“Hey, Ali Ali,” Mayor Ronnie called out as he rolled in for our usual appointment, moving a mile a minute. We compared notes with regard to our respective weekends, and as is often the case, he whipped out his sermon notes from church. “Oh, we talked about the seven deadly sins in church,” he said, “and you and I need to talk about sloth.” I nearly laughed out loud, as the man who could easily be crowned as Athens’ version of the Energizer Bunny is not the first person I would think of when it comes to the term “sloth.” He said, “Actually, I think everyone struggles with sloth,” and I had to agree, albeit reluctantly, and we determined to “squash sloth.”
We celebrated the fact that over 150 Athens citizens showed up for the first annual “Let’s Move Athens,” which was a 1.5 mile walk held at the Athens High School track. Its purpose was to empower people to raise funds and awareness for various organizations, and get some exercise while they were at it. We also talked about various projects that were being sponsored by local churches, and the need to reach out beyond our church walls into the community all year long.
We moved to the topic of the city’s role in supporting NGOs (non-government organizations) and the process involved in approving and auditing the funds designated for the outfits that range from making our town look beautiful to providing much needed resources for various projects. As always, I was both fascinated by what I was learning, as well as thankful that our City Council calls for an uncommonly high level of accountability when it comes to dispensing funds to NGOs.
“When we do the annual budget, we take care of the departments first,” he said, and added, “Usually we have around $500K left over for other agencies and projects.” He showed me the budget print-out carefully prepared by Annette Barnes that shows the agency, the amount, whether or not they would receive funds in this cycle, and more.
If you are seeking financial support from the city for your organization, you submit a proposal. If approved, you must submit a quarterly audit, and if you don’t submit the audit, you are not approved for the next quarter. “There is no such thing as just throwing money at an organization,” he said, and told me that one of the requirements for each NGO is that they must recycle.
Some of the agencies included in this year’s budget are the Alabama Veterans’ Museum and Archives, Learn to Read, Birdie Thornton, the Mental Health Center, Tourism, the Beautification Board, the Family Resource Center, and more.
“We believe that supporting these organizations is important and speaks to one of the most important aspects of a good city, and that’s quality of life,” he said. “But people need to understand that everything about it is going to be done with transparency and accountability.” Those two words are not just “buzz words” to him, and he also let me know that each organization needs to state its purpose and mission with each proposal, no matter how many times they have been previously approved. The long-term effect is something that is a network of support, almost like an entity that has tentacles, except they are positive and life-giving.
We prayed for our city and our country, and then it was time once again for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner