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Mayor releases commissioner's resignation letter; county prepares for special election

Mariah Parker

By Joe Johnson

Mayor Kelly Girtz has released the resignation letter of a county commissioner who unexpectedly resigned this week to take a position with a Southern workers rights organization.

Meanwhile, the county attorney’s 0ffice is reviewing state law and election procedures to assist it in advising the Board of Elections related to an upcoming special election to fill former District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker's seat.

The letter was submitted on Monday and informed the county that her resignation would be effective as of today.The letter read as follows:

"I sat in a meeting not long ago, surrounded by a small group of people with a century of local government involvement between them. We needled at prospective policy, identifying loophole after loophole that housing cartels could exploit to negate work toward housing as a human right. Exasperated, one member of the meeting joked aloud: “Late stage capitalism!”

The remark surprised me coming from someone so chill and refined. A lot of us chuckled. But after that, we went back to the drawing board, earnestly musing on helpful ways forward.

I sat partially dazed thinking about it: we all knew what the true problem was. We were exhausted by it. But we could do nothing but chuckle sadly.

We all feel it, but many are scared to say it: the Mayor & Commission are elected, but it’s money that governs. Housing cartels buy up whole blocks of Black neighborhoods-- as JW York has done in East Athens-- while families scramble in the face of eviction. The University of Georgia, with a billion dollar endowment and an immensely wealthy Board of Regents, sits pretty by keeping thousands of essential workers in poverty. The same is true for the corporate chains that dominate our food landscape by paying workers pennies; a bloated insurance bureaucracy that picks and chooses what care you can receive-- almost every aspect of our daily lives is more or less decided, not by local politicians, but profitability.

With the Republican state legislature working to stymie progress at every turn and a federal government that could but chooses not to guarantee housing, healthcare, and good jobs, the hands of the Mayor & Commission are bound and bound again. Our constituents look to us to reign in this organized greed, and I am committed to do that. But I accept now that this aim is largely incompatible with the work of a county commissioner, as prescribed.

From the Civil Rights Movement to even local issues, only masses of consciously organized people can bend the arc of history toward justice. There would be no fare free public transit without Athens for Everyone. There would be no police accountability without the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement. There would be no concept of municipal reparations in the South without the Linnentown Project. The community centers at Rocksprings and Nellie B would have never reopened if not for the powerful coalition of Black parents that demanded we save our youth. And I’ve only been here to enact their demands in the first place because hundreds of voters made it so.

Our crises are compounding, and leaders are needed in the streets to help build new mass movements insistent on a level of transformation that far transcends what we as commissioners can deliver.

I am still proud of what we have accomplished together, despite our impediments. In addition to the above, we’ve achieved substantive leaps forward in affordable housing and living wages, and smaller but much-needed steps toward a more humane criminal punishment system, like marijuana decriminalization and cash bail reform. In dreaming of more, I sometimes forget about these promises kept.

But I am most proud of every Athenian that has pushed us to act, as I maintain that we, the commission, can claim nothing-- every victory belongs to the people who organized and insisted.

I do thank the colleagues I have stood alongside in struggle for a fairer community: Patrick Davenport, Melissa Link, Tim Denson, Jesse Houle, Russell Edwards, Carol Myers, Deborah Gonzalez, and Spencer Frye, to name a few. While our paths in the movement are diverging, I remain inspired by your dedication to fight from within and the solutions you’ve dreamt up under adverse circumstances.

Most of all I thank Hattie Whitehead, Fred Smith, Broderick Flanigan, Mokah Johnson, Erin Stacer, Briana Bivens, Tommy Valentine, my partner Paul, and all the organizers who made our victories possible. There are thousands more, too many to name, who have lent their support, critique, expertise and resources, and to whom my credit is due.

It’ll look a little different now, but I am with you still.

Sadly, fighters like you are too few, and we will need to bring in thousands more like you to achieve the changes we need. Without a leaderful mass movement that is ready to fight the money, government will grind on with less than the people need to show for it.

The story of my life is a story of service, but stories are often broken into chapters. I close this chapter with peace, pride and hope at the prospect of a new chapter of focused service to growing that movement.

Please accept this as notice of my resignation as Athens-Clarke County Commissioner for District 2, effective August 31st, 2022.

Dr. Mariah Parker."

The St. Louis, Ky. Native came to Athens to attend the University of Georgia, where last month she earned a Doctorate in Linguists.

Since July she has been senior lead organizer for Raise Up the South, a regional workers and union rights organization.

On the heels of Parker's announcement,the county issued a press release titled, "Eligibility of Voters & Candidates for District 2 Commission Special Election Still Being Determined."

The document reads: "Information distributed from ACCGov on August 29, 2022 about Mariah Parker’s resignation and the Special Election indicated that voters who reside in the new District 2 area created through redistricting would be eligible to vote in the Special Election. However, this remains under review and will ultimately be determined by the Board of Elections. The eligibility of voters and candidates who can qualify for the vacant Commission seat has not been fully determined. The Athens-Clarke County Attorney’s Office is currently reviewing state law and election procedures to assist it in advising the Board of Elections related to the upcoming Special Election to fill the District 2 Commission seat vacated by the resignation of Mariah Parker. The Board of Elections must ultimately determine whether residents eligible to vote or qualify to run in the Special Election are those who live within the current District 2 Commission boundaries or those who live in the boundaries of the new District 2 Commission map created through the 2021-2022 redistricting process that goes into effect in January 2023. Additional information will be released once a final determination has been made regarding the map that will be used for eligible voters and other details related to the District 2 Commissioner Special Election.

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