According the ABH, a Tuesday meeting between the Mayor and Commission and State Reps Keith Heard and Jane Kidd got a little testy when the issue of ACC's 28% poverty rate came up.
To sum up, the exchange went a little something like this:
Heard: "Lots of people in Athens are poor. You should totally do something about that."
Davison: "Nuh-uh! We're like, all busy with bike lanes and stuff. You do something about it."
Heard: "It's your city, yo."
Davison: "I talked to the Chamber and the University and the School District, and they're busy too. Besides, it's your job, yo. Go to Atlanta and make everybody less poor."
We note that, while the pols discussed poverty, there were no actual poor people involved in the meeting.
If you want our two cents, here goes. Heard and Kidd are hampered in trying to do anything, seeing as how they're part of the minority under the Gold Dome, and the majority is far more interested in beating up on illegal immigrants. And, to distort an otherwise apropos phrase, charity begins at home. (Not that helping lower the poverty rate is charity, but you've got to act locally.)
Heidi and her posse have been in office for three years now, and the state of poverty in ACC is no better, indeed, it's worse than it was under the Eldridge administration. In fact, no member of the Commission, including the Mayor, even had anything to say about the poverty rate (beyond the usual platitudes) until enfant terrible Elton Dodson brought it up a few months ago.
It's great that they're at least finally acknowledging that (gasp!) there are poor people in Athens. But actions trump words every time. Now that our M&C have finally acknowledged that poverty is a persistent and pervasive problem in Athens, we need bold solutions. Athens is home to the state's flagship university. We'd bet (although we're biased) that Athens has more smart people per capita than any other city in Georgia. It's time to put those resources to work.
A good place to start, by the way, would be with public transportation, to which the M&C consistently gives short shrift. Or how about after-school programs, to keep kids out of trouble and save the parents a little bit on child care? Those don't have to funded or provided by the school district, by the way. Parks and Rec could do it too.
Bottom line is this. Heidi and the Commission (which would also, by the way, be a fantastic name for a band) have managed to sidestep the poverty issue for far too long. They're not going to get the help they need from Atlanta, at least not while the GOP is in power, and probably not even if the Democrats ran the show again. We have to be proactive on a community level before our state and federal governments will step in. It's a shame, but it's also the reality of the situation.
By the way, Heard hit the nail on the head when he said that there's no plan, no coordination. There are, as Heard mentioned, tons of groups - both governmental and NGOs - fighting poverty in Athens. But without coordination, they won't be as efficient as they can be. That's the job of the local government.
Finally, we'd make this point. Perhaps she was misquoted, perhaps she was misinterpreted, but for Heidi to imply that ACC can't do anything about poverty until the State Legislature gets its act together is disingenous, and we appreciate Keith Heard calling her out on that.
(No actual poor people or Commissioners were harmed in the writing of this post.)