Policy Blog

Ultimate

The Policy Blog
Semi-regular short pieces for those wanting a deeper dive into policy proposals I’ll bring to the Commission.
March 1, 2018
Ultimate frisbee changed my life.
I’m one of thousands of players who will say that – with 100% sincerity, and without hesitation. Whether travelling for competitive play or friendly games with neighbors, through Ultimate I’ve made lifelong friends from all walks of life and had the honor to introduce hundreds of people to the sport. But most importantly, I’ve benefited from playing a sport that still boasts Spirit of the Game as a written rule.
Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play.
I try to live that philosophy in every aspect of my life. If elected, I’ll certainly employ that spirit in my role as ACC commissioner.
While I have done many things that make me proud, two Ultimate World Championships with my team, the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, rank near the top of the list.
The Seven Sages was an unusual team in that few players lived in the same city, most lived in different states, and outside a core group you never knew who would be on your team in any given year. So while most teams practiced together for months, as Sages, we had to work out on our own to attain the physical condition necessary to compete against the best of the best – in the world! It was imperative that each of us come prepared for a physically grueling week of championship play, but we also had to quickly find/define our role within the many personalities and skills necessary to function as a team.
These same principles relate to serving as an ACC commissioner. Each of us must do our work outside of chambers to be prepared, and regardless of who’s on our team, we must do our best to come together in a spirit of cooperation to advance what’s best for our community, our team. And while it’s imperative to speak out when we see something isn’t working, it’s just as important to do so in a way that allows the team to succeed in reaching our agreed upon goals.
To have some fun with this campaign and to recognize the role Ultimate has played in shaping who I am, my campaign had 175 gram UltraStars printed as a fundraising tool. Former teammates have made a $25 minimum donation to purchase most of these discs.
In the spirit of using my campaign for doing well for the community, the Spirit of the Game if you will, we will be teaming up with Georgia Cycle Sports and using a significant portion of the proceeds from disc sales for the purchase of bike lights to be given away to those in need.
Because we all have to play a part in making our streets safer and our community a better place.
Thanks for listening.
Tony


Skip the Straw

The Policy Blog
Semi-regular short pieces for those wanting a deeper dive into policy proposals I’ll bring to the Commission.
April 12, 2018

There are countless initiatives around the country to ban plastic bags, including a nascent movement here in Athens. But while many are focused on plastic bags as an environmental issue, drinking straws also represent a significant contributor to the single use plastic problem.

Our campaign is working in partnership with the Ocean Conservancy to bring their Skip the Straw initiative to Athens area restaurants. This is an easy step in reducing single use plastics and demonstrates how Tony works to gain collaboration to implement good ideas.

“I’m glad Tony asked us to participate; this is a win-win and a great idea. We use less plastic and customers can still get a straw if they desire; that we save money is a bonus.”
Dave Cappi; owner, Depalma’s Italian Restaurants.

“We try to recycle everything at our restaurant, but A-CC officials requested that we not recycle straws as they create significant problems with the recycling process”.
– Mike Bradshaw; owner, The Grill.

Sometimes it’s as simple as asking folks to do the right thing. You can do your part by asking your server to skip the straw.

Participating Restaurants:
DePalmas (4 locations), The Grill, Hilltop Grille, home.made, Loco’s (3 locations), The Table

If you own or manage a restaurant in the Athens area and would like to participate in Skip the Straw initiative, or would like more information, please contact me at TonyEubanksforDistrict3@gmail.com

Thanks for listening,
Tony


Prince Avenue Dogwoods

The Policy Blog
Semi-regular short pieces for those wanting a deeper dive into policy proposals I’ll bring to the Commission.
April 5, 2018


The blooming dogwoods on Prince Avenue illustrate what we can accomplish when we work together to act on an idea. This is the brochure I used to raise funds to replace dead/dying trees in 2008.
The plaque was installed at the corner of Prince and Grady Avenues as a start to the FootPrince concept, wherein pedestrians could learn a little history from subtle markers installed throughout our neighborhoods. We did a more complete, albeit temporary, FootPrince project as part of See and Be Seen on Prince Avenue in 2014.
You can learn more about the Community Approach to Planning Prince Avenue (CAPPA) project at https://bit.ly/2GyaoND.
Note that CAPPA was the genesis of the art bus stop shelters, ultimately implemented by the Athens Area Arts Council. Also, compare the corner of Boulevard and Barber today with what’s depicted here, thanks to Emmanuel Church working with E&E Architects and Half Moon Outfitters working with Lori Bork and Koons Environment and Design.
Imagine what Prince Avenue would look like if the county had done more to encourage implementation of these ideas!


Accounting Background

The Policy Blog
Semi-regular short pieces for those wanting a deeper dive into policy proposals I’ll bring to the Commission.
March 25, 2018

It takes many tools to be an effective commissioner.

I have a BBA from Augusta College, with a Masters and a dissertation short of a PhD from UGA. My area of study was Accounting with a minor in Finance. My education has helped me make prudent decisions involving money, especially when it belongs to other people.

I’d like to share an experience from my year as Treasurer of the Chase Street Elementary PTO.

After two terms as Vice President, I agreed to serve as Treasurer and spent a month over the summer reconstructing the PTO records from the previous three years. It had always driven me crazy that we never knew exactly how much money we had, and going back that far was necessary to get a handle on our financial position.

When I finally balanced our books, I was pleased to discover that we had more of a surplus than our self-imposed fiscal policies required (at my urging, we had a policy to maintain a substantial reserve).

Given that every teacher you know uses their own money to buy school supplies at some point, I suggested that we use that “found money” to give every teacher $50 at the beginning of the soon-to-start school year. The proposal passed unanimously and it was a truly moving experience to watch our teachers’ reactions as we handed them that envelope. There were tears of joy and appreciation on both sides of that table.

My accounting background has increased my effectiveness in every position I’ve held, from downtown Athens business owner to board member for numerous organizations. It would also increase my level of understanding of the story behind the numbers in our county budget.

Thanks for listening,
Tony


Flagpole Questionnaire

The following are my responses to the Flagpole candidate questionnaire:
Please list three to five important issues or challenges facing Athens-Clarke County and briefly explain how you intend to solve them.
My goal as commissioner is to create an environment that allows all Athenians to live full, rich lives; where the opportunities available to one are available to all.
I believe that by addressing transportation, affordable housing, and improving our mechanisms for public participation in the political process, we can make substantial progress towards minimizing inequalities among the citizens of Athens-Clarke County (A-CC). I would also like to improve transparency with regards to SPLOST funds and, while the horse has pretty much left the barn, we need to talk about the proliferation of high-end rental housing downtown.
Affordable Housing:
The lack of affordable housing options ultimately affects us all. For children, a lack of housing stability has been shown to negatively affect student performance, creating problems with long-lasting consequences. When our public employees can’t afford to live in the town they serve, we lose an important aspect of community.
Cities all over the US face many of the same issues and there is no easy fix. But we must get everyone engaged to find workable solutions.
I propose a housing task force comprised of commissioners, staff, real estate and development professionals, affordable housing advocates and residents to address the affordable housing issue. Everybody must be represented at the table, with no preconceived notions of “the” solution.
Public Participation:
Currently, there are limited opportunities for public comment before the commission, and most come late in the process. By this point, the time and effort already invested by commissioners and staff leaves the commission less receptive to ideas they may not have considered and the public less trusting that they were actually heard.
The key to building trust and inclusiveness between our local government and its citizens is a transparent process which allows opportunity for all who are interested to share their perspective publicly before commissioners have settled on a position.
For the past 18 months, I have had the opportunity to play a major role in bringing a level of trust, transparency and consensus to what could be a transformative process for Athens-Clarke County – Athens in Motion – the Bike/Ped Master Plan.
As a commissioner, I would expand on that experience by advocating for a committee system for major issues. Think of this as public hearings wherein two or more commissioners, with staff support and a broad cross-section of affected parties, come to the table, in public, with a blank slate to define the problem/issue and explore potential solutions.
I have no illusion that implementing such a process will be easy, but I am certain that many presently feel left out of the process, or that for many, a lack of transparency diminishes trust in the process. Something needs to change.
High-end rental housing downtown:
It’s a shame that the moratorium on new construction downtown didn’t extend to examining our existing design guidelines. While safety of night-time visitors is certainly important, we should have also explored tools available to encourage developers to include units geared to low to moderate income residents.
I understand the need to earn a return on investment. But with required retail space sitting empty in most new developments, it seems reasonable to assume that the margin is there to allow for less-than-market housing units.
Perhaps our reluctance to require a return on community stems from trying to avoid the “not business friendly” moniker? I’ve never believed that we’re not friendly to business, though there are surely ways we could improve specific processes. I do believe that we tend to “settle” for an increase in the tax base, or whatever reasons are given to justify avoiding legitimate questions about what we want and expect from developers.
Millions of dollars, public and private, plus thousands of staff and volunteer hours, have been invested to create a downtown that is an attractive rental market. I think it’s fair to ask developers to give back something more than just adding to the tax base. Downzoning downtown and then providing density bonuses to developers that include or fund affordable housing is one way to harness that market to serve the greater community. The same could apply with medical complexes near Prince Avenue as well.
There has to be a way to allow development to serve their neighboring community. That makes for good business.
SPLOST Oversight:
We collect and spend tens of millions of dollars annually for SPLOST (and soon TSPLOST). While I don’t suspect anything nefarious, I think that’s a lot of money moving around outside the public eye. As a commissioner my questions, informed by background in Accounting and Finance, might seem more relevant to management than they do coming from a private citizen.
Transportation:
I believe transportation is a key issue because it affects every one of us on a daily basis. While it’s easy to look at transportation infrastructure as a cost, I prefer to look at it as an investment in increased economic opportunities and public safety. Having transportation alternatives is not a luxury; for many it is a necessity. Studies have shown that lack of reliable transportation is a significant impediment to realizing increased employment opportunities and movement to higher income status.
Having been intimately involved in addressing transportation issues in Athens over the last five years, I believe the Bike/Ped Master Plan, Athens in Motion, can be a transformational achievement. However, implementation will require cooperation and coordination among various agencies within the A-CC government. My participation on the Athens in Motion Citizens Advisory Committee over the last 18 months will make me an effective advocate for the plan.
Through an innovative and robust outreach/public input process, Athens in Motion has connected with citizens often overlooked by other A-CC initiatives. As for the plan itself, I believe our focus on connectivity and increased number of users as our measures of success, rather than miles of bike and pedestrian infrastructure, will lead to improvements that will have a positive effect on Athenians regardless of their needs, where they live or their level of income. Our insistence on examining existing policies and advocating for changes in those policies based on best national practices will lead to more efficient use of county resources and allow the Bike/Ped Master Plan to adapt to changes in circumstances over time.
As chair of the subcommittee charged with writing the Request for Proposals (RFP), wherein these parameters were established, I’m proud of my part in Athens in Motion. Our subcommittee’s success in building consensus to have our RFP adopted played a strong part in my decision to run for District 3 Commissioner.
Conclusion
I am a former downtown business owner and have a twenty-plus year record of volunteering on behalf of social causes, the arts and to improve transportation and land use planning. In each I have shown passion, empathy and I have worked towards fiscal sustainability within the organization.
While listening on the campaign trail, I’m hearing again and again that those with power are constantly telling “us” what “we” need. It’s supposed to be the other way around, and I vow to serve true to my campaign theme: nothing about us, without us – that people most directly affected by our commission’s actions should play a significant role in defining what those actions should be.


Nothing about us, without us

The Policy Blog

A semi-regular blog for those wanting a deeper dive into policy proposals I’ll bring to the Commission.
February 8, 2018

I’ve been making the argument for citizen involvement in the prioritization of TSPLOST projects within the funding buckets contained in the recently approved TSPLOST initiative ($4 million each for Prince, Lexington and Atlanta Highway), the West Broad neighborhood ($4 million) and the Bike/Ped Master Plan Athens in Motion ($13 million).

I’d like to share a story to illustrate why citizen involvement in community projects in general, and prioritizing spending within these “buckets” in particular, is so important.

I am part of a team working with ACC Leisure Services on a pilot Safe Routes to Parks project*. Our goal was to identify barriers and propose solutions for safe pedestrian access to Trail Creek Park, with a special focus on reaching the residents of the Nellie B community.

After months of planning, we held a public input session at the East Athens Community Center (EACC), the results of which turned us in a completely different direction. We were surprised to learn that Nellie B residents were far more concerned about establishing a paved walkway to the EACC as a replacement for the existing clay, unlighted footpath. So while we had the best of intentions, we were completely overshooting for what we thought residents “needed”.

Thanks to the community pointing us to their greatest need, Leisure Services has applied for a Community Development Block Grant for ~$90,000 to build a safe, comfortable walkway from Nellie B to the EACC. It opened my eyes to never assume you know what best serves a community, which is particularly relevant to prioritization of TSPLOST funds.

To be truly transformative, we need to follow the policy of nothing about us, without us.

* One of ten pilot projects in the US, as part of the Safe Routes to School initiative.


Chase Street Resurfacing Project

The Policy Blog

A semi-regular blog for those wanting a deeper dive into policy proposals I’ll bring to the Commission.
January 24, 2018

As expected, the role the Chase Street resurfacing project played in my decision to run for District 3 Commissioner has presented itself as a valid topic of discussion. This project and the lessons it teaches both in terms of politics and what is good for the city are exactly the kind of substantive conversation I want to have with voters!  

I have spent years advocating to make our streets work for everyone. I envision the streets of our district, and all of Athens, to be comfortable, safe, utilitarian and beautiful; serving residents, business owners and our visitors’ alike. Making this work takes time, public participation, careful planning, and staff having the right tools to make that vision a reality.

It takes bringing Athens together.

As we’re in the third year of dealing with Chase Street, I intend to propose policy changes so that what is (still) underway with Chase Street doesn’t happen again. We need policy that leads our professional staff to design roads in line with our priorities as set by the commission, who in turn have allowed sufficient opportunities for public input at the front end of the process.

I am thankful that TPW Director Raesler was authorized to hire Toole Design Group (TDG) to conduct Athens’ first ever Complete Streets analysis* on Chase Street. In effect, we had a series of blunders that led us, three years later, to where we should have started. Given the uses Chase Street serves and the degree of changes in the surrounding neighborhood, including the increased attendance at Chase Street School, I believe that such a Complete Streets analysis should have been undertaken as a matter of policy before the street was ever scheduled for resurfacing. We only resurface roads every 15-20 years, our policy must include looking to the future before doing so.

What I worked on, through Complete Streets Athens and in conjunction with the Chase Street PTO, was getting the resurfacing removed from the repaving list to allow a year for more consideration of the safety of people walking and biking, and gaining approval for the mid-block crosswalk in front of the school.

Unfortunately, despite the delay, inadequate ACC policy led to rigid, inflexible design decisions and we ended up with Commissioner Link trying to tweak the final design from behind the rail, at the 11th hour. The process was so confusing that the Commission had to revisit the funding mechanism the very next month, and newly hired TPW Director Raessler had to ask the county attorney for clarification on what was passed. And that mid-block crosswalk? Because of the confusion over what had actually been approved and funded, construction didn’t begin until after the road was paved and the school year had begun; a delay that resulted in wasted staff time and taxpayer dollars.

I’m glad Commissioner Link knocked on residents’ doors to seek their input, she did what she thought best. Had she crossed the street to knock on the doors of Chase Park area businesses, she would have found that there were significant concerns about the changes, and perhaps learned that the public input process was left wanting to include all who should have been involved from the outset. Upon implementation, those with concerns became extremely vocal and the proposed changes were abandoned. Furthermore, the process resulted in those who did not feel included to adopt a defensive posture that made future communication more difficult.

After all this time, cost and resources wasted, what we have now is exactly what we had before, save the “your speed is” sign moved from in front of the school to the bridge over the railroad tracks, and (finally) a new mid-block crossing in front of the school. This is no way to conduct county business.

I will focus my effort as commissioner to ensure we have a Complete Streets Policy that requires comprehensive public input before designs are considered, and gives staff the tools they need to find the right solutions for the right roads.

Compromise is never easy, but I will advocate for all to have their say before decisions are made, that staff has the best tools possible at their disposal, and that my fellow commissioners know exactly what they’re voting on.

Thanks for listening,

Tony

*TDG will present their initial recommendations at the Planning Auditorium, 120 Dougherty Street on Wednesday, January 31 in a drop-in session from 6:00-8:00 pm.