February 28, 2018

Harry Sims Promises Services for Rural Residents and More Campaign News

City Dope

Photo Credit: Lamon Carson

Recently resigned Athens-Clarke County commissioner Harry Sims made the second strongly worded speech of his mayoral campaign last week at another fire station outside the Loop, this one on Whitehead Road.

Sims, who was first elected two years after city-county unification in 1991, complained about lack of services for rural residents, such as sewer and trash pickup. “We are one Athens,” he said. “We have a shared goal and a shared destiny. Gone will be the days of city versus county. Gone will be the days of allowing a few elite to determine what their fellow citizens deserve.”

In the past, the commission has opted not to extend sewer service into rural areas, worrying that dense development will follow and, particularly in the case of Trail Creek, about the potential environmental impact of sewage spills into sensitive ecosystems that make up the source of Athens’ drinking water. Sims characterized those decisions as anti-affordable housing, and criticized efforts to extend buffers “around ditches and creeks” as “tak[ing] over people’s entire yards,” although buffers only prevent development.

“Living outside the Loop [shouldn’t] condemn you to five trash trucks running down your street every trash day,” he said. You should not have to shell out thousands of dollars and hours of your time to take down a tree that is threatening your house. You cannot and should not have a future plotted by those who barely appreciate where [you] live and could hardly find it on a map.”

The trash issue deserves some background: Inside the old city limits, the “urban services district,” ACC picks up trash (which those residents pay for), and private haulers pick it up in what’s now known as the “general services district.” Based on complaints from constituents, about 10 years ago the commission considered taking over trash pickup for the whole county (which was rejected because of the millions of dollars in up-front costs to buy trucks) or franchising—appointing one company to pick up trash in each neighborhood. Private haulers (and many of their customers) strongly opposed both options, and it’s tough to square the idea of the local government being unfriendly to business with the idea that it should ban a half-dozen businesses from operating in the county. Ultimately, the commission put a cap on the number of private haulers.

Qualifying for local races—mayor, six commission seats, five school board seats and Superior Court judge—as well as Congress and state offices from governor on down to state representative, takes place next week, so we’ll officially know who’s running for what. The qualifying period runs from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday, Mar. 5 through Thursday, Mar. 8 and ends at noon Friday, Mar. 9. Candidates for local office can sign up at the ACC Board of Elections, while state and federal qualifying takes place at the state capitol. Be prepared to plunk down a fee equivalent to 3 percent of the job’s annual salary.

District 5 Commissioner Jared Bailey will be among those who qualifies. Bailey has been fairly quiet and did not raise any money as of the end of January, leading to speculation that he might not run for a third term, but he told Flagpole he is absolutely, positively running again. There you have it.

It’s never been in doubt that District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link would be running for re-election, but she’s hosting a campaign kickoff event Saturday, Mar. 3 from 5:30–7 p.m. at Little Kings.