We met Monday morning a few hours before the storms hit. Next to the Mayor’s office, in the adjacent conference room, the weather briefing was going on with the department heads and support staff. The radios and walkie-talkies were being dispensed, and Mayor Ronnie and I got right down to business in terms of the interview so we could each get to our next responsibility before the weather got deadly.
What brought me comfort, (besides the fact that it is always assuring to know that someone with genuine combat experience is “on the wall” when it comes to watching over our town during a disaster,) was the knowledge that the utilities teams, fire, police, sheriff’s department, EMA, hospital, and first responders of all kinds were ready to roll. Please pardon the obvious reference to the press release on the first page of this edition of Athens Now, but, when it comes to storms, “this ain’t our first rodeo.” Much has been learned since 2011.
I will at this point take the risk of “putting words in the mouth of the Mayor,” because I know that he continually expresses gratitude for all the service personnel in Athens-Limestone County. I am sure that his column in two weeks will reflect that, but I’ll be cheeky and say “thank you” in his stead here and now.
The topic of our interview is the beginning of a new series on community building based on the book, The Seamless City by the former Mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, Rick Baker. Interestingly enough, the subject is as something as simple as sidewalks. However, before we began to explore the role of sidewalks in community building, there was good news in the face of bad weather. We are courting and being courted by three more industries who are interested in being based in our area. The only explanation for this is the blessing of God, coupled with good local government. These days, Mayor Ronnie, (as did Mayor Rick,) continually has to look at the balance of something like economic growth vs. dealing with debris on the road. Now that we have had the storm, both will be demanding our full attention.
City Councilman Jimmie Gill organized the cleanup of the Ft. Henderson/Trinity project, and has district meetings for the City of Athens scheduled for the fall to further tackle the problem of debris. We have also been given a grant to build sidewalks in Athens, which will serve to improve our quality of life. “Sidewalks connect neighborhoods and help build memories,” said Ronnie. How well I remember using sidewalks for roller skating (with the kinds of skates that used a skate key,) and skateboarding (on the early version of skateboards that consisted of a 2×4 or a piece of plywood bolted to a skate which had been cut in two.) Fond memories, indeed.
The first project which has been approved will be near 5th Avenue, and between the grant and what the city has been able to earmark in part due to the 1 cent increase in sales tax, $50K is going toward repair of existing sidewalks, and $50K is going toward building new ones. “This is the first time in the history of the city that we have been able to do a sidewalk project of this size,” said Mayor Ronnie. “To be a pedestrian-friendly city is so important to making our community a positive place to live,” he added. Then he said something that is as somber as the skies were becoming as the storm approached. “If we don’t continue to build quality of life, we will be subject to ‘annexation encroachment’ from other cities.” In a word, some of what makes Ronnie roll is “keeping Athens ‘Athens,’” and not some other city that may not be so “seamless.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner