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

It had been an emotional week, a changing of the guard, if you will. Vicky Dowd’s last day as the Mayor’s secretary was Friday, March 31st, and on the 30th several hundred people gathered at her retirement party. Athens City Councilman Jimmy Gill, who was so sadly taken from us a year ago, used to refer to Vicky as “L’il Red,” and her contribution to our city has been incalculable for decades. God bless you, Li’l Red; enjoy your retirement, and thank you from all of us!

Before Vicky said “adieu,” she had spent several weeks getting long-time City Hall Clerk’s Office employee Kim Glaze up to speed as Kim prepared to become the new secretary. Mayor Ronnie had her come in for our usual Monday appointment. It was Kim’s first day and one for celebration. The weekend had been full of good things, which I will get to in a moment, but as we talked, I realized that in Kim I was experiencing something truly rare. She is someone who is a “home-town, home-grown, Athens, Sweet-Home-Alabama gal,” and all her life, all she wanted be someday was, as she said with a dear smile, “the secretary to the mayor.” All I could do was exclaim, “Really?!” I was thankful that he was temporarily on the phone when I realized that my outburst could have been misconstrued to mean something along the lines of, “Why would anyone ever want to do that, especially with Marks as mayor?” I meant no disrespect toward Wm. Ronnie Marks, I was just stunned that I was sitting at the table with someone who had set a goal long ago, worked hard toward achieving it, and now was literally living the dream. Fulfilling such a precise dream doesn’t happen very often, and I was impressed. Goal setting really DOES work, and Kim is the proof!

For several years, Mayor Ronnie has been a part of the Unsung Heroes Scholarship project, and this past weekend was their annual banquet. In addition to celebrating scholarship funds raised for students, there are also a number of service awards given to deserving members of the community. The 2017 scholarship winners are Elsa Marin, Desi Fletcher Jr., Mantayvious Henderson, Shannon O’Neill, Olivia Breeding, Sierra Shores, Jordan Russell, and Bryan Smith. The total amount raised for scholarships through the generosity of churches, businesses, clubs, foundations, families and individuals was $4,211. The evening ended with live, toe-tapping music, but Mayor Ronnie’s day wasn’t over yet. It began with Coffee Call at the Vets’ Museum, and after the Unsung Heroes banquet, he went to the Courthouse to light the lights for the month of April, which is National Autism Awareness month. The color for Autism Awareness is bright blue, and that color will shine each night until the end of the month. On hand for the lighting was Todd Tomerlin who is active in the Autism community in Alabama and the father of a 17-year-old son, Gage, whose story is on the front page of this edition of Athens Now.

It was Kim’s first day and a hoppin’ day for Mayor Ronnie and me, but we needed to take time to pray. So we did, and then it was time for Kim and Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Mayor Ronnie came zooming in, having just welcomed utilities workers from several states who were beginning their first day at a conference at Leak City. “I talked to them about working hard and having fun,” he said. He then added, “Those two ladies, the ones that turned 103 and 104 that I spoke to last week, you know what they said is the secret to their long life? ‘Make sure you have fun every day.’”

The mayor talked further about how risky it is for cities to take the “love approach” toward growth and wholeness, because people tend to look at love as soft and maybe spineless. The “love approach” is thought to be inappropriate. “The question is,” he said, “Why is it that love is out of place to talk about at the political level? Because we have political rhetoric and budgets, but a city is about far more than repairing streets,” he said. He finished with, “We run the risk of getting stuck at the bottom of the triangle.” By that he meant, never moving past having a city be safe and functional.

Enter the effect of the arts and festivals in the life of a city. “It is difficult to justify the role of the arts to some people,” the mayor said. We talked about how, for example, refurbishing the Scout House, to the point that it even has a sound studio, could have a huge ripple effect. Kids could learn music, a skill that has been shown to help increase SAT scores. They could be part of a team. They could bring beauty to the community while building community. The sound studio could be one of the many outstanding small indie studios in North Alabama that rival anything in Nashville for a fraction of the price, and that would bring revenue to Athens. The question is how does that concept make sense when “the potholes are screaming?” As always, it is about balance, something with which all of our elected officials grapple.

We just had a successful 25th anniversary Poke Sallet Follies, this past Tuesday we had a St. Patrick’s Day dinner celebration at Athens State University, and once again a tour group from India is going to be visiting us because they love our city so much.
Besides setting aside funds to repurpose the Scout House, we also need to take personal responsibility when it comes to making our city lovable on an individual or community basis. City Councilman Chris Seibert recently spoke of a challenge set forth at Rotary to “Take 10 minutes to put your phone down. Slow down, walk your do.” We could stand to return at least once a week to rocking on the front porch and actually visiting with each other. “Visiting,” in the Southern sense, is a lost art that could use a revival.

Peter Kageyama, author of For The Love Of Cities, puts the need to make a city more lovable this way: “Government is not responsible for legislating happiness, but smart communities make it a little more likely to happen by their policy decisions. Communities have embraced the notion of becoming more creative and innovative because they see the economic benefits of those characteristics. So, too, should enlightened cities recognize that happiness has economic benefits; happier citizens are healthier both physically and mentally, live longer, and enjoy more success at work.”

It was clear that there was a weight on the mayor’s shoulders, and that was the number of people who are battling cancer or families who had experienced unexpected deaths in their families. He had gotten a call in the wee hours of the morning about yet another loss. So, we took time to pray for them, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

If you look at the “City Nutrition Pyramid” that Peter Kageyama uses in his book, For The Love Of Cities to describe a town’s total healthiness, you will see an unfamiliar word, “conviviality” just below the word “fun,” and both of them are at the top of the triangle. Conviviality is defined as “the quality of being friendly and lively; friendliness.” This is not to imply that friendliness and/or fun are more important than public safety, but when a city is able to have fun safely, it is an emotionally nutritious city, one that is indeed lovable.

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of Poke Sallet Follies, one of the most fun events of the year, and it is fun with a noble purpose. Twenty-five years ago, PSF was born out of a desire to raise funds for the Council On Aging, and to nearly everyone’s surprise, it has grown into quite the formidable fête – one that comes with a delicious three course dinner. This year Mayor Ronnie will be reprising his role as Deputy Barney Fife, and he and Sheriff Mike Blakely will be doing a classic television skit from back when people thought Mayberry was a real town. It is the one where Barney tries to demonstrate to Andy that he knows the Preamble to the Constitution.

In addition, there are about 75 people who are actors, 25 of whom are children, all from diverse backgrounds as well as countless people behind the scenes. There are directors; lighting and sound folks; prop masters; costumers; stage managers; and the people who write the skits, film the “ads,” and cook the food. Forgive me if I have left anyone out! “Each year, we wonder how it is going to all come together,” said the mayor, “then it does. We have a great time, and we start thinking about how we are going to do it again next year.” He also told me that Poke Sallet raises thousands of dollars each year for the community, thus making it a “nutritious event” in the realm of financial support for an important service.

Here’s an example of what Athenians are willing to do in order to pull Poke Sallet off. City Councilman Joseph Cannon was filming one of the “ads,” and production had gotten a bit behind schedule. They were running out of time, and they needed to get it filmed. Joseph jumped into deep, cold water on a day when it was 30 degrees outside as part of the ad, and thankfully, they didn’t need more than one take.

Over the years, Mayor Ronnie has been a two-headed alien, a man covered with a contagious rash, a man who had somehow managed to “catch” pregnancy, a pirate, a biker, Barney Fife, and more, and says he “might not have talent, but tries to inject some joy.” He also told me that one of the more fascinating acts this year is a pantomime that is back lit behind a curtain, and performed only with feet. “It was amazing,” he said, having come in fresh from the dress rehearsal. “I don’t know how she does it.”

So, why is fun important to and for a city? According to Peter Kagemaya, “…we don’t love places because they are merely functional and safe. When we start including the higher aspirations of community into the mix; comfort, conviviality, beauty and fun, we begin to make places that are beyond merely livable and may ultimately be lovable.”

The Home & Garden Show is coming up, and it is largely about beauty. The Corporate Spelling Bee certainly comes under the category of “higher aspirations,” i.e., the preserving of the integrity of the English language. The recent fun and successful Chili Challenge fits the category of comfort, most specifically comforting those who are passing and their families. “We have many things going in Athens that make it lovable, and we need more,” he said. I agreed, and am confident he will get his wish.
Then we prayed, and it was time once again for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

What makes a city “healthy?” It is a blend of things like economic development, public safety, fun, functionality, and more. Oftentimes it is intangible. Peter Kageyama, the author of For The Love Of Cities on which this series is based, took an idea made famous by American psychologist Abraham Maslow, and tweaked it to illustrate “the healthy city.” Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” is a pyramid designed to illustrate human behavior. Basically it shows survival needs at the bottom taking up the most space and what are known as “meta” needs such as spiritual, relationship and personal growth needs at the top. The concept is perhaps best illustrated by how you would behave if you are out in the desert without water. All you’d be thinking about is finding some before you die of thirst, and in that moment you don’t have the time or inclination to ponder the meaning of existence, let alone execute your life’s purpose. You are just trying to survive. So it is with cities.

Kageyama puts a city’s functionality and safety at the bottom and works up to the top where he puts the category of fun/interesting. “You have to take care of the potholes, and people have to be kept safe,” said Mayor Ronnie, “but that can’t be your only focus.” He talked about what a success the Chocolate Walk had been, as well as other projects. “Those are what bring and build the energy, and makes a city “lovable,” he said. And, it goes without saying that all of it demands being in balance, a never ending challenge.

Mayor Ronnie showed me his dog-eared copy of Kageyama’s book, and quoted the following: “Just as money alone does not make for great [human] relationships, we need to consider some other, non-financial elements. Elements that often don’t find their way into discourse about city building such as fun, playfulness, sentimentality, improvisation, curiosity and discovery.” He also added his own category, and that was “art.”

“High Cotton Arts and Little Red Schoolhouse are so important for our city,” Mayor Ronnie said. “So is restoring the Houston Library. We need to bring Houston back as a residence, a museum, and a library,” he added. “And, we have to continue to take down deserted buildings. That’s important, too.” Mayor Ronnie lent me his copy of the book, and I found something interesting, and not at all surprising. According to a study conducted by Gallup from 2002-2006, the cities that have the most “attachment,” in other words, people who have a passion toward and involvement in their city’s total success, also have the highest GDP, or gross domestic product. The stats show that our city is thriving, and sadly we have neighbors to the west and south that are struggling. It seems that this is the mark of a healthy city, one where people value it and fight for its well being, and that’s a fight that never ends.

Mayor Ronnie read to me some more and was firm in his resolve to have Athens avoid the mistake of ever settling for something that is often described as “good enough for government work.” “It is one of those cynical expressions that we can all relate to because we tend to think of government work as banal, uninspired and workman-like at best. We have equated government work with the least common denominator and the lowest acceptable standard of performance.”

“We’ve got to remove that from our thinking,” Mayor Ronnie said and added, “It’s just not acceptable.” I nodded, and then he showed me something that made my day. Somehow Peter Kageyama has been tracking our articles and took the time to write a thank you note. He is interested in visiting Athens, and I hope that will happen soon. We prayed and thanked God for all the ways He is blessing Athens and asked for the wisdom to make it shine even more brightly as a “healthy, lovable city.” Then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali ElizabethTurner