The Athens City Council First Ward seat will be up for grabs this November, and one west side resident — Solveig Spjeldnes — is building a policy platform to snag the Democratic spot in the election.
To do that, she said, she has spent hours connecting with Ward 1 residents, which encompasses the west side of Athens.
Although the district has a diverse socio-economic and demographic makeup, she said, she has noticed a common issue comes to the fore from many in Ward 1 — housing issues.
“The vast swath of housing issues are something I’m really focused on,” Spjeldnes said.
Spjeldnes said those issues range from landlord-tenant concerns, to future development issues to Section 8 housing.
Spjeldnes also emphasized that if elected, she would have no “agenda” or “axe to grind” when it comes to city policy — she said she wants to hear input of her constituents before making decisions and building policy.
Spjeldnes came to Athens in 2008 to become a professor in the Department of Social Work after completing her PhD in social work at the University of Pittsburgh.
In May 2020, she took a university buyout package and became heavily involved in Democratic organizing for President Joe Biden.
After current Ward 1 Council Member Arian Smedley announced she was not seeking reelection, Spjeldnes said Athens Mayor Steve Patterson reached out to her and asked her to consider running for the seat.
“I feel very interested in taking this next chapter,” Spjeldnes said. “Many of the things you need to know about, and the skills necessary I think relate to what I was doing as a professor.”
She believes her tenure as a professor teaching policy will help inform her decisions should she be elected to Athens City Council.
“How do you determine policy? Well I taught that,” Spjeldnes said. “How do you help people who don’t feel they have a voice or feel they aren’t being heard related to cavity government or anything else? I taught that.”
She added that she knows skills like budgeting and would plan to be a “fiscally responsible” council member.
In notes sent to The Messenger, Spjeldnes also listed vandalism, drug use, dog poop and voyeurism as issues she believes affect the quality of life on the west side.
Although Spjeldnes is unchallenged in the May primary, she may face an independent challenger for her seat, as former mayoral candidate Damon Krane rallies a ticket to challenge the Democratic-controlled city council.
Spjeldnes said it was likely she may have an independent challenger, but welcomed the opportunity for any resident of Ward 1 to step up and share their ideas.
However, she said regardless, she will do her due diligence in engaging with constituents before the election.
“Regardless of whether I have an opponent, I am researching issues, asking folks who are engaged, talking to stakeholders,” Spjeldnes said.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Spjeldnes said most of her engagement and outreach with constituents, who she calls “stakeholders,” has been driven by Facebook, and the Athens West Side Facebook page.
She said at the end of the day, she is running to serve the residents of Athens County as best she can.
“It’s those day to day little things that could make someone annoyed and I am more than happy to handle those day to day little things,” Spjeldnes said.