Based on responses to a question posed at the recent candidate forum at the Athens-Clarke County Library, a ban on plastic grocery bags may make it onto the agenda of the Athens-Clarke County Commission.
The Sunday forum was sponsored by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and other environmental groups, and mostly focused on environmental issues facing the county, as reported in The Athens Banner Herald.
Mayoral candidates Kelly Girtz and Harry Sims were present.
The six commission candidates included Russell Edwards, running for the vacant District 7 seat; Melissa Link, the District 3 incumbent; Patrick Davenport, running for the District 1 seat; District 5 incumbent Jared Bailey; Tim Denson, one of two candidates running against Bailey; and District 9 candidate Ovita Thornton.
Just like the mayoral candidates there, all said they would support a commitment to move entirely to renewable energy sources for the government, for example — though the timetable for such a conversion wasn’t specified.
Candidates unable to attend for one reason or another included District 1 incumbent Sharyn Dickerson, District 2 candidates Mariah Parker and Taylor Pass, District 3 challenger Tony Eubanks, District 5 candidate Danielle Benson, District 7 candidates Bill Overend and Carl Blount, and District 9 candidate Tommy Valentine.
Bailey, who years ago led an effort to push a local ban on plastic bags, said the fate of that and other environmental measures would depend on who’s elected mayor, because it’s the mayor who sets the agenda for commission meetings.
Commissioners can override the mayor to place an item on the agenda but they didn’t have enough votes to do so when Mayor Nancy Denson did not put the bag ban on the agenda.
“Before our current mayor and commission, we were making a lot of progress,” Bailey said.
Most of the candidates said they supported a plastic-bag ban. Davenport said maybe; his concern was that something like setting a fee might put another burden on poor people.
But such a program could be tweaked so that wouldn’t happen, Link said.
Link is one of the candidates who favors making the Athens Transit System fare-free, as some other cities did. That would help reduce the city’s carbon footprint, and would also help low-income Athenians, she said. The costs could be covered with a fee on auto tag registrations, she said.
“It’s just a matter of making it a priority and finding the funds,” she said. Link also favored stronger
stream buffers than Athens-Clarke now has.
Denson also favored fare-free public transit — as it is one of those issues where social and environmental justice intersect, he said.
And for many environmental issues, such as reducing the amount of recyclable materials now going into the landfill, public awareness and education are key, Davenport said.
“I think one of the issues we face is awareness,” he said.
Sims also called for more education on environmental concerns.
“It’s going to be up to all of us,” he said.
Thornton noted the big cutbacks in funding for environmental protection under the Trump administration, saying the local government should pick up some of that slack.
“We’re going to have to be picking up more of the tab,” she said. “We’ve got to be more proactive and be more about what we say we are.”
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