By Jason E. Elder
(laughter from Commissioner Hamby)
"... but, but if there's somebody who wants to speak to it since it's like brand new to all of us, please feel free."
And so, Commissioner Ovita Thornton, acting as Mayor Pro-tempore, during a hastily called Special Called Session the evening of April 4, 2023--considered under Suspension of Rules; and with both the Mayor, Kelly Girtz, and City Manager, Blaine Williams, in absentia--let it slip that the Intergovernmental Agreement with the Development Authority of the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County, in Commissioner Thornton's own words, "was officially adopted today"; and that nobody, lest of all the attending Commissioners, and most of all, the citizens of Athens-Clarke County, knew anything about.
What was witnessed during this questionable and unorthodox proceeding was nothing short of a violation of the Commissioner's own Charter, and the Citizens of Athens at large.
Observed by all in attendance at city hall and those viewing online--though not perceived by most--was an hurried, harried, and obvious ramrodding of a "public-private partnership" that was afforded ZERO discussion for the public at large!
The date the Intergovernmental Agreement was signed by the Director of the Economic Development Department, Ilka McConnell, was 03/15/2022. Almost a year later, Manager Blane Williams signed off on March 30, 2023: a mere five days before this Agreement and Ordinance was presented to the Commission for "consideration".
As if in keeping with the Commissioner's letter of the law, but not it's spirit, a quick pantomime, Kabuki-like feigning of the normally exercised Robert's Rules of Order was substituted, covering up and running interference for the trampling of basic democratic principles of an open and transparent government.
As Commissioner Thornton rightly noted: how could anybody speak--for, or against--an item that was summarily sprung on an unsuspecting public mere minutes before the ACTUAL VOTE?!
Commissioner Thornton continues at a scant 11:00 minutes into the Special Called Session: "I'm going to, umm, yield to my fellow Commissioner, Jesse Houle; is there anyone that would like to speak to this great opportunity before we vote?"
Crickets; silence from those in attendance as a travesty and horrible caricature of Justice, Democracy, and "the free and open exchange of ideas" was trampled, prostituted, and rendered impotent by a dozen of our fellow citizens--those elected to serve the needs of our community: Athens. Not a multi-billion dollar, private corporation!!
After no one rose to champion, nor condemn, the proposed new legislation, Commissioner Thornton, in collusion with the other Commissioners present, continued in a perverse twisting of the standard procedures into its counterfeit: "it has been motioned, and seconded that we affirm and agree to this intergovernment agreement--ah, this is exciting!--all in favor say aye. Those opposed?"
Except, no such thing happened! Did you catch it? It happened quick and under other Commissioner's divertissements.
There was no official motion. There was nobody who seconded it. It was all smoke-and-mirrors: a magician's trick!
As per the Commission's CHARTER under THE CODE OF ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY GEORGIA
- Introduction, consideration and passage of ordinances and resolutions - Section 2-202. (c):
Every proposed ordinance shall be in writing and shall be introduced by reading the title thereof at a regular monthly, or a properly called special, meeting of the commission of Athens-Clarke County, at which time it may be acted upon. (emphasis added) County Attorney Judd Drake, usually--per the law--reads out beforehand the ordinances under discussion before any vote is taken, using this SPECIFIC Language as follows:
AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND THE FY2023 ANNUAL OPERATING AND CAPITAL BUDGET FOR ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY, GEORGIA SO AS TO PROVIDE FUNDING FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT SITE INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
To reiterate: there was no motion. There was no seconded motion. There was no reading. Was this legal? The proper protocol for adopting any new ordinance(s) in Athens-Clarke County was not followed. AT ALL! And the evidence is all on video!
Imagine that: if it were to go to trial in a court of law.
Furthermore, this event reveals the rank hypocrisy, double-talking, two-faced nature of many of the Commissioners who claim themselves to be "liberal progressives" who "care about all, equally".
While someone like Commissioner Melissa Link (and others) laments control of local politics being taken out of the community's hands--on one hand--she is complicit (along with the others) of violating the ACTUAL RIGHTS of all who live in Athens: preventing them from discussing what will directly impact them and their families over the coming decades.
And on the other hand, has no problem when the State of Georgia under Brian Kemp helps "broker the deal," demonstrating she (and others) are oblivious to the larger powers at work that allow an international biomedical corporation with billions of dollars in revenue into our community while we, the tax paying citizens PAY THEM(!) to build THEIR sewer lines, THEIR roads, and all the infrastructure THEY need! Tag on a 10 year tax abatement on their profits and you see exactly what this is: Fascistic Capitalism!
Will the average citizen receive any of the assured "benefits" our local government maintains will accrue to the city? Stake-holders only, likely; on the backs of everyone else. All while they smile at you and say how much it grows our community. While the homeless population rises and rents skyrocket. But it must be okay--this time--because almost every Commissioner has a (D) next to their name; and, of course, they're intelligent enough to be aware of what it actually means to be on the side of the Common Working Man. Surely. This time.
When property tax rates go up in the newly developed district; when those people are forced out of their homes due to "unforeseen economic circumstances" <haha>; when people realize all the so-called new tax revenue won't go to help them, only to feed the insatiable machinations of the Babylon System--which is hell-bent on strangling all local communities--it will likely be far too late to do anything.
Benito Mussolini famously proclaimed, "Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power."
When the local government colludes with state governments; when Regular and Special Called Sessions are twisted into unrecognizable caricatures of civic Form and Function; when backdoor deals are made in darkness; and when the economic Reality of Late Stage Capitalism affect all the local citizens who were 1) not even MADE AWARE of the events unfolding until 10 minutes beforehand, and 2) WERE NOT EVEN ALLOWED A SAY IN THEIR OWN DESTINY, you can bet there will be hell to pay.