Mayor Ronnie will be the first to tell you that he could not have become who he is today if it were not for his wife, Sandra. Recently the two of them had a new opportunity to demonstrate a near half-century of successful partnership while attending the Athens High School Class of ’64 reunion, which was held at the Athens Senior Center. AHS is Sandra’s Alma Mater, and Mayor Ronnie graduated from Tanner High School in 1962. Jackie Greenhaw produced yet another memorable event, with Athens City Attorney Shane Black playing the part of Dick Clark of American Bandstand. “Dick” brought the Markses onstage as the last act, and their job was to impersonate Sonny and Cher. They lip-synced the Bono’s monster breakout hit, “I Got You, Babe.”Sandra was Sonny, toting the flowers that would illustrate the line in the song that says, “I got flowers in the spring,” and our ever-reserved-and-oh-so-shy Mayor was Cher, complete with a long wig, and a long dress. “Dick Clark” said that this would probably be their only performance . . . ever. Pity.
Being in the public view always puts a person in the position of drawing criticism, and while Mayor Ronnie’s joy is as legendary as his sense of humor, I have seen him at times prayerfully wonder just what should be the best next step in his service to our city, a calling he takes most seriously. The Monday that we met was one of those days, even though the fun he and Sandra had enjoyed over the weekend had been considerable. We had much about which to pray. The ongoing challenge for a conservative mayor, no matter the size of the city, is to strike the balance between helping the city to function well, (essentially as a civic business that draws new business to it while studiously avoiding becoming “the Company store,”), and to maintain prudent fiscal as well as constitutional philosophical responsibility.
One of the things that a city needs to do continually is improve its government operations, and Athens has a staff of over 350 to manage and lead effectively. The department heads are essentially responsible for their own teams, and all of the employees have someone whose full time job is to look after everyone who works for the City. That would be the Human Resources Director. After 16 years of service, Sharon Saey, the City’s HR Director, retired on the 31st of July. “She did a good job, and filling her place is not going to be easy,” Mayor Ronnie told me. “We have 20 applicants, and at least 10 would be great at it,” he added. It is going to take between 30 and 60 days to go through all the applications and find the person who is the most qualified and the best fit for the City of Athens corporate culture.
We talked about all the infrastructure improvements that are being made—roads, sewers, sidewalks, and the reopening of Old Highway 31, with the replacing of the former bridge that has long been closed. The new bridge and road will come out right across the road from the Athens Wal-Mart on 72. “The developers put about 300,000 dollars into the road project, so that the road that goes through there will serve the community well for a long time,” he added. He also mentioned that the “new Old Highway 31” will also open up the land for business and easy commercial access, and in other locations there are more potential economic developments that are looking like a “lock” for Limestone County, a blessing indeed.
We took a look at what is still to be mined from Seamless City, and in the chapter on Improving Government Operations, George W. Bush is quoted as saying that one of the most important things a mayor can do is make sure that he “fixes the potholes.” It is a simple enough concept, and the idea is that if a city can stay on top of its potholes, it can handle whatever else can come its way.
What not only could, but is definitely coming our way is growth, and our Athens City School system is preparing for both building new schools, and the 64 year old Athens Middle School is going to need an overhaul. Regarding other “overhauls,” Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant has upgraded its entire security system, both in terms of resources and the training of its personnel. We have talked often in years gone by of the need for a much higher level of protection at the plant since 9/11 made it clear that there are those whose purpose in life is killing themselves and us because we are infidels, and the upgrade is a definite answer to prayer. Being optimistic while being “a watchman on the wall” in regard to public safety is another balance he has to seek. “Public Safety has always and will always be our number one priority,” he said. Currently he is happily slogging through the budgets with Annette Barnes. “She is sharp,” he said, and again I thank God that we have people who both love to do it and are good at it.
As always, the time flew by, and thankfully we had time to pray before he had to go to a difficult meeting with a disgruntled citizen. It was indeed a “day in the life,” and that is how Ronnie rolls.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner