We walked into City Hall at the same time, with Mayor Ronnie telling me about having just watched a mockingbird dive bomb a squirrel. “Ooh, they can be mean, especially if they have babies close by,” he chuckled. We got our coffee, headed toward his office, and once again I got a look into the life, or week, of Ronnie. Several news outlets had mentioned the night before that Huntsville is on track to become the largest city in the state; but did you know that as opposed to Huntsville’s 7.2% increase in growth, Athens is growing more than twice that rate with the most recent statistic being 15.97%? For some, this is good news, for others, not so much, and the “challenge of growing well” is enormous.
Running anything, whether it’s a family, a business, or a city in the 21st century is significantly more complicated than it was even 20 years ago. The need for a number of leaders to involve themselves in continuing education with regard to human resources, insurance, safety, finance, and more is greater than ever. Nationally, summer is conference season for mayors and municipalities. Because Mayor Marks is a part of the League of Municipalities, has been appointed to the Alabama Insurance Board, as well as the fact that the City of Athens has complex insurance needs, he will be attending a conference to learn more about growth and risk management. “Public risk management is not something we used to have to think about much,” he said.
The fact that we live in an area where natural disaster is not uncommon, as well as having to consider other threats and emergency situations, make it necessary for everyone in leadership to be at the top of their game. “Leadership positions must be in place to plan for growth,” he said, and added that there will be several workshops and presentations geared toward pursuing personal excellence, as well as management, at the conference. Ed Hochuli, famed NFL referee will speak on “The Average Joe Principle: Is This Pop Warner Or The Superbowl?” His presentation will be on life lessons he has learned about everything from making calls at a small-fry football game clear on up to the Superbowl, and that in his experience, there really are no “Average Joes.” I hope Mayor Ronnie is able to get the Power Point slides, as this sounds like good stuff. He is also going to learn more about IT security and what it takes to keep the city safe from that kind of attack, another thing that leaders didn’t have to think about not all that long ago.
We are looking at several things that need to be in place in order to “handle growth well.” Our electrical grid needs three new substations and power lines to be redone. We have completely outgrown the Rec Center and need to build a new one. There are an estimated 4,000 FBI jobs that are going to be out at Redstone Arsenal, which could increase our population quickly if they choose to make Athens home. Part of planning ahead for the City Council was the 1-cent sales tax increase, which although not universally liked, generated 1.2 million dollars to help handle growth. More growth also means the need for increased public safety, and right now our city is in the process of applying for a grant that would give us three more firefighters. “Electric, fire, police, water, all are essential, and while growth is wonderful it has its challenges. If you’re not planning, you will fail,” said the mayor. His next meeting after ours was regarding our new Wound Care Center; so we prayed, asked for wisdom for all our leaders, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner