Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams has named Mike Wharton as the county's interim sustainability officer.
Wharton will serve in the interim position after the previous Sustainability Officer, Andrew Saunders, was named ACC's Central Services Director on April 17. A national search will be conducted for a permanent Sustainability Officer. "Mike has spent his entire career focused on ecological and sustainability initiatives for this community," Williams said. "His knowledge has been invaluable as the Sustainability Office has established itself over the last several years and worked with departments and other organizations towards a more environmentally-sound future for Athens-Clarke County. He is a natural fit to take over as interim officer and continue its exceptional work." The Sustainability Office launched on July 1, 2017 as a unit of the Manager’s Office and only the fourth program of its kind to exist in a local government of Georgia. Wharton has served as the Ecological Resources Administrator since the office launched and has spent more than 39 years working with sustainability, natural resources, and recreation for Athens-Clarke County. "Andrew Saunders has done an outstanding job of establishing the Sustainability Office," Wharton said. "Under his leadership, we have been able to provide vital services and undertake a wide variety of projects to promote a more sustainable community, expand our green space, and begin to establish a framework for managing our ecological resources. I am honored and excited to be able to continue these initiatives as well as to seek out and create new opportunities to conserve and protect our natural resources." Some projects that Wharton has been involved in with the Sustainability Office include land management and restoration initiatives such as a North Oconee River cleanup that involved over 150 volunteers from Pilgrim’s Pride, a Georgia Outdoor Stewardship grant that will provide $550,000 for outdoor recreation and habitat and stream restoration in Dudley Park, and the acquisition of more than 110 acres of green space for ACCGov. In less than three years, these projects have not only beautified the community, but have also significantly enhanced native habitat and vital ecosystem services on more than 140 acres of ACCGov property. Wharton has also worked on community engagement initiatives that have engaged citizens, businesses, schools, and churches throughout Athens, helping to build a more sustainable urban/wildland community. Prior to joining the Sustainability Office, Wharton headed the former Natural Resources Division of the Leisure Services Department and served as the Operations Administrator for the department. Under his tenure, ACC developed the first Greenway Plan adopted by a local government in Georgia. The Sustainability Office works as a steward of public resources by promoting innovative practices and policies to reduce ACC’s environmental footprint, grow the local economy, and foster a thriving community by networking staff, ideas, and resources across departments and throughout the community to achieve outcomes supported by a long-term sustainability plan. For more information on the Athens-Clarke County Sustainability Office, visit www.accgov.com/green or call 706-613-3838.