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Why We Need More Transparency, Communication from City Hall

By Mary Bagby

My experience with living on the east side of Athens for over 40 years is I’ve seen changes, I’ve seen unfairness, and I’ve seen people get tired, feel intimidated, and not want to get involved. But stop saying that we don’t care.

It’s not that we don’t care. We feel like sometimes the people in charge of making the decisions for us on our behalf don’t care about us, and so people don’t show up. I think we would see more participation of the community if there was more transparency and more communication.

I’d like to see more representation and more concern from the Planning Commission. From what I understand is the Planning Commission have what they call a model scale of our city. They look at this model of a city and they plan out 10, 20, 30 years down the line what we are going to do with this area down the line, how we are going to develop this area right here, what we are going to zone this area for later...

And the people don’t know.

I’ll give you an exact case. One of the properties on the east side, on Dublin St - they had a sign out and the sign said something about eminent domain and said there was going to be a meeting. They had a phone number on there. I tried to reach someone, and I was told to talk to someone named Mr. Davenport. Then he gave me another name. For two or three weeks I tried to reach someone to find out where the meeting was, what are they talking about, and no one could really tell me what was going on. With all these developers, it was only one or two black people at the meeting. Because we didn’t know about it, because it wasn’t advertised.

I’m gonna give you another short story – it’s a true story. Someone came to Athens from the Energy Assistance Program under Action Incorporated. He said that Athens had been allocated money under the program Fresh Start. $3500 should have been allocated to each family with a child in the home 17 years old and under, to help people get back on their feet if they lost a job, unemployed, sick or anything like that. They could put it on mortgage, rent, utilities – things of this nature.

It was not published in any legal organ in Athens GA. Not one. I heard about this grant money, I informed some people I knew. I said, ‘They have grant money for people in your situation.’ Two people in particular went to apply for the money. They said they didn’t have it. But I was told about it this day, I sent someone to apply for it and the next day, there’s no money.

Well, I called over there, because I knew the information was true. I asked the lady, “Where’s the money?” She said it’s all gone. “Well, who did you give it to?” “We gave it to people.” “Well, how do people know about it if it wasn’t advertised?” And this is a direct quote – she said “Word of mouth.”

Isn’t it standard procedure, proper protocol for these meetings, these grants to be put in what we call a legal organ - the newspaper, the radio stations, and the televisions? Because there are so many meetings going on in Athens Clarke County where people are making decisions – and I won’t say on behalf of the citizens, but decisions are being made concerning the citizens without our input at so many meetings. That is a major concern. So how do we get the information to the people?

When the money comes here, I think it should be put in a legal organ that “This money is here, this is the time span you have to receive this money, this is what you need to do to get the money.” We need to know. We need to know what the money is for, we need to know who it’s for. It needs to be published. Everybody don’t read the paper but somebody listens to the radio, somebody watch TV. And then they need to post these different things, in their offices. Because we need to know that there is money here to help us come up. It’s not about us feeling entitled to money because we are unemployed, or low-income, or this and that. We feel entitled to what we’re supposed to be entitled to. To what is fair and equitable, and to what the government has allocated for a specific need. So stop hiding the grant money and putting it in your pocket, giving it to your relatives.

At the same time, the mayor and commissioners give developers the right to come in here and take people’s land and stuff, and they don’t let us know that we can vote against this. And so it needs to be published in the paper. If you’re gonna take somebody’s land for eminent domain or if the city have a right to have a voice, whatever you’re going to do to properties, it need to be published in the legal organs – the newspaper, the radio, the TV.

We have so many uneven injustices going on in this city. And no wonder the people are feeling intimidated, walking with their heads down and feeling like they don’t have a chance, they don’t have a voice, nobody’s gonna hear you anyway. I’d like for some changes to take place. And I am so thankful that County Commissioner Mariah Parker is behind the rail. I don’t think that Ms. Parker is concerned about accolades. I think she’s concerned about accommodating the needs of the community as a whole.

So I think it’s time for transparency and clarity, because there’s too much money coming through Athens Clarke County and the ones that need the money are not receiving it.

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