Note: This story appears in the Sunday, Oct. 6 newspaper on Page A1.
Some are seeking another term, others are running their first political campaigns — but each of the six candidates for Athens City Council’s At-Large seats have ideas for how they can make the city better.
Three incumbents (Peter Kotses, Sarah Grace and Patrick McGee) and three challengers (Beth Clodfelter, Ellie Hamrick and Chris Monday) are vying for three available seats. Thursday’s crowded public forum at the Athens Community Center was the latest such event hosted by the League of Women Voters of Athens County in the run up to the 2019 General Election.
Local residents and reporters got a chance to ask questions to all the candidates. Here is a closer look at some of the main highlights and priorities of candidates (listed in alphabetical order).
Beth Clodfelter, Democrat challenger
Clodfelter moved to Athens over 20 years ago, and works at Ohio University as the director of the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards within the Honors Tutorial College.
She spoke of the need to improve infrastructure in town to help residents feel safer. She said this priority comes after having informally surveyed local women in uptown Athens.
“It broke my heart — almost to a woman, none of them felt safe anymore,” Clodfelter said.
In answering several other questions, Clodfelter advocated for the police department to be armed and applauded the recent investigation concerning a video of an uptown arrest. She called the arrest “disturbing” said she believed it looked to be excessive force, but added she is impressed with Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle’s subsequent statements that he would not tolerate racism in his department.
She called for moving lights in the city from places with less foot traffic such as Columbus Road to dimmer areas of the city.
Asked to name the largest issue facing the city, Clodfelter named the declining enrollment at OU. Similar to an answer given by Mayor Steve Patterson at his own candidate’s forum, Clodfelter suggested the city work to attract tech companies and use the Athens Armory as a business incubator site.
Later in the evening, she also advocated for using only native plants in city plantings, and encouraged residents to do the same.
Sarah Grace, Democrat incumbent
Grace is rounding out her first term on Athens City Council. She was previously a candidate for state representative.
She called Athens a place she still learns from every day, and advocated for sustainability and affordable housing.
Grace also reacted to the viral arrest over the previous weekend, calling the video “painful to watch.” She noted that the police are limited in what can be said now, due to the investigation, and hopes answers come forward about what happened before and after the Twitter video occurred.
She advocated for safe, walkable/bike-friendly routes to all areas of the city, noting that topography could be a barrier to this goal. She also spoke in favor of Complete Streets, which refers to any route that is safe for motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and anyone else who may venture onto the street or sidewalk. She relayed her vision for each of the Athens neighborhoods to have a central location with resources for folks in need.
Grace also noted that in support of affordable housing, she would like to introduce legislation that would prevent landlords from discriminating against renters based on the source of their income.
She also noted she would not be in favor of raising property or city taxes, and would seek further funding from the state, as was once provided to the city before the 2008 recession.
Ellie Hamrick, independent challenger
Hamrick spoke passionately throughout the evening about her ideas to reduce police power, encourage environmental sustainability and promote the working class. Hamrick promoted the need for better housing and housing regulations within the city, calling for rent control and the combined weight of tenants in a union.
Other policy proposals included:
- De-arming and defunding the Athens Police Department
- Establishing a $15 minimum wage
- Clean needle exchanges and safe injection sites to aid the opioid crisis
- Banning fracking within the county
- Fixing sidewalks and making infrastructure improvements more equitable around the city
- Not allowing Airbnb’s in Athens (she said they lead to gentrification)
Peter Kotses, Democrat incumbent
Kotses was the most experienced on Thursday night, having now served two full terms on Council. He is seeking his third. Kotses is the owner of Athens Bicycle and chairs the transportation committee. He echoed the call for Complete Streets and suggested lowering speed limits in town along with installing LED street lights.
Kotses gave support for improving the city’s water infrastructure and building upon the number of shade-giving trees.
The city has been forced to be more strategic in its spending without any increases in state/federal funding, Kotses said. The incumbent said he wants to see increased community engagement with Council and that members should utilize the “talent and brain power” from local residents.
In a question about access to safe, affordable housing, Kotses said this may become more available as OU enrollment continues to decline.
Patrick McGee, independent incumbent
McGee, one of the more colorful characters on Council, is seeking a second term. The retired lawyer began opening statement with a joke about his mustache and ended his closing statement with a haiku. McGee brought a great deal of personality to the two-hour forum.
Similar to his counterparts, McGee focused on improved lighting and agreed with Clodfelter that safety in Athens is important. He called for the police to focus less on underage drinking and more on crime in the local neighborhoods.
McGee is strongly against spending city money on projects he believes to be unnecessary (he calls them “pet” projects), such as the Richland Avenue Pedestrian Passageway that will soon be built.
McGee wants to see solar co-ops within the city, and said that housing issues within the city could have some alleviation if the university made on-campus housing more affordable and attractive to students. He also noted his frustration with the new uptown parking meters, calling the rise in rates “not needed,” and said that it could cause issues for uptown businesses due to the increased rates and later collection hours.
On the subject of Airbnb’s, he said community input would be necessary before he could vote either way.
He also noted that he would be against raising taxes within the city.
What do you love about Athens? was Monday’s opening line, asking citizens to draw on their imaginations and envision an Athens they love and want to create.
His talking points centered on reducing stress for Athenians through lowering housing costs, paying workers a “living wage,” and making folks “more comfortable.”
He noted his concern about the recent viral APD arrest video and said Athens headlines are “beginning to look like the headlines across the nation.”
“It’s not like there was never crime here before,” he said, “but the bubble we live in is getting popped. It’s an example of the general anxiety of America. “
However, he said he feels relatively safe in town, but noted maybe improvements could be made if specific issues were pointed out.
He also called for a ban on single-use plastics, increased taxes on individuals who own a number of rental properties within the city, and promotion of local, small businesses.