By: Ali ElizabethTurner
“…the brownfields perish.” Mayor Ronnie was just back from Prattville, where the ADEM-sponsored Brownfield Conference had been held, and he was on fire with vision for brownfield reclamation. I had to ask what a brownfield is, as I had never heard the term. Basically it’s any type of urban site with any manner of blight, such as having been abandoned or being toxic. Pilgrim’s Pride and Love Canal are good examples, along with the recent water pollution crisis in Flint, Michigan. This conference was about having a vision for reclaiming and repurposing brownfields, and after the long process of dealing with our own inarguable eyesore, the conference was “just what the doctor ordered.”

“What some folks may not know is that we are not the only ones dealing with abandoned Pilgrim’s Pride plants,” said Mayor Ronnie. “There’s another here in Alabama, and one in Arkansas,” he added. He has a vision for what it could be that keeps him going as he negotiates the particulars of restoring a blighted sight. “So far we have passed the Phase One ADEM test, which is for above ground pollution, and we are waiting on the Phase Two below ground test results, and those will be posted for the public to view,” he said.

Pilgrim’s Pride is a 31.7 acre plot that has the potential to become our city’s Central Park. There is a conceptual drawing of various possible ideas for development such as mixed-use, which could include businesses and homes along the east and west perimeters, the spring running through, a plaza, picnic areas, recreational sites, playground equipment, walking and running trails, and much more. “This is one of the most exciting opportunities, to take a blighted property and create a million-dollar project that can positively impact our city,” said Mayor Ronnie. He is looking into a number of funding sources, which include local legislation, grants, and investments. He also is glad that its timing coincides with the city’s bi-centennial. “It’s a bi-centennial opportunity,” he said. Essentially it would be a celebratory gift we give to ourselves that would give back long after we are gone.

The tentative cost of the land is $550,000, which has been negotiated down from Pilgrim’s original asking price of $4,000,000. There would be walking access to the new high school, and sidewalks put in to accommodate the increase in foot traffic that would connect the park to the rest of the city. One of the things that impressed me was the commitment to re-purpose as much of the empty buildings as possible. Outfits like Habitat for Humanity would stand to benefit from all manner of building materials, thus reducing the costs of what is known in the business as “deconstruction.” The mayor has already heard from many developers who are interested in being involved, and is looking forward to moving ahead.

Another reason to get going on the project is health and safety related. The standing water now makes Pilgrim’s Pride a mosquito-producing plant, rather than a chicken-processing plant, and there are big water moccasins who think they own the place.
“We are involved in a number of projects to make Athens a better place,” said Mayor Ronnie, “and are forming staff teams to concentrate on the new Sportsplex as well as Pilgrim’s Pride,” he added. One of the things he heard at Prattville was, “You can’t give up on a blighted site; you have to have a vision for what it can be.” So then, like we always do, we prayed, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali ElizabethTurner

By: Ali ElizabethTurner
Mayor Ronnie and I have both been enjoying and discussing the wisdom and vulnerability of Steve Gilliland as he talks about some of the hard lessons he has had to learn in his book, Hide Your Goat: Strategies To Stay Positive When Negativity Surrounds You. This chapter is called “Herd Your Goat,” and its subtitle is “The Strength To Accept Where You Have Been.” One of Steve’s strengths is that he is very open about the relationships he destroyed, and what he has done with his “second chance.”

In this chapter, Steve particularly focuses on social media, and how it ends up being a reflection of a person without them even knowing it. Here is a quote that struck the mayor and me as we sipped fresh coffee:

“I have always believed that if you can change the way you think, you will change your world forever. Looking at someone’s Facebook page will easily determine how that person thinks. ‘Uncommon people,’ [those that are the exception] listen to, learn from, and edify other people… ‘Typical people’ talk about themselves. They will post information intended to inflate their egos and make themselves…appear to be something they are really not. ‘Sad and miserable people’ talk about other people. They will post negative things about other people…[and] solicit responses to situations that should be handled privately.”

I like to describe the rants of “sad people” as “Facebook fights,” and if Facebook had been around before Steve G. had embraced his current life as a “goat herder,” he would have been leading the charge and mixing it up with the best of ‘em. Because of the hard work Steve has done to “hide his goat so it can’t get gotten,” he has come to the following firm but compassionate conclusion:

“These [sad] folks have never had the courage to discover and admit who they are, and, even sadder, have never taken the time to herd their goats from the past and break the cycle of negative behavior that has been passed on to them from their families.”

We both agreed that in no way did we want to be “sad people,” and Mayor Ronnie went on to tell me about how some of the positive fruit of the Mayor’s Youth Commission has been made manifest after a few years of “husbandry.” “You never know if what you say is going to actually get through,” he said. He added, “A couple of kids from one of the very first groups came to tell me that they had remembered something I had said regarding actions having consequences. It actually helped them to make the right decision and stay out of trouble.” The hope is that these and the rest of our kids will also choose to stay out of Facebook fights and use the manners their parents and teachers hopefully have taught them. We as adults must show them that being “goat herders” is a most noble profession, especially on Facebook!

As far as things that are happening in our city, there is much to celebrate. The tennis courts at Big Spring and Swann Creek have been repaired, and they look gorgeous. The poly-fields at the Sportsplex are being built, and the first walk-through at the new high school was last week. The new surgery center is coming along, and all kinds of highway repair and renovation is happening in the city.

The former high school teacher who also happens to be our mayor is always excited for a new school year, and Mayor Ronnie had a strong admonition for kids who are now behind the wheel: “Slow down, and turn off your phone while you are driving!” I am sure they’ll hear it again once the Youth Commission starts back up.

We groaned for a moment with regard to the current mud-slinging in the US Senate race, and decided to pray for the outcome, that it would be in keeping with the Kingdom. Then it was time once again for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
“We DO have to say this,” Mayor Ronnie chuckled as he pointed to a particular chapter heading. If you are “just joining us,” every other Monday when the mayor and I get together, we work our way through another bit of Steve Gilliand’s humorous and hard-hitting book entitled, Hide Your Goat: Strategies To Stay Positive When Negativity Surrounds You. The name of the chapter to which he pointed was “Discover Your Goat—The Courage To Recognize Who You Are.” I answered him by saying, “Ouch!” And then, “OK, let’s do this.” My response was one of those that you make by faith when you don’t really want to. I mean, I think it’s safe to say that MY goat tries to “bleat” me to death and chew on me every day, doesn’t yours?

Gilliand’s point in this chapter is that before you can successfully hide your goat so no one can find it and get it, you have to discover that you have one in the first place. Fearlessly “taking an inventory,” as it’s called in most 12-Step programs, is never easy. This chapter has quotes in it from everyone from philosopher James Allen to famed entrepreneurial mentor Zig Ziglar. It could be the subject of many more Ronnies, but for this installment, we will highlight a few observations that really stood out to us both. Gilliand starts out by asking some questions, some positive, some negative, to help with the search-and-discovery of one’s goat. Are you a worrier, a giver, a faultfinder, or are you humble? Are you a gossiper, a jealous person, or an attention seeker? Are you controlling, do you get too angry, and what do you do when no one is looking? Mayor Ronnie had done a lot of underlining and highlighting in the section that asked the question, Are You A Giver? Being a true giver brings the greatest joy, but is exceedingly rare. As Zig Ziglar said, “If you help enough people get what they want, you will always eventually get what you want.” That is one tough walkout, whether you are a mayor, a mail carrier or a mom.

While the commitment to embrace this kind of personal growth should never expire this side of heaven, all of it occurs in steps. Gilliand gives a reason to keep after it when he says, “Until you have the courage to recognize who you are and the willingness to develop areas of your life that need to be changed, someone or something will always get your goat.”

Mayor Ronnie knows that something that got our collective Athenian goat, and rightfully so, was when Pilgrim’s Pride bailed and left behind what has become an inarguable eyesore. He has been dealing with the Pilgrims as well as their pride, the many other people who have everything from ideas to demands as to what should happen there, potential developers, and the folks who want no money spent to remedy the situation, period. He has been working on the Pilgrim’s Pride Chicken, er, Goat situation for years, and I have no doubt that he won’t rest until there is an excellent solution for our city. And then there’s the upcoming budget season; dealing with that topic tends to make my goat have triplets, but the mayor actually looks forward to boxing with the budget. More on that soon! Clearly we had lots of goats that needed herding, and much to pray about, so we did, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
“We DO have to say this,” Mayor Ronnie chuckled as he pointed to a particular chapter heading. If you are “just joining us,” every other Monday when the mayor and I get together, we work our way through another bit of Steve Gilliand’s humorous and hard-hitting book entitled, Hide Your Goat: Strategies To Stay Positive When Negativity Surrounds You. The name of the chapter to which he pointed was “Discover Your Goat—The Courage To Recognize Who You Are.” I answered him by saying, “Ouch!” And then, “OK, let’s do this.” My response was one of those that you make by faith when you don’t really want to. I mean, I think it’s safe to say that MY goat tries to “bleat” me to death and chew on me every day, doesn’t yours?

Gilliand’s point in this chapter is that before you can successfully hide your goat so no one can find it and get it, you have to discover that you have one in the first place. Fearlessly “taking an inventory,” as it’s called in most 12-Step programs, is never easy. This chapter has quotes in it from everyone from philosopher James Allen to famed entrepreneurial mentor Zig Ziglar. It could be the subject of many more Ronnies, but for this installment, we will highlight a few observations that really stood out to us both. Gilliand starts out by asking some questions, some positive, some negative, to help with the search-and-discovery of one’s goat. Are you a worrier, a giver, a faultfinder, or are you humble? Are you a gossiper, a jealous person, or an attention seeker? Are you controlling, do you get too angry, and what do you do when no one is looking? Mayor Ronnie had done a lot of underlining and highlighting in the section that asked the question, Are You A Giver? Being a true giver brings the greatest joy, but is exceedingly rare. As Zig Ziglar said, “If you help enough people get what they want, you will always eventually get what you want.” That is one tough walkout, whether you are a mayor, a mail carrier or a mom.

While the commitment to embrace this kind of personal growth should never expire this side of heaven, all of it occurs in steps. Gilliand gives a reason to keep after it when he says, “Until you have the courage to recognize who you are and the willingness to develop areas of your life that need to be changed, someone or something will always get your goat.”

Mayor Ronnie knows that something that got our collective Athenian goat, and rightfully so, was when Pilgrim’s Pride bailed and left behind what has become an inarguable eyesore. He has been dealing with the Pilgrims as well as their pride, the many other people who have everything from ideas to demands as to what should happen there, potential developers, and the folks who want no money spent to remedy the situation, period. He has been working on the Pilgrim’s Pride Chicken, er, Goat situation for years, and I have no doubt that he won’t rest until there is an excellent solution for our city. And then there’s the upcoming budget season; dealing with that topic tends to make my goat have triplets, but the mayor actually looks forward to boxing with the budget. More on that soon! Clearly we had lots of goats that needed herding, and much to pray about, so we did, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Due to the holiday, we met on the morning of Wednesday July 5th after a fireworks display the night before that Mayor Ronnie felt was “the best ever.” Central Church of Christ, which is located right across the street from Athens High School Stadium, did their annual community cookout, and some people arrived at noon in order to get the best possible spot for viewing the stellar 13-minute pyrotechnic party to be held at nightfall. Both the cookout and the fireworks served to remind our town of our blessings, and our prayers certainly need to go up for the city of Chicago. “Hot time, summer in the city” seems to be what they are facing there in Chi-town, and lest we think it could never happen here, let’s humbly remember that it doesn’t take much to start a whole lot of trouble when people’s souls are hot and dry.

After we compared notes on our respective holidays, as well as Mayor Ronnie’s recent birthday, he whipped out a book that he felt would be the topic of possibly several installments of What Makes Ronnie Roll. It’s called “Hide Your Goat,” by Steve Gilliand. The subtitle is “Strategies To Stay Positive When Negativity Surrounds You.” The brand that is on the cover as well as throughout the book made me laugh out loud: it’s a truly gorgeous goat with a brown paper bag over its head. Hence, the visual reminder to not let people “get your goat,” or stated another way, for staying positive in the midst of flying schmutz—that of others or even your own. Be at peace, my dears, schmutz is simply a rich Yiddish word for “garbage or refuse.”

Steve Gilliland is a Hall of Famer when it comes to public speaking—everyone from Coca-Cola to Boeing, IBM, Marriott, and about 250,000 people a year get to hear about Steve’s mess-ups as a dad and husband back in the day when he allowed his “goat to be gotten.” It cost him dearly—including failed marriages and estrangement from his kids, and then he went to work to “get his goat” properly tethered. The result is a number of lessons that can improve the quality of life of every Athenian, which is one of the many purposes of this column. As I have so many times, I told Mayor Ronnie I was ordering my own copy, and I need to guard his autographed copy like the treasure that it is until mine arrives.

One of the things that Gilliland said in the foreword to Goat brought a lump to my throat. He is now happily married, is a successful step-dad, and has reconciled with his kids. He talks about all of them in his presentation, and his love for them is as palpable as the humor with which he tells their stories. Besides thanking his wife Diane, who has been through a lot with this chap, Steve says the following:

To my sons, Stephen and Josh, who have stood by my side in the midst of my most challenging times, I am forever grateful. Your unconditional love and support was my inspiration to change my life and to make you proud to call me “Dad.” To my stepsons Adam and Alex, who have provided me with a second chance to be a father, not just a parent, and who have taught me some valuable lessons: your strength during challenging times has been a great example of how to keep balanced in the midst of distress.”

Neither of us had really considered before that there can be a difference between being a parent and a father/mother. Hide Your Goat is challenging me to explore that difference and, as a mom and step-mom, excel at what I discover.
Mayor Ronnie had a meeting and I had a newspaper to put together, so we prayed for wisdom with our kids and spouses, and expressed anticipation and gratitude for all that is ahead. Then, it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

The concept of “the Average Joe” is generally one of affection in our culture. “Joe” is the guy who works hard and keeps his nose clean. He is not particularly exceptional or memorable, and doesn’t cause trouble. Sounds like the model citizen, right? Not according to famed NFL Referee Ed Hochuili. Mayor Ronnie heard Hochuili speak to a group of fellow mayors, and the ref challenged them all to be far more than Average Joes, especially in their role as the shepherds of their cities.

Hochuili draws from years of experience having to make calls that he knows will anger thousands of people. He also has had to get used to having a coach get in his face one moment, and then praise him the next, while the other coach is doing exactly the opposite. All of it, the calls as well as the accolades and/or pushback, is done in a split second because the game moves quickly and the clock is ticking. Add to the pressure the fact that team owners level complaints, and it is easy to see why the Average Joe will only last about two seconds in Hochuili’s position. What keeps Hochuili going is knowing that he has done his very best to be the statesman of the game, the one who makes principled calls that he believes are right. He said that people, whether they are in leadership positions or not, will only be able to look back with either pride or regret, and all of it rests on whether or not they were willing to step up.

“We have to take any opportunity we can to build people up,” said Mayor Ronnie. He illustrated his point by showing me an animal video of a bear cub being chased by a mountain lion. It is touch and go, as well as agonizing to watch, especially when it looks like the lion is going to eat the cub for lunch. Then, the cub waxes “ferocious” and begins to roar at the lion, who backs off and retreats. What isn’t shown until the very last is that the reason the lion goes away is not because of the cub’s convincing ferocity. It’s because the mama bear is standing on her hand legs behind the cub. She is silent, but she is deadly, and the lion knows it. “That’s what we all need,” said Mayor Ronnie. One of the last challenges given to the group of mayors by Ed Hochuili was to have the guts to ask for “constructive criticism.” “That’s tough to do,” he said, and I agreed with him.

Mayor Ronnie was asked to attend the annual recital presented by Kelly’s Studio of Dance, and was amazed at how hard the kids had rehearsed. Marie Trent, who is an alum of Kelly’s and is now dancing in NYC, flew down for the performance both to enjoy as well as to assist. Anyone who knows Kelly’s story knows that she “stepped up” so that young dancers could “step out.” Speaking of flying, Mayor Ronnie had also just learned that flying cars are actually happening in Japan. “It’s their Kitty Hawk,” he said, marveling that this is reality, and not science fiction.

The mayor looked at me and said, “We are coming up on budget season, but that is going to need to be the topic of another article.” “Oh joy,” I thought to myself. “Summertime, and the livin’ is NOT easy…” However, I know from experience that he actually enjoys getting it done, and doing it well. Then it was time to pray, and time for Ronnie to roll, so we did, and he did.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

We walked into City Hall at the same time, with Mayor Ronnie telling me about having just watched a mockingbird dive bomb a squirrel. “Ooh, they can be mean, especially if they have babies close by,” he chuckled. We got our coffee, headed toward his office, and once again I got a look into the life, or week, of Ronnie. Several news outlets had mentioned the night before that Huntsville is on track to become the largest city in the state; but did you know that as opposed to Huntsville’s 7.2% increase in growth, Athens is growing more than twice that rate with the most recent statistic being 15.97%? For some, this is good news, for others, not so much, and the “challenge of growing well” is enormous.

Running anything, whether it’s a family, a business, or a city in the 21st century is significantly more complicated than it was even 20 years ago. The need for a number of leaders to involve themselves in continuing education with regard to human resources, insurance, safety, finance, and more is greater than ever. Nationally, summer is conference season for mayors and municipalities. Because Mayor Marks is a part of the League of Municipalities, has been appointed to the Alabama Insurance Board, as well as the fact that the City of Athens has complex insurance needs, he will be attending a conference to learn more about growth and risk management. “Public risk management is not something we used to have to think about much,” he said.

The fact that we live in an area where natural disaster is not uncommon, as well as having to consider other threats and emergency situations, make it necessary for everyone in leadership to be at the top of their game. “Leadership positions must be in place to plan for growth,” he said, and added that there will be several workshops and presentations geared toward pursuing personal excellence, as well as management, at the conference. Ed Hochuli, famed NFL referee will speak on “The Average Joe Principle: Is This Pop Warner Or The Superbowl?” His presentation will be on life lessons he has learned about everything from making calls at a small-fry football game clear on up to the Superbowl, and that in his experience, there really are no “Average Joes.” I hope Mayor Ronnie is able to get the Power Point slides, as this sounds like good stuff. He is also going to learn more about IT security and what it takes to keep the city safe from that kind of attack, another thing that leaders didn’t have to think about not all that long ago.

We are looking at several things that need to be in place in order to “handle growth well.” Our electrical grid needs three new substations and power lines to be redone. We have completely outgrown the Rec Center and need to build a new one. There are an estimated 4,000 FBI jobs that are going to be out at Redstone Arsenal, which could increase our population quickly if they choose to make Athens home. Part of planning ahead for the City Council was the 1-cent sales tax increase, which although not universally liked, generated 1.2 million dollars to help handle growth. More growth also means the need for increased public safety, and right now our city is in the process of applying for a grant that would give us three more firefighters. “Electric, fire, police, water, all are essential, and while growth is wonderful it has its challenges. If you’re not planning, you will fail,” said the mayor. His next meeting after ours was regarding our new Wound Care Center; so we prayed, asked for wisdom for all our leaders, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

May is always a time when adults are dealing with lumps in their throats at the prospect of grads getting ready to fly the coop, while kids have “senior-itis,” the “I-am-almost-graduated-and-can’t-stand-to-do-one-more-assignment” disease. Emotions run high, gratitude runs deep, and this month is invariably bittersweet for everyone involved.

That includes Mayor Ronnie as well as Holly Hollman, City of Athens Communications Specialist, who have just completed the fourth year at the helm of the Mayor’s Youth Commission. This year there were homeschooled students, as well as students from public and private schools, and I had the privilege of reading a few of the thank you cards written by the kids to them both; now I was the one dealing with a lump in my throat. “This is what makes it all worth it,” said Holly, and the Mayor agreed. There is much to celebrate, not the least of which is that a total of five students from the MYC received scholarships, not only for doing well academically, but for the high level of quality service given to our community during the past school year.

They told me about the last Youth Commission meeting, which was graced by the presence of City Attorney Shane Black, complete with an object lesson in the form of a “magic coloring book.” Since he was a kid, Shane has been the proud owner of a faith-based coloring book that when flipped one direction shows blank pages, flipped another direction shows pictures with no color, and flipped a third direction shows the same pictures in full color. The message he left with the kids? “It’s up to you what is going on your pages.” Mayor Ronnie said, “I have no idea how he made that thing work, but the kids loved it.”

Mayor Ronnie went on to mention that Athens Bible School has five female graduates this year who have completed high school degrees as well as two community college degrees each, due to the advantage of dual-enrollment. Randy Adams, principal at ABS says, “These girls just saved their parents around $50,000.” Athens Bible School will be constructing a new school on Hwy 31 just across from the new Athens High School.

Mayor Ronnie was asked to give the Athens State University 2017 Commencement Address, and he drew deeply from two of his favorite philosophers: Peter Kageyama, author of For The Love Of Cities, and the Mayor’s alter ego, Barney Fife. He wanted to give an address that was both substantive as well as a little bit whimsical, so he gave the grads three main things to remember and do:

1. Be in love with your community. Find things to love about us and work to build that love.
2. Be passionate in life. Or, stated a different way, “Whatsoever you do, do it heartily…unto the Lord.”
3. Be like Barney. In a wonderful book called Barney Fife’s Guide To Life, Love, and Self-Defense, the endearing deputy says the following: “Folks often talk about what makes a person special. You know—what makes him stand out from the crowd….It’s more the way a fella handles himself, how he treats others and if you can depend on him. As you can tell, this thing about character is awfully hard to put a handle on. Some folks sum all this stuff about character and dignity up by calling it ‘class.’ That’s OK. Whatever you call it it’s fine so long as you understand that it’s what makes good folks good.”

We all heaved a sigh, one of great satisfaction and a touch of sadness. Then we prayed, and Ronnie rolled.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

We have known that as enlightening as it would be to keep exploring Peter Kageyama’s award-winning book entitled For The Love Of Cities for the rest of the year, it was time to move on to new topics. Mayor Ronnie expressed thanks once again to the staff of City Hall for giving him the book as a Christmas present this past December. This will be the conclusion of this series, and I would recommend the book to anyone who has a love for cities in general, and for Athens in specific.

The mayor waxed philosophical for a bit as we scheduled several meetings ahead due to an extraordinarily busy summer season for us both. He asked, “How do we grow, which we need to do, and at the same time get better as a city? How do we really love folks in a way that makes a difference? We are a society that is much threatened by a lack of love,” he concluded.

We had just come through a pretty stout storm the day before, and Ronnie’s granddaughter Molly, who is 14, and Quinton, who is 4 and calls him “Pop,” were over visiting their grandparents during the tornado warning. He watched with the kids as a mama robin stretched her wings out and down over her nest in order to protect her newborn chicks. “That’s love. It’s instinct, but it’s love,” Ronnie said. It was a good segue into Kageyama’s conclusion. Peter said,

When we are loved, we thrive. When cities are loved, they too thrive. When we recognize we are in a relationship with our place, we start to treat it differently and we act accordingly. When cities give back to us, even in small ways, they make themselves more lovable. When we connect with our cities on an emotional level, we are more likely to do things, sometimes extraordinary things for our cities.”

We talked about what a great weekend it had been, and how the Mayor’s Youth Commission had helped at Earth Day. It was hard to believe that both high school and college graduations are just around the corner, and Mayor Ronnie has been asked to give the commencement speech at Athens State University this weekend.

Before then, though, the lively rivalry that happens each year at Celebrity Waiters’ Night at Applebee’s was waiting for yet another go around to be held on the night of May 2. All proceeds from tips collected by the celebrity waiters go to Relay for Life, and “Miss Sam” (the band teacher from East Limestone High, and last year’s winner), Mayor Ronnie, and City Councilman Frank Travis are fierce competitors. So is City of Athens Attorney Shane Black. We shall see who emerges as the winner.

The “waiters” are a good example of the last few words of For The Love Of Cities:

“Remember, every place has people who love it. Find them. Bring them together, ask them for their help. Find what is lovable about your place and make it better. Rediscover your city. Start small. Make a simple gesture. Then another. Then another. Make it easier to make your imprint. Open your hearts and make up new things. This is our work, and frontiers are all around us.”

So, as we always do, we prayed, and asked for true strength to “do our work,” and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

This is the sixth in a series about a book that was given to Mayor Marks for Christmas by his staff titled For The Love Of Cities: The Love Affair Between People And Their Places by Peter Kageyama. It talks about a number of needs in any city, large or small, and what it takes for a city to have such a draw that people long to live there, or return to it no matter how long they have been gone.

On this particular day, the mayor teased me with one of the opening lines of Chapter Eight. It states, “Building a great city is akin to throwing a great party.” I was intrigued by the concept, but found myself wanting to counter with, “Yeah, but what about public safety?” The truth is, we need it all. We need to be safe; we need food, clothing and shelter; we need our kids and us to be healthy and smart; we need fellowship and a sense of belonging; and we need to party. By partying, I don’t mean in ways that will get you in trouble with God and man, I mean, we need to celebrate our city. If you don’t have public safety, you can’t celebrate, and after a while, if you have nothing to celebrate about your city, you won’t have public safety.

Kageyama talks about two cities which have experienced exactly what I am talking about: Detroit, MI, and New Orleans, LA. Detroit got into trouble from man-made disasters in the form of poor leadership and economic choices, and New Orleans literally and physically nearly drowned. Both cities are making a comeback, thanks to what Peter calls “co-creators.” Co- creators include but aren’t confined to builders, networkers, entrepreneurs, educators, bridge builders, provocateurs, and champions.

Co-creators see vast potential in their cities irrespective of their current state, and love their town so much that they will work long and hard to make it shine, both within and without. In Athens we have people dedicating long hours to beautifying everything from cemeteries to putting flowers in planters on the Square to making Storytellers’, Grease, and Fiddlers’ Festivals enjoyable, smooth and humming. We have people who are legitimately able to gain the trust and respect of others, even from groups who historically haven’t trusted each other, and help them walk in the other’s moccasins. Because of co-creators, we have High Cotton Arts, Little Red School/Scout House, and Houston Library. We have the Bridge “Where Community Matters.” We have Relay for Life, the Autism Walk, Heroes’ Day, and nearly innumerable fundraising 5Ks, fish fries and BBQs for worthy causes.

Kageyama also calls co-creators the “great lovers of cities,” as well as outliers. They have an ego that is well-developed and healthy in the truest sense, demonstrated by the fact that they are not threatened by the accomplishments of others, or their ideas. They are motivated by what the Italians call fiero, which loosely translated means “taking pride in accomplishing a particularly challenging task.”

Kageyama then points us to two fascinating categories of co-creators: the provocateurs and the champions. While most of the time provocateurs have a negative reputation as people who incite others to commit crimes; it has also come to define the courage of someone like Harper Lee writing To Kill A Mockingbird. One can start out appearing to be a troublemaker and end up winning an award for it. My favorites are the champions. They are the ones that the rest of the co-creators look to for guidance and inspiration.

“We need more co-conspirators,” said Mayor Ronnie, and then sent me outside to search for one of the Athens Rocks rocks that Holly Hollman talks about on her column. Then I was razzed mercilessly by Holly, Amy Golden and Mayor Ronnie for my ignorance of this cool new way to celebrate Athens, and happily endured my comeuppance on Facebook later in the day. Ronnie had to roll; we had to pray; and be warned, we asked God for more co-creators.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner