03 May Richie Knight Unveils a 21 Point Strategy for Athens
Athens, GA – Richie Knight, candidate for Mayor, recently released his 21-point plan offering real solutions for a more prosperous Athens-Clarke County. As an outsider and small business owner, Knight has a fresh perspective on running an effective local government that will serve all of our community.
1. Consolidate Offices & Remove Red-Tape
Relocate planning department to a more accessible part of Athens. In building out a new office, design both the location and processes to serve as a central intake point for all new development projects. Eliminate additional steps for developers and businesses by assigning one point of contact and one tracking system.
2. Create New Development Strategy
Cities the size of Athens are attracting a combination of corporate headquarters, manufacturing, regional distribution centers and technology-based startups. It is time that Athens truly becomes a competitive option. Within year one, Knight would champion a true economic development strategy that works for Athens, one that attracts industries that our community can actually support. In his first four years of being elected mayor, Knight has set a goal to bring in 20 new corporate headquarters that offer a variety of positions that would be able to benefit every member of our community.
3. Combine Government Department with Chamber of Commerce
During the search for a new president and this transitional period at the local Chamber, Knight believes combining the efforts of the Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Department within the Athens-Area Chamber of Commerce would lead to more effective means of attracting the right businesses that will offer quality jobs for all Athenians. The new priorities for the Chamber should be providing resources for small businesses, lobbying for business interest to local government, attracting high quality employers, hosting job fairs, connecting students with local employers and continuing to make Athens-Clarke County conducive to do business in.
4. Incentivize Employers to Pay Living Wages to Their Employees
Bringing any business is not always a good business plan. Knight strongly believes everyone should have access to a living wage. As Mayor, he would only provide tax incentives to businesses willing to adopt a living wage for all their employees. This would help alleviate the poverty cycle for many families and make sure our local businesses are community-conscious.
5. Expand Infrastructure
Much of the zoned land for Commercial, Employment or Industrial (CEI) has limited infrastructure for future use. Only 68% of this land has both water and sewage access. Knight advocates for expanded utility access to all of this available land, in an effort to package these properties in an enticing way for commercial developers. He also wants to see sewage access expanded throughout Athens-Clarke County to meet the needs of citizens outside of the in-town corridors.
6. Create a Skills Gap Commission
Develop a “Skills Gap Commission”, which would bring together local employers with our non-profits, social services, and education stakeholders: Clarke County School District, Athens Technical College, Piedmont College, University of North Georgia and University of Georgia. Knight hopes to act as an honest broker between these parties so that Athens can streamline employment and build a skilled workforce.
7. Summer Employment Programs
Every high school student should have a chance at gaining work experience through a summer job. Knight wants to guarantee at least 500 available jobs to high school students at CCSD, each summer. He believes that these students need every opportunity to earn work experience, certifications/training, and social capital.
8. Mayor’s Women of Athens Taskforce
Establish a taskforce to advise the Mayor and Commission on how to create policies that can close gender gaps, promote safety, empower women, and develop healthy environments for families to grow. It is time for Athens to truly begin to remove the visible and invisible barriers for women in our community. Knight hopes to assemble a diverse group of women to serve as advocates who would dedicate time to researching issues that affect our women and our families. These women could then use their expertise to advise our local government on how to solve those challenges.
9. Expand Transit Routes to All Major Employers
Prioritize any Athens Transit System updates to include lines that service major employers. Expanding our public transportation would address two issues: One, the expansion would help cut our carbon footprint by reducing the number of cars on the road. Two, the expansion would open new employment possibilities for members of our community who do not have access to private transportation.
10. Property Tax Freeze for Seniors
As home values continue to rise, our local government should ensure that seniors are protected and able to stay in their homes. Knight proposes that a commission committee determine the best income qualifications for a tax freeze for those 65 and older. He would like to see Athens build a program similar to other similar cities in size. Under this program citizens may apply for a tax freeze.
11. Establish a Workforce Housing Trust Fund
Establish a Workforce Housing Trust Fund by collecting payments from non-taxable entities in lieu of taxes. For example, the University of Georgia is exempt from property taxes because of its land-grant status. Counties collect most of their revenue from property taxes, and one of the largest landholders not contributing has severely crippled our county’s budget. This fund would fix portions of this problem and give local government leverage to incentivize developers and ability to control the fate of outdated properties as they become available so they do not become derelict or hubs for criminal activity.
12. Build a Housing Master Plan
Build a Housing Master Plan that will provide a pathway to protect long-term homeowners from student-housing growth, and ensure multi-family dwellings are being built for city residents and not just students. Ultimately, this plan will add array of new options for long-term renters who have become frustrated with the amount of housing designated towards students. The needs of long-term residents and the student population can be balanced.
13. Prioritize Funding Increases for Public Safety
Fast-track implementation of ACCPD Strategic Plan by providing additional funding. Knight fully supports the Department’s move towards Community Oriented Policing and knows that it takes adequate funding to be effective. Athens-Clarke County has not added a new position to our force in over a decade. He would like to not only see that change, but begin to provide the salary increases that our dedicated public servants deserve for the work they do in our community.
14. Parallel Ordinance for Possession Charges
Present a parallel ordinance plan to commissioners that eliminate mandatory jail time as a penalty for a conviction of possession of one ounce or less marijuana. As well as a strategy for a full-scale education campaign that would detail out how the public would be notified of this ordinance. Knight stands firm on letting people know that possession would still be illegal under state law, but this would give ACCPD an option to offer a fine versus mandatory jail time and such an ordinance would not apply to UGAPD, State Troopers, or any other law enforcement entity.
15. Anti-Discrimination Policies
Model a Human Relations Committee similar to the one established by the City of Atlanta with the necessary ordinances to hold violators accountable. This committee would be tasked with hearing and investigating complaints of discrimination and make recommendations on how to resolve such complaints. Knight will also hold staff and commissioners accountable for providing necessary resources to the LGBTQ* community. From racial profiling to religious discrimination, there is no place for hate in Athens-Clarke County.
16. Youth Master Plan
Take the advice of the National League of Cities and create a Youth Master Plan that would serve as a comprehensive and effective agenda for children and youth in Athens-Clarke County. For example, ensuring summer jobs are available in order to give Athens teens alternatives to gangs, a source of income, and job experience. Knight would use this plan to also identify where additional libraries and community centers should be located. Additionally, the plan would further develop programs for underserved communities, like Grand Slam, with adequate corporate sponsorship.
17. Coordinate Support for School Board
Establish an education committee made up of our Commissioners and Board of Education members that meets monthly to discuss the needs of our teachers, students, and schools. By closer working together, we can better target problem areas to improve multiple areas of our schools, such as reading levels, school safety, teacher retention and performance, and student success post-graduation.
18. Fully Fund a County-Wide Reading Program
Current reading levels in Athens-Clarke County leave much to be desired, and our local government needs to play a proactive role in solving this systemic problem. Knight proposes that Athens-Clarke County and the Clarke County School District fully fund the local division of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. This will provide children under the age of 5 a brand new age-appropriate book each month by mail. This program fosters a love for reading in preschool children and increases family engagement.
Accountability & Transparency
19. Government Scorecards
Citizens should have the ability to measure the success of local government and should have that ability at their fingertips. Knight proposes that Athens-Clarke County launch a balanced scorecard framework, where citizens will be able to interact with monthly departmental progress and track actions completed with the Comprehensive Plan. He wants to see elected officials operate with more transparency and take strides in simplifying the citizen input process.
20. Athens Mobile App
It is time for Athens-Clarke County to embrace the 21st century. Knight’s plan for a mobile app would increase government effectiveness, transparency, and accessibility. Many cities across the Nation have adopted similar apps with great success. Such an app would allow citizens to report issues ranging from potholes and graffiti to illegal dumpings to officials, while also offering city service and public meeting reminders. More civic engagement will only serve to better our community.
21. Citizens Audit Committee
Create and regularly convene a citizen-driven taskforce to make recommendations to the Mayor & Commission on what policies/ordinances should be changed and spending can be cut. Knight’s plan for a task force such as this one would work alongside our current charter review committee.