8-7-2015 2-59-35 PMIt is time for our kids to head back to school, and Mayor Ronnie was full of thoughts about the year ahead. Both of us have spent time in the classroom as teachers, and have no end of respect for the job our teachers are being called upon to do, as well as the sacrifices they make. Though it’s not easy to discuss, we agreed that teachers have to function far more as parents than was the case when we were kids, or, for that matter, when we were teaching.

We have another new dilemma. We have some kids who are hungry, and a number of kids who are overfed and undernourished. We have parents who are scrambling to make ends meet. However, there is some good news, coming from Academy Award winning actor Jeff Bridges. He and a man named Billy Shore have teamed up in a non-profit organization called No Kid Hungry, and are working from the private sector to deal with both issues: food insecurity and obesity. Strangely, some of the states that have the highest childhood obesity issues are also the ones with the highest levels of food insecurity.

What Jeff is particularly focused on is the importance of breakfast for kids. He said, “It’s true that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We’re talking about brain food, man!” He actually goes to the schools himself to serve the kids, and No Kid Hungry is making a difference all across the nation.

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No doubt it is tough to believe in dreams when you are hungry, but we were later blessed to hear about a man who worked hard through the lean times, became successful, and came back home to Athens with the purpose of helping adults and kids alike dream. Legendary country songwriter Roger Murrah was at the High Cotton Art Incubator on August 3rd, along with his sister and brother-in-law, and he has given our town a special gift.

8-7-2015 3-00-04 PMWhile it took the whole Murrah family chopping cotton in order to survive, Roger’s dad traded a truck for a 1929 Howard upright piano so his kids could have a chance to discover music. Because of the strength of their family and faith, the kids never had the sense of being poor. They would make music by the hour after the chores were done, and we got to hear some of it live. Appropriately, the song they sang was “High Cotton,” and the Murrah family piano is on loan to High Cotton Arts.

Mayor Ronnie mentioned at High Cotton that he understood as a former public school educator the enormous pressure teachers are under, and expressed his support, prayers and wishes for teachers, kids, parents and the community to have a great school year.

Mayor Ronnie said Murrah’s announcement to support local arts and the programs for children offered by High Cotton Arts cultivate the dreams of our children. He said adults can encourage children to reach their dreams, or they can kill those dreams quickly. Murrah’s endeavors along with High Cotton Arts are providing that encouragement.

I asked if kids were going to be allowed to gently play the piano as it “lives” in the Art Incubator, and Roger’s sister Tina seemed to think that was a good idea. We’ll see what they decide, but in the mean time, we are blessed to be in “High Cotton,” and it is time for all of us to roll!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

8-7-2015 3-00-21 PM

7-17-2015 1-42-14 PMIt has been a whirlwind week. Mayor Ronnie was at the Electric Cities conference in Florida, and I was at a business conference in Cleveland. At Mayor Ronnie’s conference, one of the keynote speakers was actor Steve Ford, son of former US President Gerald and First Lady Betty Ford. Steve has had an impressive acting career, appearing in such films as When Harry Met Sally, Blackhawk Down, and lent his voice to Transformers.

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Mayor Ronnie got to spend time talking with Mr. Ford and came away with a “new perspective on perspective.” Steve’s dad was one of the most underrated and misunderstood presidents in our history, and had to step up to clean up the messes left by Vice President Spiro Agnew, followed by President Richard Nixon. It was a terrible time in America, and by all accounts, we were falling apart. Inner cities were blowing up, campuses were blowing up, Vietnam was blowing up, and President Ford became laser focused on doing whatever he could to heal the country, even if it was controversial. His methodology was not exactly popular, and specifically for Mayor Ronnie, as a ‘Nam vet, the decision on the part of President Ford to forgive the draft dodgers, who were hiding out in Canada or elsewhere was not an easy one. Mayor Ronnie’s “takeaway” from his chat with Steve Ford was that true leadership has the ability to see the focused object, as well as the big picture, sacrificing neither, and being willing to be misunderstood for the sake of the people you are serving.

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Any leader faces that, if they are doing their job well. And it is stunning to see how quickly people allow their fears to take precedence over facts.

General Boles has continued to challenge the mayor with the tales of triumphs and mistakes that were made during Boles’ legendary military career. Some of those “stretchers” were captured in the following 5 questions:

• Engagement-Is there transparency in the organization? (In our case, the City of Athens) Is there care for employees and customers (citizens)?
• Integrity-Is it visible? Do leaders “walk their talk”?
• Quality Products and Services- Does the organization make or provide something they are proud to stand for and stand behind? He asked me, “What do we want our city to look like? Are people thinking about future generations? What will we be handing off to our young people?”
• Purpose- Does the organization make the greater society better instead of using only a financial equation for validation of its purpose? That is the question on the table regarding the vote for schools. Do the benefits outweigh the detractors, and will new schools serve to protect the autonomy of Athens? “I tell people that they need to do their own research, and vote according to their conscience,” he said. “I know how my wife and I are going to vote,” he added.
• Operations-Specifically, do the leaders conduct themselves honorably? Is the company (or city), viewed as being at the top of their industry category? If NerdWallet’s recent assessment is accurate, Athens is doing well. However, Mayor Ronnie quickly pointed out that no matter how many times we talk about “quality of life” in this column, that is the all-encompassing goal because it pre-supposes that everything else is in line, i.e., public safety, education, jobs, and peoples’ life of faith.

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Lastly, he told a funny story of passionate Auburn fan, and City Councilman Harold Wales having to concede that Alabama Coach Nick Saban made some wise statements when he queried, “What is leadership? We make a mistake about what it is. It’s really about influencing someone else for their benefit. So many people think it’s about influencing someone for their own benefit. That’s manipulation, not leadership.” “Whoa!” I hollered, when the Mayor told me that. Then we prayed, and it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

7-3-2015 4-24-15 PMGeorge MacDonald made the following statement: “To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” Mayor Ronnie looked at me and said, “Do you think that’s true?” I thought for a moment and replied, “Yes. There are people that I genuinely love, but I don’t trust them at all.” He nodded. I thought further and concluded that what I would like the most is to be trusted, even if I am not very popular. He agreed. MacDonald’s statement is the introduction to the chapter in Gen Vinnie Boles’ book, 4-3-2-1 Leadership entitled, “Trust: The Most Critical Component.”

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We talked about the fact that our whole culture is facing a crisis of faith, and not just spiritually or religiously speaking. There is a leadership vacuum, people are “daddy hungry,” and the promises of “transparency” are fodder for late night comedy routines.

He then said, “If there is a lack of trust, our charge is to strive to achieve the trust factor.” Why is that tough to do? General Boles has some thoughts:
• “People have been burned by leaders in their past trust experiences, which heightens their resistance to trust in the future.
• It is hard to measure. Trust is viewed as a “touchy feely” objective. For example, how would write a performance objective that measured the level of trust that the leader attained from the led?
• Leaders find it difficult to do. They have to establish a climate of trust. That means letting people make mistakes and ensuring they learn from them. The leader has to let go of some of the control/power they perceive they have: “If I already know how to do it, why take the risk of letting you try it?”
• Trust is personal. Individuals have their own personal trust equation or logic trail they follow to confer trust in another. Some do it more willingly than others; however, you cannot assume because some seem to trust you that all do.
• Trust is easily lost. My experience has shown me that if a leader violates the bond of trust with the led, even once, that trust will be gone and not easily regained. Because it’s personal, people feel personally violated when trust is breached.”

“We have to do our best to live out our core beliefs,” Mayor Ronnie said. While we have talked about them in many articles, they bear repeating because, if they are upheld, our town will continue to thrive.

Number one is public safety; others include jobs, education, quality of life, and expressing one’s faith. He then said, “We also have to ask the question, ‘what does transparency mean to you?’” He added, “One way you do it is to open the public records re: budget items.” One of the things that the citizens will be voting on will be funding for the public schools, and on this ballot there will be two votes-one for the 12 mils property tax, and one designating the details as to how that will be dispersed. That is a first for our town, and oddly, the latter might not make everyone happy.

We talked about people that we admired for their transparency, and he mentioned Annette Barnes, who keeps track of the city’s finances. “I have never seen anyone who is more careful with each line item,” he said. “We are blessed to have her,” I said. We prayed, asking for the ability to build trust and be transparent, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

7-3-2015 4-25-09 PM

6-18-2015 4-33-36 PMFriday, June 12th, our town celebrated Flag Day at an annual gathering hosted by Athens State University, and Mayor Ronnie was there. I have seen him inspired on several occasions by various patriotic, motivational or religious presentations, but rarely have I seen him so “jazzed.” He had heard US Army Brigadier General (Ret) Vincent Boles speak at the gathering, and immediately downloaded Boles’ book, entitled, 4-3-2-1 Leadership: What America’s Sons and Daughters Taught Me on the Road from 2d Lieutenant to 2 Star General.

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Boles retired from his position at Redstone and decided to stay in the area. He started a consulting and leadership training business, and Dr. Tom Sisk, Limestone County Public Schools Superintendent shares the Mayor’s enthusiasm re: the effectiveness of 4-2-3-1. Dr. Sisk told me he sat down and talked at length with MG Boles to see if they shared the same philosophy of leadership, and they did. Dr. Sisk then hired MG Boles to do some intensive training with principals in the County system. “We selected Gen Boles because of his proven record in teaching leadership principles. He spoke to all our principals, and has done some individual training as well. I am pleased,” said Dr. Sisk as he was heading to an educational conference.

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Just taking a quick first look at Mayor Ronnie’s tablet version, I could see why they are so excited. Boles, who is a Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq veteran decided to retire here in 2009. While the principles outlined in his book had their proving ground in his illustrious military career, they are transferable to any situation, whether it be running a business, a school, or a town. The “three legged stool” for his operational and philosophical premise is:
1. What’s the standard?
2. What’s the system to attain the standard?
3. Who’s in charge of the pieces of the system?

Then comes the most important part: “Remember, I said ask AND answer.” That is crucial, because both leaders and those they are leading must be held accountable to the results of the inquiry, and therein exists the potential for healthy internal growth that manifests itself as improved quality of life.

Mayor Ronnie told me that Gen Boles, like so many of us, never planned on settling in Alabama. He also said that “Vinnie” has a great sense of humor, and is “so glad he has continued to serve in our area.”

4-3-2-1 also had another quote, attributed to Thomas Pynchon- “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
I own a decent collection of books, tapes, CDs and DVDs on leadership and personal development, and rarely have I had a statement grab me as did Pynchon’s. It was an “aha moment” for me if there ever was one, and it had struck the Mayor as profound, as well.

So, I think it’s safe to say that General Boles’ “invasion” has begun in Athens and Limestone County, and I am looking forward to what I am hoping will be an extensive series on his treatment of the leadership topic, because all of us can improve our leadership skills. The Mayor’s schedule was not quite as tight as it often is on Mondays, so we had time to explore the book more, and then we prayed. On Wednesday, he called and said, “Guess what arrived in the mail today? An autographed copy of the book, and a separate, hand written note from General Boles!” It was a delightful surprise, and no doubt, like all his books, it will be lovingly abused, filled with dog eared, highlighted, and folded pages, proof of what makes Ronnie roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

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6-6-2015 11-53-22 AMMayor Ronnie had had to re-schedule from our usual Monday “Mornings With Ronnie.” City of Athens Communications Specialist Holly Hollman was on hand to put together these rather mind-blowing statistics regarding the attention our fair town has been garnering from as far away as San Francisco, which is the headquarters of NerdWallet. The two data gathering companies, NerdWallet and niche.com have given statistical substance to what we have suspected for a long time, and that is, that Athens, AL is one of the best places to live, ANYWHERE! Below is the compilation of findings, put together for us by Holly.

2015 Niche.com Rankings for Best Towns (under 100,000 population) Athens is No. 11 in Alabama for 2015 Best Towns, according to Niche.com 2015 rankings. The city received an A- in both education and housing. The city ranks No. 63 nationally for Best Town to Buy a House, and No. 5 in the state. The Athens City School System ranks No. 12 in the state for Towns with the Best Public Schools. Athens ranks No. 6 in Alabama on the list of Best Towns to Raise a Family, and No. 6 on Towns with the Best Community in the state. Athens ranks No. 3 for Safest Towns in Alabama. Athens City Schools rank No. 18 in the state for Best School Districts.

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From Niche: “Niche is providing reviews and insight from everyday experts. We make choosing a neighborhood, college, or K-12 school a more transparent process. Founded in 2002 by Carnegie Mellon University students as CollegeProwler.com, we’ve since grown into one of the largest content startups in the country. We’re obsessed with providing students, families, and professionals with best-in-class content and deep insight into big life decisions. Every year, we help millions of people find their niche and thrive within it.”

Alabama Center for Real Estate Regarding Housing Growth/Sales: Athens/Limestone County residential sales totaled 65 units in February, an increase in sales growth of 20.4 percent, or 11 units above the same period last year. Year-to-date sales through February are up 27.6, percent from 2014. (This is according to NerdWallet’s ranking for Cities with a Strong Middle Class.) Out of 100 cities in the nation, NerdWallet ranked Athens No. 2 – behind Big Spring, Texas – for having a strong middle class. The middle class is rising in Athens, and has a 46.9 percent share of the aggregate income in Athens. In 2014, NerdWallet ranked Athens as the 18th best place in Alabama for homeownership. The area has a homeownership rate of 65.3%, and median monthly homeowner costs are $1,195. Athens grew by 5.4% between 2010 and 2012. NerdWallet is building accessible online tools and providing research and experts that can’t be found anywhere else, all to help consumers take back control of their choices in a marketing-driven, trillion-dollar industry.

Movto Real Estate Blog for Safest Cities in Alabama The blog ranked Athens the No. 7 Safest City in Alabama. Movoto Real Estate strives to make the home-buying process an easy and enjoyable experience by providing detailed housing information and access to knowledgeable local real estate agents.

U.S. Census Bureau’s Fastest Growing Counties In 2014, the Bureau reported Limestone County is the 65th fastest growing county in the nation. Al.com’s Best Cities in Alabama ranked Athens as the No. 9 Best City in the state in 2013.

Alabama Policy Institute’s List of Business-Friendly Cities The Institute listed Athens as the No. 3 Business-Friendly City in the state in 2013.

Healthy Counties The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute named Limestone County the No. 5 Healthiest County in the state.

Clearly, we have much to thank God for, so we did. The three of us, Mayor Ronnie, Holly, and I took a moment to pray, to express gratitude for all our blessings, and to help us be a contributing factor to making an already amazing town even more so. And then, of course, it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

6-6-2015 11-53-47 AM

5-15-2015 3-32-26 PMThat is a question that one would perhaps expect from a generation that now looks at a picture of Adolph Hitler and thinks he was an actor, or from my generation, when 40 plus years ago, some of us wanted to overthrow the government.

However, it was former US Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who fought in the Civil War and died in 1935, that had that question posed to him by a young man back in 1884. Here, in part, was his response, delivered at a Memorial Day speech to a New Hampshire Army Unit :

“So to the indifferent inquirer who asks why Memorial Day is still kept up we may answer, it celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith. It embodies in the most impressive form our belief that to act with enthusiam and faith is the condition of acting greatly. To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching. More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhpas a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out. All that is required of you is that you should go somewhither as hard as ever you can. The rest belongs to fate. One may fall-at the beginning of the charge or at the top of the earthworks; but in no other way can he reach the rewards of victory.”

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We talked about how the year had flown by, and once again we are getting ready to watch our seniors graduate, or, “commence.” What are they commencing? Life as almost-adults. Are they ready? Did we do all we could to get them that way? What does it mean, as Holmes said, “To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might.” Do our kids and grandkids want that the same way we do?

One thing we discussed, having both lived in a combat zone, is that the true link to having the freedom to “commence” lies with the fallen soldiers whose graves we visit and decorate as part of our Memorial Day rituals and celebration. The slogan, “If you can read, thank a soldier,” is not just fodder for a bumper sticker. Nearly a quarter of Iraqis were illiterate as a result of living under Saddam’s regime, with women being unable to read at twice the rate of men. I don’t know what the rate would have been when Mayor Ronnie was in Vietnam, but I know from experience that the easiest way to control people is to keep them from being able to read.

We laughed about the fact that, as is often the case with many “firsts,”, both the North as well as the South claim that the very first Memorial Day celebration occurred within each region, respectively. New Hampshire is sure that they launched the tradition, as is Mississippi.

We had both heard at the Veterans’ Museum Coffee Call gathering that this year for our annual Memorial Day commemoration, we will be graced with the presence of a three star general. (See Sandy Thompson’s From The Veterans’ Museum article on page……………..for more information.) Because of the tireless work of Sandy and the volunteers at the Museum, Athens is often blessed to have distinguished officers as guests at such events.

“Memorial Day is more than a BBQ, or cleaning up the pontoon boat, and getting down to the river,” he said. “We need to pause, recognize and remember those who paid the ultimate price, and give respect and recognition to the real meaning of Memorial Day. It is important to pass it along to our young people,” he added. As always, the time had zipped by, and we barely had time to pray. But, pray we did, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

5-15-2015 3-32-36 PM

5-1-2015 1-13-23 PMIt’s been a year since our last round of killer storms rampaged through our county, claiming two lives. As is always the case, the storm brought out the best in us, and we quickly rallied together to begin rebuilding. One of the toughest parts of a storm is when churches get destroyed, but that is also often the site of some of the most extravagant outpouring of God’s grace, as people work not so much to restore a building, but the community it serves.

Mayor Ronnie was asked to speak at Clements Baptist church at their April 26th morning service, and the new sanctuary was dedicated to God as a place for the congregation to treasure His presence. The Mayor told me about the theme that kept re-emerging, the challenge to “Do Something.” The term “do something” was seen on placards held up by kids, but rather than be a call to action for action’s sake, it had far more to do with the state of one’s heart, and his favorite placard simply said, “Celebrate.”

He was just home from Corpus Christi, TX, where a number of representatives from municipalities throughout the Southeast gathered together to hear about each other’s challenges, triumphs, and innovative ways of solving serious problems. The Mayor of Brownwood, TX talked about a lake in their area that dropped 19 feet, and they were in trouble. While it understandably does not appeal to our sensibilities, Brownwood is now using what is known as “effluent” water, a term that is usually used to describe sewage flowing untreated out into a bay.

While effluent water is obviously not for human consumption, more and more drought stricken areas are using it to irrigate crops. More than likely we will not face the need to do the same with our crops grown in North Alabama, but what spoke to the Mayor was the humorous way the speaker approached the discussion of Brownwood’s dilemma, and the ingenuity of the solution.

From a motivational perspective, his favorite speaker from the conference talked about the “3 Cs”, “culture, communication and collaboration.” These are qualities that, when utilized synergistically, function as the glue that not only holds a community together in times of crisis, but cause it to become stronger, and to grow. Working backwards in order to illustrate the speaker’s point, Mayor Ronnie talked about the fact that he received a framed certificate from Clements Baptist Church for the way he collaborated with other responders to help the stricken congregants regain their footing. He was careful to note that without the help of many others in the aftermath of the storm, Clements would not have recovered so quickly.

Communication could be a standalone topic, especially given its role in an emergency situation, but on a regular basis, really understanding what is being said through communication, human and technological, can save lives. Mayor Ronnie called Amy Golden of Athens Utilities up to the conference room to show me how the Department’s software can pinpoint outages in our area, and speed up restoration of service. We also talked about what a difference Nixle and the Smartboards have made in Athens.

“Culture” was the topic where we “stayed before we prayed.” The speaker asked the simple question, “What do you want your community to look like?” The big picture is simple, as all of us want our community to be a place of love, values, hard work, fun, opportunities, family and personal wholeness, faith, and justice. Memorial Day is coming up, and in 3 more years, our city will be celebrating its 200th anniversary. It’s “getting there” as a city that is always the challenge before a mayor, as well as everyone he serves. What he learned was that “culture is not re-defined, but built upon, and developed.” In other words, it is important to “let the story be the story,” or just “tell it like it is,” whether it’s the history of a people, or a celebration of a triumph over a twister that tried to kill a people. Then it was time to “pray-n-roll”, and we were each off once again to our respective next adventure.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

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4-17-2015 9-16-38 AMMuch is said these days, both in church and in business about need for “servant leadership,” the idea that a good leader must be willing to do the same things he requires of his crew. Another way of putting it is, rather than “Somebody’s got to lead, and somebody’s got to follow,” the concept of the gift of helps in good working order is well illustrated by what happens on an aircraft carrier, and could be described as “Somebody’s got to lead, and somebody’s got to help.”

On a carrier, typically if there is a crew of 2,000, there will be about 140 pilots, 125 planes, and about 90% of the rest of the crew is never in the air. They are moving in the gift of helps, and their role is crucial. From keeping the latrines clean to the crew fed, the hot shots are not just up in the sky, they are also the ones below that get and keep them there.
Mayor Ronnie has had a much bigger group of students for the Mayor’s Youth Commission, and the year is coming to a close. Many of the kids have sent him senior pictures and prom pictures, and what he wants most for the kids, past success in the usual sense, is that they learn how to have healthy, good, solid relationships.

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We talked about the need for young people on up to realize that ultimately they are responsible for their own happiness, and as Tim Richardson in Jump Starts says so well, the real recipe for happiness is “to try, try, again.” This is the only antidote to allowing dreams to whither, and to prevent “settling” in general. Richardson asks, “Why don’t people pursue dreams? It is because they have no guts, no gumption, and no know how.” That’s straight talk, but it’s the truth. The idea of “try, try again could be reframed as “fail forward faster,” says Richardson in Mayor Ronnie’s marked up and dog eared copy. “To build our community and quality of life, failing forward faster is what we have to be willing to do,” he said. We prayed, and he was on to the Celebrity Waiters’ Night, being willing to serve, along with other leaders in our area, and all for a good cause, Relay for Life. Here are the results, as stated by Holly Hollman in her press release:
The April 14th annual City of Athens Relay for Life Celebrity Waiters Night at Applebee’s in Athens raised $3,726 for the fight against cancer

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Our Celebrity Waiters worked for tip money that goes to the American Cancer Society, and tonight’s competition was fierce with waiters singing, begging and joking to raise the most in tips.

Here is how our Celebrity Waiters did:
Athens City Council President Jimmy Gill – $882 with more donations pending
East Limestone Band Director Jennifer “Miss Sam” Janzen – $656
Limestone County Commission Chairman Mark Yarbrough – $650
Limestone County Revenue Commissioner Brian Patterson – $546
Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks – $535
WHNT co-anchor Greg Screws – $341
Miss Limestone Sheriff’s Rodeo Queen Kalynn Clinard – $116

Perhaps the Mayor didn’t win the competition, but he and the others were “rollin’” right over cancer while having a great time and moving in the gift of helps. Stuff like this is what makes me so glad to be an Athenian.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

4-3-2015 11-36-34 AMOpening Day for the spring/summer ball season is Saturday, April 4th, and in a scene that will be repeated all over America, mayors will be throwing out the first pitch. In Athens, Mayor Ronnie will first go to Coffee Call at the Veterans’ Museum, and then, at 9 am will be sending a ball hopefully straight over home plate.

Spring has finally come to Alabama, and it is the season of celebrating our chance to experience both the Resurrection as well as some much-needed recreation after an unusually cold winter. Holly Hollman, Communications Specialist for the City of Athens, had the following to say:
“This year, 440 players are signed up for baseball. There are 260 signed up for softball, and 270 signed up for spring soccer. In addition, Athens Recreation offers archery at Swan Creek Park, and there are 30 participants signed up for that sporting activity.”

That’s over 1,000 kids! In addition, Mayor Ronnie said, “This is the highest number we have ever had sign up for soccer. It’s going to be a great day,” he added. We have talked many times in this column about the concept of synergy, essentially the fact that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In a small city such as ours, team sports, when played, coached and supported well is one tremendous source of synergy. “Grandparents, parents, coaches, and players can all teach leadership skills by the way they behave on and off the field,” he said.

Synergy is alive and well, and spotted recently at Julian Newman Elementary when the Championship Huntsville Sparkman High School Cheer Squad came to visit. They took their 12th title this year, and in addition to the obvious synergy of a competitive sports team, the kids at Julian Newman “dished” some of their own. There are now clubs at the school that are based on Steven Covey’s 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. While they have such creative titles as “Enthusiasm,” or “Ambassador,” or “Photography,” the point is to give the kids a chance to “walk out” the 7 Habits while having fun.

Another way of describing being highly effective is through what Timothy Richardson calls “keeping a grip.” In a chapter of the same title he reminds us of the need for balance, even in the midst of the much-needed enthusiasm we typically experience as our city moves into Spring and all that comes with it.

“Enthusiasm not only makes an impact on people, but, even more importantly it is contagious and can have undreamed of consequences, like the proverbial endless ripples made by a single plop of a pebble tossed into a pond.”

We definitely need to “toss ourselves into the pond,” and be willing to make some waves, but at the same time, we need to take care that we are keeping a grip on all that calls to us and not let ourselves get burned out.

We ended our time talking about things like the Mayor’s Boy Scout Prayer Breakfast, as well as the Celebrity Waiter’s night for Relay for Life coming up soon, and then prayed that, above all, we would stay firmly in the grip of the One who made us. Then it was time, once again, for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

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3-20-2015 9-49-58 AMThis edition’s interview started out in the Mayor’s office, and ended up at Leak City, where members of the Department of Transportation from California to Maine were gathered there for the week. They came to learn, as well as get certified in how to deal with HazMat situations and other aspects of safety when it comes to utilities. They also were there to learn various protocols, and how different incidents intersect with transportation departments in emergency and security contexts.

Leak City, the little “town” on Sanderfer Road designed to approximate hazardous situations, is the brainchild of Steve Carter. Steve heads up the Gas Department for the City of Athens, and literally thousands of people have trained there over the years. The Mayor came to greet the conferees, welcome them to our city, and give a brief history of our amazing Athens. Besides Steve, other trainers included Wayne St. Germain, and Mason Matthews. Mason is the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Administrator for the City of Athens, and told me that the conferees were in for a surprise the following day. As part of their training maneuvers this week, the multi-state team was going into an oxygen depleted dwelling and having to deal with it in their HazMat suits according to protocol.

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Mayor Ronnie and I resumed our interview, and drew once again from the devotional book, Jump Starts, by Tim Richardson. One section of the book, which contained several short chapters, had really spoken to Mayor Ronnie this week. The section was called, Variation, Enthusiasm And Balance Make The Workplace A Satisfying Spot, and the chapter was entitled, Teaching The Dog New Tricks. (Notice it did not say old dog!)

Workplace satisfaction, and all the spinoffs that occur when it is good, as well as when it is not so much, are things that are of great concern to Mayor Ronnie. I know from observation and experience that he makes it a point to tie in with City employees all the time, and he prays for them as they battle everything from cancer to transitioning into retirement, to kids struggling with substances. However, the Dog chapter had to do with finding creative, satisfying ways of dealing with what Richardson calls a “Johnson.”

Johnson was an old German shepherd with about 4 teeth, which he bared routinely when the postman would daily come to deliver the mail to Johnson’s master. In response, the postman came up with a way of tricking Johnson to run around the house while the postman would then jump two hedges, sprint across the lawn, slide the mail into the box, and fly back over the hedges before Johnson figured out he had been tricked again and got back around to the front with the intention of sinking his few remaining snaggly teeth into the leg of the agile postman. Johnson never met his goal, or realized his dream, as they say in the personal development business.

Johnson and the postman did this dance every day. After the postman would emerge triumphantly, he would do his own happy dance, (solo), and yell “YESSSSS!” By contrast, if he could have, Johnson would have broken into the canine version of The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

The moral of the story? This time, in a positive way, it is, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” Richardson closes the chapter by saying, “Variety is the spice of life and even small victories can bring joy and make your day. Do something different in your work life and in your relationships. Beat the dog to the box. Take a short cut, jump the hedges, and enjoy the continuous creativity of looking for new ways to do things.” As Mayor Ronnie read me the story, (without his Dr. Seuss hat, I might add,) I laughed out loud as I thought of the “Johnsons” in my own life.

Then we prayed, and the fond hope is that all of us, including the Mayor, will “beat the dog to the box.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

3-20-2015 9-50-29 AM 3-20-2015 9-50-19 AM