Friday, July 24, 2009

This and That

A lot happening in the news locally and regionally. Some quick takes.
  • The memorial service and reception in honor of E.H. Culpepper yesterday were tremendous. Judge Stephens, Matt Sligh, and others offered wonderful tributes to a wonderful man, and of course, ribs were served afterwards at the Classic Center. All that was missing was a baggie of "extras" to take home.
  • The Select Sustainable Tree Trust is in the news again, this time in the AJC for its contribution to UGA. President Adams toured North Campus with the guys from the tree trust on Wednesday as they begin to plan for fall tree installations (pictured).
  • For all you eagerly awaiting the results of the Watkinsville City Council Strategy Session, it was a day well spent. We made progress on planning and prioritizing SPLOST, received an update on a number of other items, and will be moving forward on preserving our historic homes in Watkinsville and further evaluation -- and hopefully implementation -- of curbside recycling. It was a great opportunity to have dialogue in a more informal setting about the issues and opportunities ahead for Watkinsville.
  • Athens is planning to require all new commercial and residential rehab construction to be up to LEED standards. Costs are described as a "few percentage points," but those add up quickly in these times. I hope they have done their homework on this and have a meaningful dialogue with local developers and contractors. LEED can be great but pricey, depending on the standards required. In Watkinsville we evaluated this requirement as part of our land use planning overhaul, and opted against it until costs came down.
  • Water take 1: Don't be fooled -- a judge's recent ruling against Georgia in its effort to secure water from Lake Lanier for Metro Atlanta could have fallout for our region. If Metro Atlanta's faucet is indeed shut off, the largest beneficiaries of future growth and its attendant challenges could be Georgia counties close to Atlanta outside of the Lanier Watershed. That includes Jackson, Barrow, Oconee, Athens-Clarke, and Morgan. Dan Chapman and Leon Stafford do a good job summarizing all the challenges (and a few opportunities) on the water issue in today's AJC. Either way, this is a time for leaders to take stock and perhaps think outside the box as we plan for the future.
  • Water take 2: Speaking of those water negotiations, Georgia's continuing fight seems futile. And even worse, the napalm-oriented approach of several of our federal congressmen may come back to bite us, according to Georgia's two political Toms -- Crawford at Capitol Impact and Baxter at InsiderAdvantage. Registration is required at both links, but Voice of Moderation is not holding out much hope on this effort, which has kept entire teams of lawyers in business for decades now. My preference -- cut the best deal we can now and begin to plan smarter ways to grow, conserve, and store more water. My fear is that we will be under the gun come 2012. One telling excerpt: "Even at the congressional level, Georgia could be hampered by the hostility generated by several of its Republican House members – notably Tom Price, Paul Broun, Lynn Westmoreland and Phil Gingrey – who have engaged in verbal battles with the Democratic majority’s leadership. “They [the Democrats] hate them,” said a House aide familiar with the Georgia delegation. “They won’t do things for Georgia just because of those guys.”
  • Watkinsville's own Tifosi Optics gets some love in a paper out west. If you don't have Tifosis and need sunglasses, be sure to try them out!
  • Speaking of local businesses, we had a great lunch at Girasoles on Wednesday. All of you in Watkinsville, don't forget Chef Jose and his staff. Apparently, he has also opened a new outpost in Bostwick as well!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Meet, Tweet & Greet

Interested in learning more about social media for professional use? Be sure to check out and learn more about the Athens Chamber's innovative mid-year event, called "Meet, Tweet & Greet." The Chamber is putting a lot of energy into the event, which will involve tutorials on social media and internet marketing for businesses, a silent auction, great food and drinks, and a salute to Suzanne Yoculan. You can find more details in the videos below.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Apologies for the late notice, but the Watkinsville City Council is having its first planning retreat in many years (if ever) tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Ashford Manor. The public is of course invited. Items on the agenda include discussion of SPLOST funds (focused on roads, sidewalks, greenspace, infrastructure, and public safety investments), the County Courthouse situation, annexation, and many other "big picture" topics it is difficult to discuss at regular meetings. Citizen input is encouraged -- feel free to comment or e-mail with items if you cannot make it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Sad Day

This region lost a true leader when E.H. Culpepper passed away this morning. After a long battle with cancer, in which his body may have flagged but his spirit never did, E.H. has finally gone on to a better place in the sky.

When Susan and I first returned to Athens and I was starting the local office of Jackson Spalding, E.H. was one of the first people I met. He helped introduce me to lots of local folks, educated me about regional politics, invited me to events in Athens and Atlanta, and gave me informal lessons on transportation, regionalism, and dreaming big. For nearly eight years, he was a tireless advocate for me personally and our company. I can't count the times he would stop by the office to give me an idea he was working on. I would write it up, flesh it out, and help him put together a meeting to carry it forward to the next step.

His ideas were often far ahead of what Georgia's politicians -- and at times citizens -- were willing to conceive, and that was part of his charm.

Commuter rail in Georgia? Why not! 441 as a leading tourism corridor? Absolutely -- in fact it already is. A rail anchored triangle between Gainesville, Athens, and Gwinnett? Makes sense. 316 as a Biotech corridor? It will happen, not a doubt. On campus commuter rail at UGA? UGA will buy that line eventually. A significant airport in Barrow County? Who could be opposed to that?

I wound up helping him with a tough campaign for State House a few years ago. He fought the good fight, but lost to a smart young politician in Doug McKillip. E.H. knew it would be tough to beat a Democrat in liberal minded Athens (he ran as an independent -- I just don't think there was a party for a train loving, government supporting, pro-business type like E.H.), but he walked miles speaking to voters and gathered petitions to just to make the ballot.

Perhaps his greatest strength in the time I knew him was his ability to bring people together. The wide ranging conversations might cover everything from nanotechnology to bicycling to recycling, and were often lubricated by heaping plates of E.H. and Eye's world famous BBQ. Those who joined those conversations benefited from what were easily the best ribs anywhere in Georgia, period. And even better, you often got to take home zip lock bags of the extras. At one point, I had ribs for lunch every day one week when E.H. stocked the office refrigerator with leftovers.

So tonight, it is my sincere hope that E.H. is looking down on us all with a smile on his face. Perhaps we can count on a little divine intervention to help us with some of the challenges E.H. foresaw years ago that our state and region have still not addressed when it comes to economic development, rail, and road transportation.

Either way, there will never be another Elijah H. Culpepper, but we can rest well knowing he has imparted these leadership lessons over BBQ to hundreds of Georgians: ignore county lines, reach out to others, build coalitions, and most importantly, don't be afraid to conceive of a big idea and then work tirelessly to make it happen.