It was a gorgeous spring-like day on the Athens State University Campus, and the Chamber of Commerce sponsored luncheon and speech was sold out. Mayor Ronnie Marks opened by saying that he was going to make us uncomfortable by talking about love, and he quipped that he had instructed Security to not allow anyone to leave out the back. Clearly it was a bit early to be talking about Valentine’s Day, so what was the reference? Peter Kageyama’s book, For The Love Of Cities, which we have been talking about in the last two Ronnies. I could hear people around me murmur just a touch when he quoted the following from the book, and that was that according to Kageyama, in most cities, 40% of the residents feel unattached to their city, (In other words, it’s just a place to sleep, work, and eat), 36% are neutral, and 24% feel attached and are involved. I think it’s safe to say that in Athens the percentage of those who feel attached is higher than 24%, but as the Mayor told the crowd, “Seven out of ten feeling unattached is unacceptable, and we’ve got to do better.”
He gave examples of loving the city, and people who do just that. As many tributes as there have been to the late Jimmy Gill, I heard a catch in the Mayor’s voice that moved me as he said that he regretted not bringing Jimmy by ambulance to see the new City Hall before Jimmy passed. The Mayor told us that Jimmy wouldn’t hear of it, and kept saying, “I am going to get better, and I’m on the ballot.” Mayor Ronnie added that Frank Travis had done a splendid job of stepping into Jimmy’s place, and chuckled as he said the city’s Facebook site had gotten thousands of hits when Frank and the cast of “Arise And Build” had invaded City Hall with their a cappella version of “Sunday Mornin’.”
He also spoke about the Mayor’s Youth Commission’s response to the $18,000 worth of broken windows at Trinity, perpetrated by three young kids. The MYC students invested some of their surplus Dekko funds to help repair the windows, and the community at large raised more than enough to do the repairs. It was noteworthy that he read Raven Warner’s letter written to the perpetrators decrying their actions, demonstrating that sometimes kids can be the most effective of all in remonstrating other kids. “It takes lots of little things to make the big effort,” he said. It was “For The Love Of Cities” in action.
So, what about the pie charts, the graphs, and the line item components of our fiscal health? Once again, we have a million dollar surplus, we were able to put $1.7 million toward road repair, and in 2017 Washington Street is going to be repaired all the way from Hwy 72 to Hwy 31. $817K will go toward badly needed neighborhood road repair. We are going to take possession of a new fire truck this spring, (replacing the one that was purchased in 1987). We have found funding for the new high school. Progress is being made regarding the abandoned Pilgrim’s Pride plant, and the hope is to make the whole area into a park, with a place for dogs and their owners to enjoy the beauty of Athens.
“There is still much work to be done,” he said, and illustrated his point by saying, “If you are emotionally involved in a relationship, you put a lot in it.” I think it’s safe to say, judging by the smiles that I saw, folks left feeling more attached to each other and our city, and then it was time for Ronnie and the rest of us to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner