens is growing, and while we have seen a big increase in our ability to give shelter in storms, we need more, and again, through team work, we will get them. One shelter is going to be able to accommodate 400 people, and will also be multi-purpose. Through the Emergency Management Agency, the school system and the city, the project will be funded, and no one will go in the hole keeping folks safe.
The sewers are being redone, we have new sidewalks, and while things still need to be smoothed out, our city is being revitalized before we face the expected substantial growth spurt that has been forecast.
Another thing we discussed is the tricky balance in being enthusiastic about all the good that is happening, (and not just economically,) while being fearless in facing the “potholes,” (literal and symbolic) that need to be fixed. “We can give the wrong impression if all we talk about is the good, and act like we don’t have any problems,” he said. “We definitely have challenges, and it is going to take a lot of prayer and patience to meet those challenges and solve our problems.” We talked about how we had seen definite answers to prayer that were critical to the well being of our city and how it works together, and he mentioned, as he often does, how glad he is to be “surrounded by a wonderful staff.”
One of his concerns is the transition that will necessarily occur when a number of city employees retire; the challenge coming from both the standpoint of funding their retirement in the long term, as well as finding qualified people to take their place. As always, our time flew by and we “durst not” forget to pray. When we were finished, he said, “2015 will be a fantastic year,” and then Ronnie had to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner