Wednesday, September 05, 2007

White, middle-class person speaks out

An interesting discussion at Blake's blog regarding OneAthens, poverty and Elton Dodson, and I'd like to focus on it a bit.

Dodson spoke at a recent rally and, according to the blog, raised concerns about the effectiveness of OneAthens. Blake points out that the groups who are working on the recommendations from Partners for a Prosperous Athens are comprised of the same folks who typically do this kind of thing - activists, officials and connected business folks. Dodson said the poor aren't involved, and that concerns him ...

(Dodson) accused OneAthens of “whitewashing” the problem in order to hide it from people like (Tim) Echols, a conservative Republican who, after taking a spin with cop through East Athens, sounds like he’s on the verge of becoming radicalized.

"(PPA and OneAthens are) not going to amount to anything, anything in this community except make middle-class white people feel better about themselves unless the people who are most impacted, the people with the low-paying manufacturing jobs and service jobs, are empowered and involved in this effort," said Dodson.

Now, I like Dodson. A lot of folks don't like him, but I do. We don't always agree on things (see smoking ban), but I give him the benefit of the doubt and applaud him for engaging folks at this blog. With that said, I'm not sure what to make of his take on the situation.

For starters, it seems a little weird to be imploring the poor to get more involved. If the working poor had the necessary time to devote to this kind of thing, one would have to imagine they very well may not be poor. In reality, they're working long hours for meager pay and doing so at inconvenient times, all while managing their families. To chastise them for a lack of involvement seems misplaced to me.

From what I can know about OneAthens is that is actively trying to find ways to empower low-income citizens in our community, working to develop a long-term plan to extend opportunity and security to those most in need.

I am bothered by his statement that right now it exists only to make white, middle-class people feel good. Speaking as a white, middle-class person ... I can tell you that isn't the reason I work with local antipoverty groups at all, and I find that assertion rather insulting. Nor is that terribly reflective of the makeup of OneAthens, which is comprised of people from varis racial, ethnic, ideological and religious backgrounds.

I'm just not really sure what to make of this criticism. Are we to feel guilty that folks who typically weren't involved in the fight against poverty are involved now? Is there some turf war I don't know about?

Are we to chastise the low-income working class for not attending a meeting because they're pulling a double-shift to take care of their family?

Low-income citizens are ready to engage the community and take advantage of practical ways to move up the economic ladder. To suggest they aren't is silly.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope those remarks will soon be revised and extended. He doesn't seem to be criticizing the "poor" people though. He's criticizing people like you -- white and middle class --- for not having discovered a magic wand which can be used to motivate the poor to become involved. And boy is "whitewashing" an unfortunate choice of words.

Maybe Elton will start his own initiative and show us how to do it. He is the expert on everything after all.


9:04 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

Funny. When I read his comments I in no way took them to be criticizing the poor for nonparticipation. I thought that they were a warning that often things like PPA are totally controlled by white, middle- and upper-class people who end up telling the poor what they need without actually consulting them. I think that his point is that we need to be sure that those we are trying to help have a voice. Otherwise participation becomes a way of "proving" that you care about the poor in the same way that owning a Prius proves that you care about the environment.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Jmac said...

Re-reading I can see those points and see that Dodson was directing the brunt of his criticism as, well, white, middle-class folks. Which is a mighty broad brush to paint with since there are lots and lots of white, middle-class folks who are sincerely involved in the fight against poverty.

Again, I like Dodson, which is why these comments were so disappointing to me.

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My response to this post, and to the one below on neighborhood involvement in the budgeting process, is the same: Athens needs participatory budgeting.

While I may not agree with everything Elton said, he does make a good point that efforts to help lift people out of poverty don't do any good if the poor themselves are not actively engaged and empowered. I think he could have said it in a more positive way, rather than bashing the middle class, who are trying to help.

Porto Alegre, Brazil, pioneered participatory budgeting on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Each neighborhood meets and decides how a portion of the city's budget will be spent. It has been enormously successful at improving services in the city and involving the poor in the city governance. There were many opponents, who used some of the same arguments that Hillary did, but they were proven wrong. Even after the city government recently changed hands in Porto Alegre, the new government agreed to participatory budgeting, even though they originally opposed the idea. It has been that popular.

I think Athens really needs to take a serious look at trying some form of participatory budgeting. Take a look:

12:21 AM  
Anonymous Elton said...

"(Dodson) accused OneAthens of “whitewashing” the problem in order to hide it from people like (Tim) Echols, a conservative Republican who, after taking a spin with cop through East Athens, sounds like he’s on the verge of becoming radicalized."

For the life of me I don't understand how you strung that sentence together based on my speech, Blake. I never mentioned Tim, and I never accused OneAthens of hiding anything.
I did say that this process WILL fail without the empowerment of the working poor. If that is controversial and makes us white middle class people angry, we should ask ourselves why.

I said at least three times during my remarks that I was excited about OneAthens and am very supportive of it. I have written into and been published in the ABH about how supportive I am. I said how much I respect the folks that have put so much time and energy into this.

But jmac, you disappoint me. The very fact that there is anger over my comments proves an important point. If OneAthens is unassailable and above criticism, then it absolutely is doomed. It has real weaknesses, as does EVERYTHING. The blogging community expressed skepticism about the process when the Partnership was first announced, lamented that the tough issues like race and real political empowerment would not be addressed. Yet you express anger because I don't give enough props to the middle class folks that are working so hard to help the poor. You make the same tired arguments that the poor don't have the time to do things for themselves, so I guess it’s up to us good middle class folk. That is an argument that leads to the same structures of oppression and poverty.

Ask the poor of Quito or San Salvador about empowerment. They are far more poor than Athens' poor. Yet they have found the time and energy to galvanize an empowerment movement when the middle class refused to part to let them into the political process. We sincerely want to help, but largely only if we can retain the same power structure. I truly love the OneAthens initiative. I am very proud of it, but I don't want it to become a vehicle for disempowerment. No one is advocating that it does, and no one will. But it happens nevertheless under the best of intentions.

I am not a please the masses politician. I call things as I see them. Sometimes I'm wrong. I am not your blow with the wind and smile commissioner. Of all people, I would expect you, jmac, to take a deep breath before you attack me for speaking truth to power.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok Elton. What exactly do you mean when you say "empowering the poor" and how will that lift people from poverty. Seriously, take it point by point. What are the steps to empowerment and how will they make real change.

And if you mention economic development, what are you doing right now to bring better jobs with benefits to this community. Don't answer with BS committees on entrepreneurship or the synergy center. What are you and the rest of commissioners doing right now to bring better jobs to Athens in the next twelve months?

We have a community with no defined point person to accept inquiries from companies who want to relocate here. (Chamber? EDF?, UGA?). If a company wants to move here, we don’t even have a brochure to send them.

You want to empower the poor. Give something to hope for. Like, perhaps, a job that doesn’t suck.

-Jeff Snowden

11:03 AM  
Blogger Jmac said...

Elton, as always, I appreciate you coming to participate. I have to admit, however, that I'm still somewhat confused with your criticism.

I did say that this process WILL fail without the empowerment of the working poor. If that is controversial and makes us white middle class people angry, we should ask ourselves why.

Where have I, or anyone else, argued that we don't want the poor to be empowered? Or, for that matter, what exactly are you arguing for?

The empowerment of our low-income citizens is exactly what OneAthens and other antipoverty initiatives is all about.

If OneAthens is unassailable and above criticism, then it absolutely is doomed. It has real weaknesses, as does EVERYTHING. The blogging community expressed skepticism about the process when the Partnership was first announced, lamented that the tough issues like race and real political empowerment would not be addressed. Yet you express anger because I don't give enough props to the middle class folks that are working so hard to help the poor. You make the same tired arguments that the poor don't have the time to do things for themselves, so I guess it’s up to us good middle class folk. That is an argument that leads to the same structures of oppression and poverty.

Far be it from me to suggest that OneAthens, as with any model, is above criticism of fine-tuning. But I don't think I was suggesting that it shouldn't be.

And, though I understand your criticism may be directed toward other bloggers and commenters, this particular blogger has gone to great lengths to defend PPA and OneAthens - both through this blog and through my interactions with a variety of folks. They are two of the best things this community has done in quite some time, and I'm incredibly proud of their work.

I wasn't mad because you 'didn't give enough props to middle class white people' but rather bothered because you downplayed and, to an extent, ridiculed their work. I'm bothered because you imply that the reason I suggest many of our low-income citizens aren't as involved is because I think I 'know better' ... which is ridiculous.

So I can't figure out ... are you mad at them for their lack of involvement or mad at me because you feel I want to coddle them?

At IHN of Athens, we make a point to routinely interact with our guests to evaluate the program. We have a graduate of our program serving on our board, and she has provided remarkable and invaluable insight to us.

And I see this at OneAthens. I don't recognize any movement to keep anyone who is low-income out of the process. In fact, quite the opposite. Buses run later to accommodate those without cars. Child care is offered. Local antipoverty agencies are contacted and encouraged to invite those who enrolled in their programs.

I'm all for speaking truth to power but, and I say this with the utmost respect for you, I'm not sure if you're necessarily speaking it right now.

And I didn't attack you either.

Believe me, you'll know it when I do.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before y'all jump on Elton (too late, I guess), let me say I was tying together two things that were related in my mind to make a point of my own. I thought that was clear but maybe not. Elton's comments were obviously far more extensive than what I quoted, so it's unfair to extrapolate an entire viewpoint from them.


1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quito? I don't think we need to travel to Ecuador to hear a first person account of empowerment. And of course Quito is conveniently far away, so no one can reasonably call your pedantic bluff by actually transcribing a conversation with a "poor" person in Ecuador.

And who knows how it's going to play out in Ecuador? Let's call a spade a spade. You seem to be applauding the arrival of Hugo Chavez style democracy in Ecuador. Man up and own it. Jack Ellis could use a friend.


1:23 PM  
Anonymous Elton said...

"Believe me, you'll know it when I do."

I'm shuddering - shuddering!

Let's step this back, JMAC. You are well aware I love you, and we both know we want exactly the same thing on this issue and generally the same things for our community.

It is a bit frustrating to respond to a blog about a blog about a speech. You lack any of the context. Keep in mind that a middle class guy (me) was talking to mostly a middle class audience. The audience was not offended at all, and many of them are very much important parts of OneAthens. Thus, going on a blog as the only source of info might be misleading.

I was not belittling or otherwise making fun of hard-working and compassionate "middle class" folks. That would not have gone over so well with the audience. People have asked about empowerment. I'll elaborate.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, I worked as a political organizer and on political campaigns there. The tactic there to deal with poverty issues was very different. Now, keep in mind that I am not calling our tactics with OneAthens wrong, I'm just illustrating another point of view. Rather than engaging the preexisting leadership of the community, the intent was to create new leadership from within the poor, largely black segment. We organized around housing and jobs, with the leadership of the organizations drawn from the poorer community. We organized house parties, block parties, went door to door 12 hours a day, and called people like crazy. We then ran two black women for office in the local government who had never been involved in politics before.

Now, the local media and those in the know dismissed us. Our candidates were not treated as credible at all. What everyone failed to understand is that through direct empowerment comes an entirely new and energized voting block. At the end of the day, both of my candidates won comfortable victories. Do you think after that there was a debate on the city council where the government was not asked hard questions about its impact of poverty?

The working poor had its own candidates and its own direct voice in local government. That is empowerment and that is how fighting poverty becomes an essential everyday element of government rather than a special project.

My best and closest friends are mostly middle class white people who are working on OneAthens.

So my speech was not criticism - it was a call to action. Come on out for yourself next labor day and see what its all about. I guarantee you would have a very different view of my remarks had you been there.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Elton said...

Thanks Blake - a little late but better than never. Besides, you deserve some credit for spending all day in the heat at the rally on your day off.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong, and much right, with getting poorer citizens elected. If descriptive, or symbolic, representation is the goal, mission accomplished. I would hope for more than that. So how is that anti-poverty thing working out in Arkansas?


2:17 PM  
Anonymous Elton said...


"So how is that anti-poverty thing working out in Arkansas? "

Very well. ACORN began in Little Rock and was the originator of the living wage movement. Mrs. Pugh, one of my candidates, served as state chair of that organization. The living wage movement spread, first to LA, and then nationally. The empowerment in Little Rock has had and continues to have substantial national impact on poverty campaigns. Considering the sheer numbers of extremely bright compassionate people in Athens and the vast issues with cycles of poverty, I don't see why OneAthens can't be the catalyst for even greater change to the national dialogue on poverty.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poor citizens don't run for office or get elected or vote for all the same reasons. They've heard it before when somebody came clamoring about empowerment and their rights. They’ve heard it before and then somebody slammed a door in their face.

I don't understand why they're so jaded considering the sweeping progress of PPA and all. I mean, who do those poor people think they are. Did they SEE how many subcommittees we formed?

Elton. Please answer my questions.
What exactly are you talking about in empowerment and how does that clearly link to the resolution (not temporary treatment) of poverty?

If your suggestion includes getting people better jobs what exactly are you doing right now to help attract good jobs with benefits to Athens. While I shouldn’t have to mention this, when I say jobs I mean jobs for the people in poverty so please don't respond which suggestions about the music scene or thriving “creative class”.

And seriously. Don't claim to be in the middle class. You own an airplane.


2:55 PM  
Blogger Jmac said...

ACORN is a great organization with a model that needs to be replicated. I'm working through Giving by Bill Clinton, and it does some good work. More power to you commissioner for working with them.

Jeff, in fairness to Elton, who I have been hard on today, I think his vision of empowerment involves political activism ... which, understandably, includes a significant measure of long-term benefit for particular communities.

And I'll make plans to attend next year's rally.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hardly know where to start. When I ask about progress in Arkansas, you hide behind ACORN rather than discuss poverty in Arkansas. And that would be well and fine if you weren't criticizing others for their impact, or lack thereof, in producing tangible and lasting results here in Athens.

We can all facilitate discussion without ever really doing anything.
And we can all criticize those who are trying for their lack of results. Almost everyone who has ever tried to help the poor, from Jesus Christ to Karl Marx to Daniel Moynihan, were and are by most objective measures abject failures.

As to how things are going in Arkansas (as opposed to how things are going in the national dialogue): The poverty rate for Arkansas (18.5 percent) — although not different from the rates for New Mexico, Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia and the District of Columbia — was higher than the rates for the other 45 states when comparing three-year average poverty rates for 2001 to 2003.

Is that the relevant time frame from when you were working there, or do I need to get more recent data?


3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, I hear you. But your clients at IHN deserve more than political wind. They don't need another stump speech. They've heard candidates promise to help the poor and turn jobs away at the county line.

The poor need better jobs. They need jobs with healthcare and childcare and flexible hours.

Elton: WHAT ARE YOU DOING RIGHT NOW TO GET jobs with healthcare and childcare and flexible hours? What will you commit to do now to get better jobs here?

Cut the crap about the poor electing someone to represent their issues, Elton. When you and a few of your cohorts ran for office not so long ago, that's what you said you would do.

The poor are still waiting to know what you are actually going to do about getting better them jobs.

So am I.


5:24 PM  
Blogger Polusplagchnos said...

Do you want an overnight, radical subversion of the local political scene, Jeff, or do you want to just know where the progress stands right now?

Speeches aren't all that bad, personally. I don't get why they are poopooed as not accomplishing anything. But then I'm still moved by King's "Beyond Vietnam" or X's "The Ballot or the Bullet" whenever I hear them or read them. Elton may not be King or X, but a speech has the potential to galvanize action, rally people around a cause, incite them into action, give them hope for the inevitability of their goal.

I can see you want to know the practicalities and the pragmatic results. We don't want another Jesus Christ or Ghandi, apparently, we want a Man of Action™. Let's be careful of what we wish for when it comes to that.

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Polusplagchnos -- did you just compare Elton to Christ or Ghandi?

I'm really enjoying this debate.


7:04 AM  
Blogger Polusplagchnos said...

I was more noting DECON's comment about the objectivity of the abject failures of those who help or have helped the poor. Jesus did say that the poor we will always have with us, so I guess in that respect DECON's right.

Elton's free to say whether he prefers Marx or Christ or Moynihan.

(And you are probably the first to get my name right without shortening it! ^_^)

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Polus- I have always loved your insight.

Christ came not as a conquer or hero, but as an impoverished child in a slave race of people. If he was born today. it would not be on cobbham but rather paldoe.

Nonetheless, their is a telling story in the Bible that is very aprpros and if I paraphrase too much, I am sure xon can help me.

Christ said to beware of the Pharisees for they love to sit at the seat of honor and be called Rabbi. They make their faces drawn when they fast for all to see. They pray loudly for all to hear.

But you do your good works in secret where you father alone sees then and for that you will have your reward.

Read from this what you will but what I understand is that talk is cheap. PPA is our second study on poverty. The first study also concluded that a huge part of the problem is the lack of good jobs with benefits avaiable to the working poor.

I am not requesting something that this community has not needed for over twenty years. We need real progress on job recruitment. I refuse to simply say the ever presence of the poor is a reason to keep out head in the sand.

Elton, you have yet to anwser what you are doing to bring better jobs with benefits to the working poor of Athens. You may convince a few people with your speeches.
I still think your head's in the clouds. Prove me wrong about you.


9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Polus, I just want progress.

I've worked with the economic development foundation ( we did the film for project Bamboo) and I've been involved enough with economic development around town to see how it is run.

When I talk about no entity playing point on industry recruitment (chamber vs. edf vs. UGA) it's because its true. When I say that we don't have a brochure or a DVD or a staff of three who is out there finding the jobs that Athens wants. What I want to know is WHY?

We apparently needed to rasie an army of citizens to stop people from smoking. We need overt efforts to police our citizens roomate situation and the length of their lawns.

And now, a few elected officials are riding the popularity train of poverty and I want to know what they are doing to get the jobs that help curb persistant poverty.

I'm tired of the damn talk. We know what we need to do to treat the sources of poverty. But will we?


9:20 AM  
Blogger Polusplagchnos said...

I appreciate your admiration for my insight, JS, but I'm very near-sighted, and it takes a lot for me to see the forest.

I admit I've not been here in Athens as long as some, so I don't know of the twenty years spent trying to draw long-term employment here. I can say that the frustration and eagerness to move onward is palpable in your comments, but let me give a biblical warning since we're doing that sort of thing. Any time a prophet stands up before his people in that capacity where he simultaneously indicts and encourages, there is always going to be the threat of the tu quoque response. That's exactly what's happening in the response to Elton's speech, and that is there for your own calls to action and respectful provocation of Elton. I see that you defended your cred to speak. The thing with cred is that it's only good for those who recognize it or regard it.

Talk may be cheap, and there are people who do love to make long speeches to fool the public. But, let's not fail to note that Jesus said all of his dire warnings about the Pharisees, you know, in front of large gathered audiences. His most famous sermon, even, was still a very public event. A rally. (I suppose his second famous one was very intimate and given to about a dozen or so people, though.)

I don't want to take away from your desire to see action, but I don't think we can say so easily that Elton is not committed to act and is not acting, unless we have our own standard by which we judge the act. You want to see policies and actions that attract a certain kind of employment here to Athens—for you, that is definitely and objectively what it means to act. Has Elton been a commissioner for twenty years, or is Elton having to overcome twenty years of previous policies and actions of commissioners, or is there something else amiss here? I take it you're saying we spent too much time banning smoking, and I think that's the not-so subtle point of Blake's commentary on the alcohol ordinance (a point shared by other commentors around here). Is this failure of nerve, procrastination, or something else?

I recognize that you are not directly saying that Elton's incompetent, impotent, irrelevant, or intransigent. You are asking for him to give you something concrete at a time when it seems we're getting breath and air. To justify himself and the commission before your questions by providing the framework through which he believes we will move forward.

But it seems to me that he's already started providing that, it's just not a solution you think will work (perhaps because it has not worked after being tried so often?). That is, including more people into our representative form of government, and specifically more of the people who have historically and institutionally been disenfranchised. That's not a solution for you because "empowerment" is only meaningful if one has the resources to sustain that power, I take it. Which means we need education campaigns, quality and constructive employment, access to land ownership, &tc. No doubt, a complex solution to this problem, where things are so deeply entangled at the roots.

The traditional liberal-democratic approach to power is, of course, the freedom to vote. The question is where does that freedom come from: from participation of people in the marketplace or from participation of people in the forum? We're not like the Greeks where the two coexisted as one, but we live in a time where each tries to take over and manage the other. It seems to me that one way of seeing the fundamental difference between you and Elton can be written as either marketplace or forum, and so naturally you are going to have disagreements about what constitutes action. Not to mention successful or productive action.

But, then comes the biblical lesson of Corinthians: legitimate and real differences in praxis do not have to result in the antagonistic struggle where one vision is victorious over the others and dominates those others. Rather, recognition of these differences should lead to seeing the mutual respect and complementary benefits of taking these differences as organic movements of a whole. The new creation is the unity of a diversity, a singular plurality. Paul was speaking about the church, sure, but I do not see why people cannot draw from this how to approach the political. That is, why does there have to be this division between the politics of persuasive rhetoric and the politics of decisive action? Paul did both, and changed the world. Lenin, the same. Change needs both, doesn't it?

Why does Elton have to act your way if you both have the same goal of alleviating the suffering of poverty? Teaching isn't better than prophesying, making tents isn't better than evangelizing; attracting industry isn't better than participating in policy, is it?

But maybe I'm being very short-sighted in all this, not seeing what I should.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very eloquent. And I see a lot of your points. But I'm not asking for the world here. I simply want to know what tangible things Elton is doing to resolve one of the core causes of poverty.

Yes. Jesus held rallies. But not at the expense of feeding people, healing people and building a ministry that had tangible action.

Again, my friend. I think we have too much talk and too little action. But I agree with you, we can find harmonious ground on this issue. Elton, if you put your whole heart into getting the types of jobs here that our impoverished citizens so badly need, you will have my support in whatever office you run for.

But this won't be an easy task. You have to go against those who are set against any new industry in this town. You'll have to fight the nutjob activists, endowed NIMBYs and a whole host of other nastys whose sole goal is to make Athens their property alone.

Such a campaign is tough when the people I'm asking you to stand up for don't vote. I understand why many candidates take the other road. Which will you take?

4:53 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

Let me preface these remarks but saying that I have only lived in Athens since 1999 and have only been following things closely for the last couple of years. However, it seems curious to me that Elton is taking such heat over what he and the commission are doing to attract jobs when the impression that I get is that the thing that always bites us when we are in the running for a job-creation machine to locate here is our inability to provide potential employers with an educated and skilled workforce. If this is the case (and please correct me if I am wrong) then the fault lies with the school system and I'm not sure what the commission can do about that. Once again, I say this as a parent of a kids aged 1 and 3 who fully intends to use the public school system and who doesn't have much inside information but is beginning to care deeply about this community and wants to better understand the issues contributing to the poverty problems that the town faces.

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point. Wrong, but well put. Blaming the lack of economic development on the poor and uneducated (typically one and the same) is a nice little trick that some use to evade the fact that we as a community don't try to recruit businesses to this area.

If we have such an under qualified workforce, why is there an overflow of students in some programs at Athens Tech so much that they have had to build new buildings. Hundreds of students are turned away from the nursing program alone. Are they the unqualified workforce you are referring to?

And this so called unqualified workforce does not seem to be so unqualified to pick up garbage and clean classrooms.

Most large industries that relocate to towns like Athens have training programs and often partner with schools like Athens Tech to train new employees.

And for the many students who do graduate high school, where do you think they are? They're gone. They have moved somewhere else. What do think they have to look forward to if they stay, cleaning your house? Seriously, what job is a kid with a high school education going to get in Athens?

My issue with Elton is that he and the rest of the commission are doing nothing to solve this issue. Many of the commenter�s on this blog take issue with him for the same thing you're doing. Trying to blame the poor for their own problems.


9:13 AM  
Blogger Rich said...


Before you accuse me of trying to blame the poor (too late), please reread my comments. At no point did I place any blame on anyone. I simply mentioned what I have heard and what you admit people often say. AND I said that IF this is the case then there isn't a whole lot that the mayor and commission can do.

That being said, I did some digging and from the OneAthens webpage you find that ACCs graduation rate is 60.5% while the average for the state of Georgia is 69.4%. Data such as this cannot help industry recruitment efforts if they are occurring.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


��then the fault lies with the school system�
Sure, you blame no one. But what you are saying (in addition to your shot at blaming some very good people at the school system) is that the low achievement of students is why industry does not come here. And that�s BS.

Industry will come where they are wanted and that is something our mayor and commission have not done a whole lot about. Again, I don�t see anything in what you are saying that negates the fact that our commission does not pursue or fund the pursuit of new industries that can provide our poor with better jobs.

Industry does not come here because nobody is out there asking them to come. The EDF is a director and a secretary and while they have a lot of heart, they need help in the form of a budget that is not pathetic.

So, say you are right and industries are out there trolling the web reading those dismal numbers you quoted. Is anyone out there selling the good things about Athens? What about telling those companies that many students get GEDs and that some of those go on to Athens Tech? What about telling them about the many creative artists ( Birmingham�s artists don�t starve as much as ours because the publications industry employs an army of freelance writers, illustrators, photographers and graphic artists)? In such a situation, the arts scene could be an inducement which results in printing jobs, packaging jobs, shipping jobs and all the ancillary jobs that such an industry could provide).
That�s only one example. We�ll talk about the Animal Health industry another time.

Of course, no one is out there making this pitch. And there are two reasons. One is that such a situation looks too much like work and it is easier come up with reasons why not than action. Second is the very real situation that some people don�t want anyone else coming to Athens. And those people pull more weight with the Mayor and Commission than they should.

If you have your heart against being convinced then there is no argument I can make that you�ll consider. But I do have one question. If low achievement in the Clarke County School System is the reason that companies don�t come here and the school system is the one to blame, why are you so enthusiastically telling everyone that you�re sending your kids to public school.

Save me the rebuttal, write it down and send it to one of those companies who bypassed Athens due to the dropout rate. Like you, I believe that there are kids from the Clarke County School System that make great employees, citizens and people. I hope you are persuasive.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment but here goes...

I actually haven't disagreed about the importance of local recruitment efforts. I don't know enough about what is being done locally to have an opinion. If, as you say,there is no local point-man and we don't even have a brochure then there is no excuse and those who are responsible deserve every bit of criticism that you are dishing out.

One source of my impression that ACC is being hurt by workforce quality issues was the article on Novartis choosing the Research Triangle in North Carolina over us.
From the ABH on July 19, 2006:

"A well-trained workforce and a ready-made industrial site helped convince Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics to build a new manufacturing plant in North Carolina instead of the Athens area.

"During the press conference (Tuesday), Novartis officials mentioned the work force," said Bert Brantley, a spokesman with the state Department of Development. "The important thing, they said, was the immediate access to a work force."

Brantley said Georgia officials assured Novartis representatives that the work force could be developed in the Athens area in time for the plant's launch."

So, I hope that you can see how a reader such as myself might come to the conclusion that workforce quality might be an issue.

However, I realized after a more careful reading that the issue was more about workforce training that would take place at an Athens Tech. NC already had these things in place and we didn't. This, of course, has nothing to do with the schools and everything to do with the public officials that you are critical of.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right. NC has a larger biotech training system and their biotech people are already trained. I have been told by several economic developers that Athens was only brought in the review to get NC to up their offer. If we try to be competitive with the triangle when it comes to bio tech, we will lose more often than we win.

But what about animal health? We have a world class vet school. And Merial. And Southeast Poultry lab. And possibly NBAF. Not to mention this town being an altogether pet and animal friendly place. Also, we’re next to one of, if not the, poultry capital of the nation. We might not be able to break the triangle when it comes to biotech but I believe we could be a world contender when it comes to animal health. Every community is clamoring for biotech. Very few, if any, are focusing their efforts on animal health. As in most business situations, focus and discipline can pay off.

Still our leaders practice a sit and wait strategy. They fund Economic Development at a fraction of the cost spent to defend illegal ordinances. And why should they? Every person on that commission knows exactly where their next pay check is coming from.

Rich, you know better than many what the rising tide of new and better jobs could do to this area. Look back a few years at the "Model Community" program, the rise of public housing in Athens as an economic development strategy and the later disappearance of the large industries and related effects. I'll think you'll find it illuminating and I'd like to know your thoughts concerning such.


9:52 AM  
Blogger Rich said...


OK, so you have my attention...."public housing in Athens as an economic development strategy " It is beyond my admittedly small imagination to envision how public housing could be an economic strategy. Also, I tried but couldn't find anything on the Model Community program. Would you mind pointing a newbie in the right direction???


8:50 PM  

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