"R.E.M" Trestle

This wooden railroad trestle in Dudley Park is on the back cover of R.E.M.'s debut album, "Murmur." (Photo/Reynolds Rogers)

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission approved a preliminary design plan for the Firefly Bridge over Trail Creek — commonly known as the R.E.M. “Murmur” trestle — and tabled a Prosperity Package item until December during a voting meeting on Nov. 5.

Tuesday’s voting meeting brought decisions on various items discussed at recent agenda setting and work sessions, including items on the consent agenda approved at the Oct. 15 agenda setting meeting.

While the Commission approved the consent agenda with no items left off for discussion, the Firefly Bridge and Prosperity Package produced the most deliberation among the Commission and the public.

Three community members addressed concerns about the design not staying true to the original trestle, and one yelled and left the room near the end of the vote.

“The design proposed is beautiful, but it’s not our train trestle,” said resident Greg Bowdish.

District 6 Commissioner Jerry NeSmith presented a Commission Defined Option that aimed to give the designers of the bridge the opportunity to use more of the wood from the original trestle. The CDO did not pass but had support from District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker and District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link. NeSmith, Parker and Link voted against the item, but the seven other commissioners approved the measure.

The prosperity package also produced dissent and discussion among commissioners, ending in no consensus on the project and frustration on the process.

The agenda item was for the approval of two grant specialists to help obtain more resources for the package — a Memorandum of Understanding with Family-Connection Communities in Schools to administer a Neighborhood Leaders program and $800,000 to fund the Neighborhood Leaders Program.

However, the MOU was not sent to the Commission until after the meeting started, Link said. The desired direction produced heated debate amongst the commissioners.

District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton, who proposed the package with District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby, has stated at past meetings she did not want the prosperity package to be another social service program, but provide economic empowerment to people, something she said was missing on the current agenda item.

“I am not going to apologize for the terminology,” Thornton said. “We are not helping people when we just do handouts. We’re trying to do a hand-up. We’re trying to lift

people up.”

Thornton’s comment received applause from members in the audience.

Other commissioners such as Parker and District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson spoke of the need for a social service aspect in the prosperity package.

Parker said in order for people to organize and aspire to better opportunities, “baseline” needs such as food and clothing have to be met.

The Mayor and Commission greenlighted an intergovernmental agreement with the Athens Downtown Development Authority for a park at 125 E. Washington Street facing the Hot Corner Mural, as well as four measures authorizing federal public transit grant applications on its consent agenda.

The Commission approved an item to rename Trail Creek Park after Virginia Callaway-Cofer Walker, a local civil rights activist and community leader. The item was left off of the consent agenda at an Oct. 15 meeting to allow the Commission an opportunity to recognize Walker.

Elliott Walker, Walker’s eldest son, cried while thanking the Mayor and Commission, staff and the ACC community during public input.

“I want to give a special thanks to the community of Athens for what y’all did for my mother, I thank you,” Elliott Walker said. “Because I know what she did for the community and she didn’t do it for show. She did it from her heart, and that makes a difference.”

Parker read a short biography of Walker so members of the community could understand why it was “such an important measure” for the Commission to take. The park resides in Parker’s district.

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