Monday, November 30, 2009

Unintended Consequences

Want to get a better feel for what Georgia is going to be facing from a budgetary standpoint if the Democrats' Health Care Reform Bill passes? Be sure to read this Washington Times commentary from Lt. Governor Casey Cagle to understand what the bill could mean to Georgia and other states who already struggle to get the dollars they are promised for health care out of Washington (our local hospitals often then have to struggle to get the funds from the state).

While the President may claim that your federal taxes will not go up if the bill passes, you can bet your state ones will. A $2.4 billion unfunded mandate on top of an already stressed-to-the-breaking-point state budget will be a back breaker.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Clearing off the Desk

Highlights of what has crossed my desk this week.....
  • Like Tom Friedman, I too am a clean energy hawk. Read his column today and you'll wonder why our national chambers of commerce are so opposed to plans to make America less dependent on foreign oil. As I told the good folks at Beyond The Trestle, if Republicans could come up with any sort of responsible, environmental platform without it getting co-opted by big business, they would be able to grab a huge new demographic.
  • Atlanta has captured another high-profile telecom company -- the North American HQ of consolidating Sony Ericsson. Sony is known for its high profile sports sponsorships (see photo) and slick technology (see other photo). Word on the street is that even state officials were surprised by the announcement, which explains why no chambers of commerce or politicians had press conferences scheduled, quotes ready, or any data on the number of jobs coming to Atlanta or where they would be located. If the company moves to Gwinnett, it could be a positive for our region. With the opening of the Kia Plant in West Point and the moves of NCR and Sony Ericsson in the second half of 2009, this has turned out to be a solid year for Georgia's Department of Economic Development. It also highlights our own area's continued lack of focus and success in larger economic development efforts. Not that we would have a chance at a Sony Ericsson, but the point is that there are opportunities in recessions. Our opportunity is to fix our economic development infrastructure. I hope our leaders seize that opportunity.
  • Mayor Jeff Thomas has resigned in High Shoals. I only met Jeff a few times at political forums, and he seemed like a nice guy. But 18 years is a long time to serve anywhere. I hope this changing community can find some unity and move forward. With SPLOST funds come some opportunity to move forward on key initiatives. The best chronicle of all things High Shoals can be found at Councilman Steve Holzman's blog.
  • Peggy Noonan, as always, offers wisdom. I hope the President listens.
  • Those of you who want some free communications advice should be sure to read this column from Myra Blackmon. Some wisdom there.
  • State Rep. Doug McKillip and Spencer Frye deserve a lot of credit for pushing this idea to the forefront. It is something I first discussed with a group during Annette Nelson's failed campaign for Athens-Clarke Commission years ago, but no one really ever wrapped their arms around it. Finding a way to stop the erosion of aging apartments in Athens makes a lot of sense, and ReNew Athens seems to be a sound approach, especially with the expertise of Frye and Habitat for Humanity at the table.
  • I'm sorry, but the Barrow County Facebook teacher controversy is overwrought and unnecessary. They need to apologize, rehire the teacher, and allow this thing to disappear. See here and here for updates and interesting comments -- one likely theory is that the initial complaint e-mail was sent by a teacher, not a parent, and delivered from an anonymous e-mail address. Companies and organizations need to be sure their HR and marketing leaders understand social media before they start legislating it.
  • The new mayor of Hartwell got arrested for DUI. Not the best way to start.
  • One of the most demagogued pieces of health care reform has become end-of-life counseling. It's one of the few parts I like. Having tough conversations before you are on the operating table just makes sense. A massive amount of our overall health care costs are spent in the last 2-3 years of life. If this isn't what you want, you should have the opportunity to talk with your doctor and make that decision. A democrat tells the story rather effectively here.
  • Lee Becker provides an update on the courthouse situation and the new QuikTrip planned for the University Parkway/Oconee Connector intersection.
  • A couple of great books I have had the pleasure of reading lately if anyone is looking for some good non-fiction: Born to Run, The Wild Trees, and The Wise Men.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quite the Hoo Hah

Oconee County has its share of unique events, but we can always use a few more. I was fortunate to be a participant in one on Saturday that hopefully will become an annual tradition: the Bishop Backyard Hoo-Hah Half Marathon hosted by Amy and Bob Parrish.

I think the Hoo Hah is actually a first of sorts for Oconee. While we have had a few trail half marathons, to my knowledge we haven’t had a half marathon road race in Oconee. Fortunately for Oconee, Amy decided that instead of traveling to Atlanta for one the more well known half marathons (including the up coming Thanksgiving Day half), she and some family and friends would host their own.

Participants met at Amy’s house on New High Shoals road, quickly registered and traveled (via the trailer pictured) to the race start at the intersection of New High Shoals and Union Church Road. The route was scenic and flat – traversing country roads through Bishop, along Colham Ferry Road and back to Amy’s house. The energy of the 20+ participants was fantastic, as was the support crew, which provided water and encouragement all along the course.

The energy level was appropriate, since the definition Amy gave us for Hoo Hah was “an uproarious commotion.” While it’s hard to be uproarious in the middle of a 13 mile run, we all did our best. Finishers were greeted by enthusiastic young cheerleaders and seasoned volunteers, and everyone got to break the finish line tape. First prize was a pack of country ham, grits, and a coffee mug. First male finisher was Michael Williams of WOW Boot Camp fame; top female was Julie Osborne followed by former UGA all-american runner Erin Jones Repac.

An added bonus: the early start allowed everyone to enjoy beautiful weather and get back home without losing the entire day, as often happens for traditional long road races. Here’s to another Hoo Hah next year!!!!


Michael Williams 1:32:25

Brian Brodrick 1:32:26

Julie Osborne 1:51:20

Erin Repac 1:57:25

Tia Chandler 1:58:42

Jack Murray 2:00:42

Teena Wilhelm 2:05:06

David Ducan 2:08:14

Wade Shields 2:08:15

Melissa Pearson 2:09:33

Teresa Guthrie 2:12:11

Elizabeth Patrick 2:12:11

Tammy Gilland 2:12:11

Mary Carroll Murray 2:22:58

Holly Fowler 2:22:58

Deborah Dietzler 2:42:22

Amy Parrish DQ - I knowingly and purposefully cut off 0.30 miles of the race ....oops!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

All Over the Place

Several interesting things have crossed the desk today and yesterday I thought I would take a moment to share:

--Unemployment: Lotta publicity and talk going on about high rates of unemployment. Check out this interactive chart that the New York Times has put together. The secret to having a job -- a college education. Not a huge surprise, but this really throws it into relief, as does research by one of my company's clients, the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education. Of course, the chart doesn't account for "underemployment," which is a common problem in Athens, where your barista might have more degrees (but less ambition) than you.

--City Biz: Had a great city council meeting last night. One of the highlights was approving a new single family home on a vacant lot on South Main Street. An historic home on that lot was demolished several years ago without council approval, and the lot, while pretty, had sat vacant since. It was exciting to see a new family make a big investment on one of downtown Watkinsville's most historic corridors. We also approved several new business licenses for small businesses, approved one alcohol license, and tabled another. A work day is also planned by the Daughters of the American Revolution at the Watkinsville Cemetery. The DAR is also planning to begin the application process to get the cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places.

--Bulldawg Illustrated has produced a great video about Oconee County resident Brook Whitmire, the voice of the Bulldogs in Sanford Stadium.

--Oconee County has a proud tradition in distance running. One of the bedrocks of that tradition, Coach Gwen Peck, will attend her last cross country team banquet tonight at OCHS. Coach Peck has coached two state championship teams and done a wonderful job at Oconee through the years, nurturing runners great, good and average alike and teaching them lessons of character and compassion. One of her best athletes is featured in this week's Oconee Enterprise. A coach's legacy is often measured by much more than what happens on the field, and Coach Peck's will continue for many years to come with the successful student athletes she inspired, cajoled, and convinced to shine for Oconee.

--This weekend looks to be beautiful. If you're into landscaping (like I am), fall is the time for planting, especially for trees and shrubs. Water has been plentiful, and the soil is soft. Great plants are to be had at any number of our locally owned retail nurseries. Check them out -- some of my favorites are Land Arts (Monroe), Goodness Grows (Lexington), Outdoor Specialty (Watkinsville), Thyme after Thyme (Winterville), Thomas Orchard (Watkinsville), and Cofer's (Athens)!

--The Athens Symphony will perform its Winter Concert this Sunday at 4 p.m. The Symphony is one of the region's gems. Tickets are free and still available at the Classic Center. Information here and here. Full disclosure: my company does pro-bono work promoting the Symphony.

--Big congrats to Dr. Debra Harden and Mrs. Jean Bell for being inducted into the Oconee County school system hall of fame. I didn't know Mrs. Bell as an educator, but Dr. Harden was certainly a transformative presence for our schools in the early to late 1990s, and really helped establish Oconee's reputation for educational excellence.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reinventing Atlanta Highway

Friend Johnathan McGinty published a thoughtful piece on the challenges along Atlanta Highway and possible solutions in Sunday's Athens Banner Herald. Many people do not realize that the Atlanta Highway corridor (from Big Lots to past Georgia Square Mall) probably has more jobs and retail square feet than the rest of Athens combined. It is a big economic engine tax wise and for out of town shopping given its proximity to Jackson, Barrow and Oconee counties as well.

Two of the ideas he focuses on are Community Improvement Districts and Tax Allocation Districts. While the tools have different uses (and can be used in tandem at times, although not always), each essentially allows political and private sector leaders to find new revenue streams to jump start infrastructure and planning improvements in designated districts. CIDs rely on a voluntary levy on current property owners; TADs allow for bonds to be issued to install infrastructure that will allow a blighted or under-developed area to be redeveloped. Those bonds are then repaid with the increased tax revenues as the designated area's property tax base increases.

My company works with several CIDs and has helped TAD supported projects in Atlanta, so I am a big supporter these ideas in general. For whatever reasons, local economic development leadership has not seen fit to remove this tool from the economic development toolbox in the Classic City.

Johnathan does a good job of articulating the potential positives: leveraging private funds to get significant public dollars, new streetscapes, public safety improvements, rising property values, potential transit, infrastructure investment, coordinated planning, etc.

Two take aways from the article:

1) One of the commenters says that "those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it." He or she is exactly right. In Oconee, we have the opportunity to learn from Atlanta Highway (and countless other examples in Georgia) and not repeat those mistakes. We can and should require higher-quality buildings, require long lasting trees, develop a different type of street grid that accomodates uses besides big boxes, etc. in our retail zones. Otherwise, as our retail infrastructure expands, the older properties will decay much sooner than we realize.

2) As you can tell by the comments in the article, the most visceral Athens and anti-Athens folks want nothing to change. This is the danger of listening to these types of feedback channels. The fact is, Athens -- rightly or wrongly -- created the mess that is Atlanta Highway. The question is 1) why is that area consistenly ignored by the leadership in Athens (too big a problem to tackle? no voters in the commercial districts?) and 2) what can be done to improve it. A CID would activate the private sector to work on solutions, as opposed to relying on government.

CIDs have been proven as good approaches (assuming you define improving run down retail and commercial areas as good). However, Athens is a different animal. For one thing, I'm not sure that Athens political classes will be comfortable allowing self taxing and relinquishing direct control of the wide ranging improvements a CID can make.

I'm also not sure there is the same type of private sector leadership on the Atlanta Highway corridor that drives and motivates the most successful CIDs in Atlanta, which are found in Buckhead, the Cumberland District, Midtown Alliance, North Fulton, and the Perimeter area.

However, these hurdles are easily overcome if local and regional leadership decides to make "fixing" Atlanta Highway a priority, and embracing an area that is of vital importance to the future of the region.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A First for Oconee?

There are landmark moments for communities. Times when you know you have made it from the backwoods to the big time. From the outhouse to the big house. It appears as if one of those is tomorrow.

Yes, the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile will be in greater Watkinsville at the Athens Area Humane Society tomorrow. The Humane Society recently moved to Oconee from Athens-Clarke to reduce costs and in the wake of a split with the ACC government over their desire to become a no-kill shelter. Details are below; you can also keep up with the Wienermobile at its blog and via twitter at @wienermobile.

>Please join us THIS Thursday, November 5th from 10 AM - 4 PM, and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. There will be prizes, giveaways, adoptions, games, AAHS merchandise for sale, and of course, HOT DOGS!!!

Show your support, visit the animals, and tour the Wienermobile at the AAHS Center at 1781 Mars Hill Road in Watkinsville. All donations will go directly to the animals at AAHS.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Here and There

A few things that are coming up today:

  • The Oconee County Board of Commissioners will once again discuss regional economic development tonight at 6 p.m. at the Oconee County courthouse in advance of their regular meeting. Most business leaders, chambers of commerce, business writers, and state economic development officials are in favor of the regional approach, and wonder why we haven't done it already. But there are several Oconee County commissioners and some long time residents with fears of Athens who can't get comfortable with the concept, and it could cost us jobs in the future. (Full disclosure: I was a part of the group that visited regions around the state to see how they structure their economic development plans and assisted with the drafting of the regional economic development plan, so you know where my loyalties lie). Coverage found here, here, here, here and here. Wendell Dawson counsels caution here. Many in Oconee want "more time" to study the proposal, which has been discussed for 18 months and been on the table for more than nine months now. This desire for more talking is a a good segue to our next point....
  • .... which is a great blog post from Blake on the parking deck in Athens. It is indeed a tradition, not just in Athens, to have citizens weigh in at the last minute on a community changing project after ignoring it for years. People, please weigh in early on things.
  • Election day in High Shoals. Check out Small Town Politics for the scoop.
  • Holly Ward is taking on Keith Heard for the district 114 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. I have met with Holly and really like her. She has some strong ideas and sending someone to the Gold Dome with experience in education would be good for Athens. However, I'm not sure firing a shot across the bow of Georgia Power is the wisest way to kick off a campaign, even for a Democrat in Athens.
  • Interesting top 10 list on Georgia's transportation future from Benita Dodd at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. I agree with much of the piece (especially the need to consider technology, variable tolling and freight), except the author's knee jerk opposition to transit. While I agree that the proposed Lovejoy line will be a disastrous waste of funds, the Brain Train concept -- with destinations at both ends and a spine along growing, populated areas -- will succeed for all the opposite reasons and makes a lot of sense.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Change in Routine

Most Sunday mornings at casa Brodrick involve a consistent, if sometimes hectic, routine: up for an early morning bike ride (weather allowing), then get the kids ready for church, off to Sunday School and service at Athens First Methodist, and then home (or pick something up) for lunch.

Today was a little different. For those who don't know, I have been focusing on exercising and diet for the past few months in an effort to shed a few pounds. So far, so good. Early last week, I decided I wanted to see how things were progressing and I thought the 3rd annual Toys for Tots half marathon on trails at Heritage Park in Farmington might be a good barometer, and a good way to stretch out my long run by a few more miles. Susan graciously agreed to let me mess with our routine and give it a try, so at 10 a.m. this morning I lined up with about 80 other runners for a 13.1 mile run through the woods.

Heritage Park is one of Oconee County's best kept secrets, and that is a shame. I think a lot of people think of it as the place where the giant Easter Egg hunt is rather than a park for year-round use. Perhaps that is the nature of a park that largely involves passive uses, but I wish more people would get out to the woods of Heritage. Heritage features more than eight miles of heavily wooded, undulating terrain criss-crossed by single track trails suitable for running, hiking, or mountain biking. The trails border creeks, touch the Apalachee River, and pass by old homesites. Today, the park was stunning -- creeks were bubbling, leaves floated from trees like red and yellow confetti, and the temperatures were perfect.

As I ran along those trails today, I wondered again why more Republicans don't embrace the ethos of Teddy Roosevelt and become more aggressive about establishing parks -- particularly passive areas -- in their platforms and when elected to office. I can't tell you how many Republicans I know who are pretty doggone green -- they just disagree with pretty much everything else about the Democratic platform. Personally, I find Republican pandering to corporations on environmental issues the thing that frustrates me the most about my own party.

On a local level, three of Melvin Davis' lasting legacies in Oconee County will be the improvements to Heritage Park that have occurred during his tenure, the growth and professionalism of Oconee Parks and Recreation Department, and the establishment of Veterans Park along Hog Mountain Road. In Watkinsville, we're planning $250,000 worth of improvements to Harris Shoals Park. Currently, Watkinsville and Oconee County are jointy funding, along with the Department of Community Affairs, a greenway and trail planning study that could provide a road map for future trail development in our communties. Wouldn't it be great to connect our parks and green spaces with a network of pedestrian and bike pathways?

Anyway, back to the present. It was a beautiful day for running, and athletes from across Georgia were in Oconee County to try out our trails. Among them were 10-15 Marines, and other troops were stationed along the course offering encouragement, handing out water, and providing direction. It felt a little weird to watch men who put their lives on the line for our country giving back by volunteering at a small road race, but their service today and their commitment to the Toys for Tots program is a great example of the good our troops do here at home.

I managed to run the distance -- the longest I have run by 25 minutes -- but as I write, my legs feel like they have been beaten by a baseball bat. Repeatedly. Calves and Quads. Hammys and hips. Achilles and illiotibial. I'll be limping tomorrow.

But whether you want to ride, hike, walk or run, fall is the perfect time to get out and try out these great trails in Oconee County. Heritage is located on 441 South about 10 minutes from Watkinsville -- give it a try!