4-1-2016 12-15-31 PMJimmy Gill was the type of man who grew vegetables and shared them with friends, told funny stories about his dog Roscoe, and would dress as a pirate for a good cause.

He was also the kind of man for whom community service meant serving his city in various roles from city council to interim mayor to volunteer.

Today, March 27, 2016, on Easter Sunday, Gill died from his second battle with cancer.

Gill, who turned 68 on March 21, was first elected to the City County in 1992, and was one of the longest serving city council members in the state.

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“Today we lost a good servant for the City of Athens and a good friend,” Mayor Ronnie Marks said. “Jimmy is going to be missed by all of us, but he would challenge us to keep moving forward and to find a good person to fill his role to keep the work going.”

During his tenure on the Athens City Council, there were two projects special to Gill that he was determined to see to fruition: the renovation and preservation of Fort Henderson/Trinity School and a park for citizens living south of U.S. 72.

Union soldiers, including runaway slaves, built Fort Henderson during the Civil War, and Trinity School operated for black students after the war until integration in 1970. Gill was a 1966 graduate of Trinity School. The Pincham-Lincoln Community Center now is in operation at the Trinity site with plans to turn the school’s band room into a museum chronicling the story of slave to soldier to student.

There was no park in the city south of U.S. 72 until 2008, when the Jimmy Gill Park opened to serve citizens in that area.

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“When I was a reporter for The Decatur Daily, Jimmy wanted me to see the story, not just hear about an issue at a council meeting,” said Holly Hollman, who is now the grant coordinator/communications specialist for the City of Athens. “He took me to walk the crumbled halls of Trinity School when dead leaves and discarded school books littered the floors. He took me to speak to residents with limited transportation who wanted a recreational facility near them for their children. His service to Athens and its citizens was a priority in his life.”

Gill served various times as president of the Athens City Council, and in that role served as interim mayor in 2006 when the late Dan Williams was out for surgery. He was also involved in the following:

• Served on both the City of Athens Relay for Life Team and his church’s Relay Team at Oak Grove-CME Church

• Participated in the City of Athens Relay for Life Team’s Celebrity Waiter’s Night fundraiser (He raised the most in tips the past three years.) This is one of his favorite fundraisers.

• Served on TARCOG (Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments)

• Served on the Lincoln-Bridgeforth Park Committee, which provides community events such as the LBF Park Christmas Tree Lighting and Toy/Bicycle Give-Away at Christmas and the Martin Luther king Jr. Holiday Celebration.

• Served on the Solid Waste Authority

• Served on one of the committees for Alabama League of Municipalities

• Participated in Poke Sallet Follies to benefit the Limestone County Foundation for Aging. He participated every year except the first year in 1992 and this year because of his health. He had roles as a pirate, baby, triplet and many other crazy characters.

• Involved in organizing the Trinity Class of 1966’s Bi-Annual Trinity Grand Reunion.

• Served on the Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame Board

• Served on the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program Board

Gill is survived by his wife Deborah Gill and four children. He worked at GM/Delphi where he retired after 29 years and earned the nickname “Huggy Bear.” He was active in his congregation at Oak Grove CME Church.
By: Holly Hollman
Funeral arrangements have not been completed.*
*Funeral arrangements can be found in Publisher’s Point on page 3.

3-18-2016 11-06-36 AMAnother year of the highly successful Mayor’s Youth Commission is just about finished, and this spring the members have had a chance to learn to deal with money in a way that truly benefits worthy causes, as well as navigate the process of project selection, execution, and accountability. “In a way,” said Mayor Marks, “they are learning what it is like to be on City Council.” The kids “came into” a sum of $3500, which was sent to the Commission by the Dekko Foundation as part of their 35th anniversary celebration. Dekko’s mission is to “foster economic freedom through education,” and is highly vested in preparing students for the future.

The kids decided to give away $3,000 and keep $500 for the Commission. They came up with a protocol for which kind of entities would receive the designated grants, and two of the requirements were that they were a genuine non-profit, and that it could be demonstrably shown that the grant would be a benefit to Athens. They advertised, and received a number of responses. The grant applications were graded on how well the desired project was planned, and how well the grant application was worded. In addition, the kids did the leg work with regard to securing proof of an organization’s non-profit status.

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Some of the contenders were Relay for Life, Keep Athens Limestone Beautiful, the Animal Shelter, Camp Hope, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, the Girl Scouts, Hospice of Limestone County, the Athens Art League, and others.

The students met at Leak City on March 16th for their final meeting with regard to the Dekko grant, and the awardees were: Camp Hope, Keep Athens Limestone Beautiful, Athens Arts League, Boys and Girls Club, MTM Corporation, and Girl Scouts Service Unit 210.

After they concluded their business, (which almost always occurs over pizza), they were on to their next learning experience. Athens Fire and Rescue invited them to watch MES (Municipal Emergency Services) extrication training at Leak City on Sanderfer Road. The training is for firefighters from Athens Fire and Rescue, and Clements Volunteer Fire Dept. In addition, 72 Automotive donated vehicles for the exercise. They even got to handle the extraction equipment, and everyone received an “up close and personal” reason to quit texting and driving, which is one of the biggest causes of death amongst teens.

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We talked about what it was like to consider that another graduating class was nearly upon us, and that it was basically only 60 days until these guys were cut loose to be on their own and find their way. I for one am glad that the Mayor, Holly Hollman, and others have taken the time to train the next generation. Someday, they’ll be making all the decisions, and we are going to need every bit of wisdom that has been put in them.

He told me that there are a couple of students in the Commission that are heading toward their Eagle Scout badge, and for at least one of their projects, they saw to it that all the current playground equipment at the Sportsplex was pressure washed. In addition, they are helping to get the “All Kids” equipment ready to rock and roll. The All Kids playground equipment is especially designed for disabled children, and can even make a way for kids in wheelchairs to be able to swing on swings in the park.

There is a certain look of joy that the Mayor gets on his face when he talks about “his kids,” and I could tell that all of the “blood, sweat, and tears” from this year had paid off as he told me their stories. He had to get to another meeting, so we prayed, and then, it was time once again for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

3-5-2016 10-08-21 AMMayor Ronnie wears many hats, and sometimes that means literally. Every year, he dons his borrowed Dr. Seuss hat and spends time reading to various pre-school and elementary classrooms throughout Athens during Dr. Seuss Week. We talked about our favorites from the Seuss collection, including Horton Hears A Who, and Bartholomew And The Oobleck. However, this year, he chose a title of which I had never heard, and it was, Because A Little Bug Went Ka-choo! It was written in 1975, when Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), was 71, and for this book he used the pen name Rosetta Stone.

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The story is about chain reactions and the law of unintended consequences. It is also a great cautionary tale about what happens when you don’t manage your emotions, as illustrated by a worm who gets mad about getting bonked on the head and goes and kicks a tree. No Mayor likes to be stumped by questions, and Mayor Ronnie found himself almost coming up short when one of the kids asked, “How did the worm kick the tree? He doesn’t have any feet.” His reply? “He was a very special worm.” Later, he asked the kids, “What does the Mayor do? What’s his job?” Their answer? “He reads to kids.” Would that his job was so simple! We both laughed as he told me of the morning’s adventures.

Contrast wearing a striped hat and reading to kids with going to New York City to talk to people in the world of high finance. He traveled with Councilmen Chris Seibert and Joe Cannon to present the complexities of our various projects and debt service to firms on Wall Street. He was just back from the whirlwind trip, and felt that the presentation made to Standard and Poors and Moody went very well. He showed me a number of the slides that comprised the presentation, and I learned that housing prices have been steadily rising since 2008, and unemployment has been steadily declining. “We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the State,” he said.

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Anyone who knows our Mayor knows that one of his pet peeves is litter, and recently the City hired work release inmates to clean up the area from the east side of Walmart down the bank to Hwy 31. “They picked up 80 bags of trash,” he said with incredulity, and added, “Quit trashing our town!”

Spring cleaning for the City of Athens always has a literal end game; or, perhaps it would be better to describe it as an opening one since Opening Day for baseball, softball, and soccer will soon be here. One of the things that impressed the New Yorkers was the great increase in the number of kids that are participating in the Parks and Recreation teams. It most definitely speaks to the quality of life here in Athens, both for the kids and the adults who support them.

It was then time for Dr. Seuss, er, the Mayor to head out, but not before we prayed. Several people in our city have been sick, have been injured, or are fighting cancer, and we lifted them up to the One who loves them most. The kids at Piney Chapel Elementary were waiting to hear about the “very special worm,” and Ronnie needed to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

2-19-2016 11-41-51 AMOften times, Mayor Ronnie has come in so full from the weekend that it’s hard to confine all that is inspiring him to around 500 words. Sometimes there are tough things going on, and they need to be talked about, prayed about, and printed. This particular day it was both.

“We are coming up on storm season,” he said, “and people need to be prepared.” Of course, preparation is always a relative thing, and yet, it still is puzzling as to how so many people seem to just ignore storm season, and hope it will completely bypass them. I imagine we will address it again at length, but for the abbreviated imperative statement in this particular Ronnie, it’s time to buy your batteries, be able to reach your flashlight by Braille, purchase your water, and review your storm plan with your family. “Be alert,” were his two words on the subject. ‘Nuff said.

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Tough stuff: Public safety issues. We have talked many times over the years about mental health, something that we have both dealt with in our careers, and with which I have had to grapple personally with in regard to more than one family member. Outside of faith, sometimes the answers just don’t seem to be readily available, and for a public official, that is as humbling as it is frustrating. When ill mental health threatens the welfare of others, it is one of the worst situations imaginable, as we have recently seen in Florence and Athens.

Anyone, whether a first responder, a parent, a teacher, or a public official, knows that mental ill health is “equal opportunity” when it comes to its devastating effects on everyone. “Mental illness knows no gender, race, or age,” he said as he sighed, and I nodded as we were quiet for awhile. When we prayed, we prayed for every person in our area who struggles with it, their families, and everyone who has to make any kind of a decision with regard to dealing with it from the standpoint of public safety. May God grant wisdom and relief to all, especially the sufferers and their families.

Spring: “There is so much good stuff going on in our community that I almost don’t know where to start,” he said. Per usual, he always worries that he is leaving somebody out. The Boy Scouts are honored to have Coach Bruce Pearl confirmed as their keynote speaker on April 6th. Coach Pearl is a legend in the NCAA basketball world, and is currently a coach at Auburn. “He is one of the finest motivational speakers I have ever heard,” said Mayor Ronnie, and he has personally heard many.

He was jazzed about the upcoming Intercultural Seminar to be hosted by ASU and the City of Athens. The Cultural Competency presentations are open to the public, and are designed for first responders, the public at large, and for those in education. It will be held on Monday and Tue, February 22nd and 23rd, and for more information, see the Community Calendar.
The Home and Garden Show is coming on March 11th and 12th, and it seems like our whole city looks to it as being the proof that Spring will truly come again.

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And finally, how about those Shakes?? Three Grammys? The Alabama Shakes have always been dear to the Mayor’s heart, because his wife, Sandra, has known Brittney Howard’s grandmother since they were in high school. We both love the fact that in spite of fame, the Shakes still claim our wonderful town as their own. We prayed, and then it was time to roll, left both sobered, yet joyful.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

2-5-2016 5-04-28 PMThe first time I ever interviewed Mayor Ronnie, it was in the old City Hall building, and I followed him outside as he went around the perimeter and picked up trash. It was starting to rain, he moved quickly, and instantly the place looked better. I thought about my own upbringing, and in our house we would have been in deep kimchee if we ever even THOUGHT of littering! I appreciated the fact that picking up the trash was not “below” the mayor.

Now, why is trash a “truly deep subject?” “Because,” he said, it gives the first impression of our city. A good first impression draws good people here, and drawing good people here means more jobs, a sustainable quality of life, and it’s a win-win situation all the way around.”

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Lynne Hart, of Keep Athens Limestone Beautiful also took up the “trash topic” in this edition, and there is a lot going on in that department, including the upcoming Elk River Clean Up to be held on April 2, 2016. There are former Adopt-a-spots that are no longer being kept up by original sponsors, and that situation is going to be addressed. There is also a plan in the works to have work release participants involved in “taking out the trash.” All of it makes Athens a better place to live.

So, what about taking out internal trash? That’s an ongoing job, and there is no better time to assess what can be kept and what can be pitched than at the State of the City Address, which was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and held at the Athens State Ball room on February 4th. In many ways, we are in great shape. We have a surplus in our general fund, there are several new businesses that have decided to come here, and the facilities and plants built by some are nearly ready to open. The Asahi plant is one, and the Shape and Polaris plants are on their way. The Aldi store is open, there is going to be a new Taco Bell built, a Ninja Steakhouse, and others. There is going to be construction begun on a 3-million dollar physical rehab facility, and on Highway 72 near Medical East, a 7-million dollar assisted living project will be breaking ground soon.

As far as “what to pitch,” the ongoing challenge is to find ways to cut spending without cutting services. The City Council is looking hard at ways to fund a school within the framework of what the voters have chosen, and, speaking of choosing, this is also a time to make sure you exercise your right to vote.

“I understand that sometimes people feel that election season never ends, but there are so many things that are important, and they have long term impact on Athens,” he said. “The most obvious one is all of the judicial positions that need to be filled. If you don’t get out and vote, you are making a choice that can last for a very long time.”

We talked about friends that are dealing with life and death situations such as cancer and kids who are in trouble, and prayed for them. Then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

1-22-2016 11-08-58 AMMonday the 18th had been a whirlwind of celebrations centered around Martin Luther King’s birthday. Sweet Home Church once again had been the host for the ceremony (or more accurately, “service”), and the Round Island Men’s Choir “tore it up,” as they always do.

However, someone very special was missing, and that was the “Jimmie” of this article. Veteran Athens City Councilman Jimmie Gill is in a serious “street fight” with cancer, and Mayor Ronnie, wanting to be respectful of Jimmie’s privacy, asked him, “Jimmie, what do you want me to tell caring people who call this office?” Jimmie’s response was as follows: “Tell them I am battling stage 2 cancer, and am starting chemo on Jan 25th.” But, the unsinkable Mr. Gill was not through—he also said, “I plan to whip this and be a candidate in 2016!” Mayor Ronnie then added, “We really missed Jimmie. It just wasn’t the same without him.”

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Every year, our school system has an essay contest in connection with Martin Luther King’s birthday, and there were 48 entries. It is significant to note that 30 of the 48 were from Julian Newman Elementary School.

We talked about Arise And Build, the original play being produced by Frank Travis and Charlotte Fulton, based on Charlotte’s book on the history of Trinity School as commemorated in Holding The Fort. The play is going to be presented at Athens State University on Friday, February 5th, Saturday the 6th, and Sunday the 7th. For more information, see Holly Hollman’s Special Feature on page________ “This is a big deal,” said Mayor Ronnie, and he added, “we have so much cooperation and support in our community that comes from business, the schools, the County, and the citizens.” We celebrated the “unscripted healing” that has taken place in our community because good hearted folks have chosen to do the right thing. We agreed we could use a serious dose of “arising and building” all over our nation.

We were then off to something that was genuinely stunning, and that was the Sankofa African-American Museum on Wheels, exhibited in the Athens State University ballroom on January 19th and 20th. The “rolling museum” was part of the Livingston Concert Series. It is the lifetime labor of love collected by Angela Jennings, and we could have stayed all day. There were heavy shackles used on slave ships which she had procured at auctions held by Christie’s and Sothby’s. There were original receipts for the purchase of slaves, Tuskegee Airmen memorabilia, kente cloth made out of silk, displays of invaluable inventions (such as the cell phone), which were made by African Americans, and so much more. “Every dime that I have has gone into this, “she said, and she is gone from her home in Denmark, SC for more than 300 days of the year making sure people have a chance to see it.

It was my pleasure to hear Mayor Ronnie tell her about Judge Horton’s decision to put everything on the line right here in the Limestone County Courthouse to see to it that the Scottsboro Boys got justice, and to watch her soak in the benefit of that act of bravery. It was also my pleasure to tell her about getting the chance to personally attend the last of the 16th Street Church bombing trials when I first got here, and to again see her enjoy the fruit of justice being served. But the true twinkle in her wise, soft eyes came when I told her what kind of history was made when the Swampers were Aretha Franklin’s back-up band when she recorded her breakout hit “I Ain’t Never Loved A Man” at Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals. She promised me she would get the DVD of Muscle Shoals from PBS and devour it.

It was time for Ronnie “to roll” to the Youth Commission Meeting, and I stayed behind for awhile to experience the depth and beauty of Ms. Angela. We talked, hugged, prayed, sang, and had church. I finally tore myself away, so proud to be a citizen of Athens. Ms. Angela said she had been “treated like royalty,” and I was not surprised, because this is not just how Mayor Ronnie rolls, this is how WE roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

1-8-2016 10-47-45 AMIt was our first meeting of this Leap Year, and per usual, Mayor Ronnie nearly bounded into the room. I would say that around 95% of the time that’s how “Ronnie rolls,” but today he was virtually turbo-charged. “I can’t tell you how excited I am about 2016,” he said, as he proceeded to whip out his somewhat beat up notes from the previous day’s sermon. It had been entitled something along the lines of “Gettin’ Over The Hump, Gettin’ Over The Slump,” and it provided for the Mayor a board from which to vigorously spring into our conversation.

We compared notes on our respective holidays, and he was quick to express his gratitude for how hard the utilities crews worked during what will most likely come to be known as to as the “Christmas Floods.” He told me, “Those guys were literally down in culverts pulling out leaves so that the water could move,” He said. “They worked for just about 24 hours straight,” he added.
He went back to his sermon notes, and began to preach. “Are you trying, or are you in training?” I chose not to resist the temptation to reply in my crummy impersonation of Master Yoda by saying, “Do or do not do; there is no ‘try.’” We talked for awhile about the fact that personal development, whether it is on the part of an individual, a family, a business, or a city is not optional. We can and must rest, but too much, and we rust.

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“We (the City of Athens) are in training to be better stewards of money, public safety, kids, seniors, and our resources,” he said.

“2016 has me as excited as I have ever been about a new year,” he said. He continued by saying, “If you can’t get excited about living in North Alabama, I guess you just can’t get excited.” He went down the list of all the things that are either finished or will be soon—the Asahi plant, the Courthouse remodeling project, and the City Hall building. “I inherited an office in a building built in 1954 that had black mold and asbestos,” he said, and I reminded him that’s where we did our very first interview for this column.

He talked for a bit about the “one stop shop” concept that will be a part of the new services that will be available when City Hall opens this spring. What he means by that term is that there will be someone at City Hall who will walk a person or corporation wishing to build in Limestone County through the entire permit and inspection process so that they don’t have to be sent all over the County. This approach has been used in Florence and has saved time, money and resources.

“For the first time, the City is going to have a significant amount of money, (close to a million dollars) for street and road repair,” he said. The recent storm was a good thing in that it exposed what needed to be either built, repaired, or upgraded when it comes to drains and culverts.

As far as new projects, there is the Shape plant, and while he couldn’t mention any specifics, so far there are two or three new commercial projects that will bring growth to Limestone County. “I am excited about jobs,” he said.

Over the holidays he sent a letter to the City Council, encouraging them to brainstorm with him, either in what are known as one-on-ones, as well as when they get back together after the holiday recess. He talked a bit about the importance of setting goals. I asked him, “Do you have any personal goals for 2016?” “Taking out consistent time for exercise,” was his response. One last time he talked about how excited he was about this year. Then we prayed, and Ronnie had to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

12-18-2015 3-12-30 PMThe City of Athens greeted 2015 with winter weather events that demonstrated the kindness of our employees and community.

A three-day cold snap from Jan. 7-9 resulted in TVA seeing peak demands across the area as temperatures dropped to the single digits. Old Man Winter hit again on Feb. 19 when TVA reported the third highest all time energy day in TVA history with 694 GWh used. This also set a new February usage record as temps hovered around seven degrees.

On Feb. 20, a winter storm brought .2 inches of ice and ½ inches of snow to Athens, according to WAFF’s Brad Travis. Interstate 65 shut down with more than 150 motorists abandoning their vehicles. Athens Police, the Mayor’s Office and Central Church of Christ volunteers worked to get stranded motorists to the church for food and shelter after hotels and restaurants at the Interstate-65/U.S.72 exit became full. APD rescued a basketball team from Middle Georgia State University when the team bus became stranded. Players were walking along the interstate toward Athens in the middle of the night, which led to a story on Good Morning America. The team sent APD gifts of appreciation such as autographed basketballs and footballs.

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“We were caught a little off guard, not realizing how much ice we would get and that it was going to paralyze the city, but it ended up bringing out the best in our department and community,” Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson said. “Through the duration of the event and subsequent events, we had people volunteering to help from our business community to our church community. We had officers who didn’t want to go home when their shift ended because they were enjoying helping others. This was a community-wide response that highlighted how special the city is, and how giving our citizens and employees are to others.”

After recovering from that weekend storm, seven inches of snow hit Athens on Feb. 25, according to WAFF. The snow level throughout Limestone County ranged from 4.5 to 10 inches. City Public Works crews plowed roads and used sand on bridges throughout the night to help clear paths for traffic. Central Church of Christ again opened its doors to stranded motorists.

Before spring could arrive, March brought another winter event on March 5-6 when freezing rain and sleet hit on a Thursday night and left slick spots for motorists Friday morning. There were five wrecks in the city, some with injuries.

Winter weather wasn’t the only item making headlines. January 2015 brought the announcement of new jobs in the area. Polaris announced it was building a new manufacturing facility in the Greenbrier area in Huntsville-annexed Limestone County. Athens Utilities is supplying electricity for the project, and the city committed $200,000 to help lure the company and its 2,000 jobs and potential for suppliers. A member of the management team has already purchased a home in Athens.

In October, two more industrial announcements made headlines. Michigan-based Shape Corp. announced it is building a $24 million plant in Athens and creating 170 jobs. The plant will locate on a 34-acres site at Breeding Industrial Park.GE Aviation also announced it will locate a $200 million complex in Greenbrier in Huntsville-annexed Limestone County and create 300 jobs. Athens Utilities will provide electricity.

“We talk to industrial prospects on a regular basis now, and that shows how hot this area is and how lucky we are to be in the North Alabama area,” Mayor Ronnie Marks said.

Those outside the City of Athens have noticed the attractiveness of our city. Here are some of the accolades from 2015:

  • NerdWallet ranked Athens the 18th best place in Alabama for homeownership
  • Movoto blog named Athens the 7th safest city in Alabama based on the FBI’s 2013 uniform crime report
  • NerdWallet ranked Athens No. 2 among 100 cities in the U.S. with a rising middle class.
  • Niche.com listed Athens as No. 11 for Best Towns to Live In in Alabama, scoring the city high in housing, education, safety and overall community.
  • NerdWallet named Athens 20th best city in Alabama for first-time homebuyers.
  • USA News and World Report gave Athens High School a Bronze national ranking
  • SACS said Athens City Schools surpassed every national average of their ratings. With 400 being the best possible score, Athens scored 317.07. The national average is 282.45.
  • Newsweek magazine released its rankings of U.S. high schools that provide the best chances for post-graduation success for students living below the poverty line. Athens High was one of two Alabama schools to make the list of 500. Athens ranked No. 361. Athens also received a Gold Star Equity rating, meaning students classified as disadvantaged performed at or above state averages in standardized reading and math tests.

By: Holly Hollman, City of Athens Communications Specialist

12-3-2015 11-12-27 AMMayor Ronnie was fresh back from a week at the beach with his family, and got some much needed rest, save for the traffic on the way back home. It was beastly! This time our chat centered around education, and the expanding needs of students in our area due to the continual growth of our city and county. You will remember that toward the end of the summer, there was plenty of spirited discussion and then a vote put to the people of Athens in regard to building a new high school. As we all know, it was defeated. Mayor Ronnie, as he set forth the options that are now before us to consider ways to fund a new school, reiterated that the people had spoken. “We heard it, we heard the democratic vote” he said, and then asked, “What now?”

It became very apparent when there was the bomb threat made earlier in the Fall at the Middle School, and kids and staff had to be evacuated quickly and safely, that the Middle School has a number of public safety issues that certainly were not something anyone was having to consider when it was built in 1956. “Egress was a nightmare,” he said. Due to the Middle School’s location, that is not something that can be remedied by repair or remodeling, and in the event of an actual bomb could be a huge problem.

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One of the things I have come to appreciate about the Mayor is how creatively he responds to challenges, and the kinds of questions he asks when he is in the process of solving problems. I also appreciate that I can ask him questions, and, as always, came away from our time feeling like I had learned something.

What is little known, and I found fascinating, is that there was a random phone poll conducted prior to the August school funding election, and of those surveyed, 70% said they would support the building program that was being proposed. However, they made it very clear that they wanted to have the funding package passed all at once and get it out of the way, rather than have it come in stages. Interestingly, when the election finally came, it was nearly the same percentage of voters who were against it.

Moving forward, there is a bit of confusion that needs to be cleared up in regard to the role that the City Council has in all of this. “The City Council does NOT have the authority, according to Alabama State Law, to vote on a property tax increase,” he said. He then added, “That’s the vote of the people.”

As of now, the Mayor and the City Council are working closely with the Athens Public Schools Finance Department to see what kinds of things can be done to solve the school funding problem. “Basically, we are looking at reducing administrative costs by attrition, looking at the impact that the increase of student population growth will have on state funding made available to us, and exploring how we can best utilize the tax revenue we already have,” he said. It became apparent that we were going to have to talk about this again in much more detail, so we finished laying the foundation for this article, prayed for wisdom for our leaders, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

11-20-2015 3-59-19 PMThe events in Paris were hanging over us as we began the interview, and we sighed for a moment as we realized that, like it or not, we are at war, and a so called “holy war” at that. We talked about the fact that we had just come off of a wonderful local celebration of Veterans’ Day, and the connection between Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving is obvious: we would not be free without our vets, and now that ISIS is in all 50 states, whether vets are active or not, they will be our first line of defense.

Mayor Ronnie, when he came home from Vietnam 45 years ago, participated in several burials of fellow soldiers who had fallen. There was a specific ceremony that goes into making the triangular flag that is given to the family, and it fell upon Ronnie, as a member of the burial detail, to be the one who would hand the flag to the primary family member while saying, “On behalf of a grateful nation…” The 13 fold ceremony is one of great precision, and the Mayor had been pleased to see it recreated by young people at his granddaughter’s school, (Pizitz Middle) located near Hoover.

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“We need to hang on to the November holidays,” he said, and by that he meant Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving, and not let either one of them get overshadowed by Christmas. We reminisced about the holidays when we were kids. Christmas decorations were never up before Thanksgiving, and there was no Black Friday. Thanksgiving was always and only Thanksgiving, and it was the day after that the stores put up their decorations. “I understand the commercial side of Christmas,” he said, “but I am old school, and it’s aggravating. Are we going to just start calling November “Black November?” I nodded in agreement.

“This is a time to be with family and friends, and to go to church,” he said. And, while the attacks on Paris are not as extensive as 9/11 were to us as Americans, they are devastating to France, and France is our ally. We expressed our amazement that France had actually declared war on Syria, and he said, “We will need to be there to help them.”

I got “feffered up,” as my husband Steve would say, over the strategy of terrorism, which is always to control by fear. “What if,” I said, “everyone in Athens decided that live or die, they were the Lord’s, what power would ISIS have then?” He nodded, and added, “We have to be alert when we are at events and other places. More than refusing to be afraid, we have to concentrate on all of the ‘good stuff’ for which we can be thankful,” he said. “More people are involved in more things at the local level, and we have been energized. This is no time to circle the wagons,” he said. Then we discussed the upcoming Thanksgiving dinners being held for Vets and the community on Thanksgiving Day, prayed, and it was time once again for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner