It was the day before the mayor’s birthday, so that was pretty much the first thing he had to endure when he bounded into his office -- me singin’ the blues version of “Happy Birthday.” It’s the only time I have ever told the mayor what to do, and the scope of my directive was, “You sit down, please, sir, and I’ll stand up.” I sang, and it was followed by a brief part of the chorus of “Seventy-six Trombones” from the musical, The Music Man. That particular musical selection was chosen because it’s the only time he is going to be 76 years old. He cheerfully endured my well-intentioned greeting and then we got down to business.
First up was the ongoing “COVID Conundrum.” Mayor Ronnie has been in frequent contact with Montgomery and mentioned that there was going to be an announcement made by Governor Ivey, which, as of this writing, appears to be an extension of what is already in place through July 31. Basically, “proceed with caution.” I told him that I could not imagine what it would be like to be sitting in his chair, trying to be the mayor of folks who see “mask-less-ness” as a 1st Amendment right, as well as the ones who call his office daily and are on “mask patrol.” By that, I mean they want the mayor to personally see to it that people who are outside without a mask are subject to legal and fiscal penalties. “And where,” he asked me rhetorically, “would we get the funds to hire enough police officers to arrest the ‘non-masked offenders’? And, what about achieving herd immunity? Where does that fit in?” As I listened, I thought about the biblical injunction to pray for our leaders. Lots.
We moved on to the run-up to crafting a comprehensive master plan for the City of Athens that gets everyone and everything on the same page. As Mayor Ronnie has often said, “Our greatest blessing is also our greatest challenge: growth.” There are many aspects to building a solid infrastructure that can accommodate the kind of growth we are anticipating in Athens-Limestone County, but one of the newest is dealing with burial sites. There is a large “undisclosed retail project” that is going to be made public very soon, and it will be located at the bottom of Lindsay Lane South, where it intersects with the Huntsville-Brownsferry Road. These days, retail and residential developers often encounter burial sites that have no head or footstones or any type of marking at all. They have long been forgotten; nevertheless upon discovery it is understandable that their families are not comfortable with the idea of having their loved ones covered over in asphalt or concrete. In this case, through the use of ground penetrating radar, three members of the Allen family were determined to be at the base of the hill, and the developer is going to carefully have them moved to a suitable resting place.
For several years, Kelly’s Studio of Dance has presented an annual recital held at the Princess Theatre in Decatur. It’s always a challenge to pull it off, and this year in many ways has been the toughest. How does anyone manage a performance during a pandemic? The mayor welcomed the audience and thanked everyone—parents, grandparents, friends and family members-- who had sacrificed to give these kids a chance to work hard, work-together-while-apart and “keep on dancin’.”
More questions poured in: Will school still be virtual in the fall? How will we pay for everything we need to do? Does the mayor court business and have any say as to who decides that Athens is a good candidate for a business investment? (The answer to that one is a resounding no.) As he often does, he teaches me what he learned in church the day before, and he took a piece of paper in order to quickly draw out a half-court diagram for a basketball game. He showed various strategies that players could implement which could be successful if they payed attention, and committed to “take care of where your feet are planted. You do that, and you will play it well.” We all now need to know where we stand and how to stand. “Good advice,” I said, and clearly we had lots about which to pray. So we did, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner