Leading up to passing the expansive Prosperity Package in mid-2019, a $4 million initiative to reduce poverty in Athens through various programs, incumbent District 10 commissioner Mike Hamby spent a lot of time working with other commissioners and attending meetings to bring the package into fruition.
However, he spent the majority of his time listening to peoples’ struggles in-person or via email.
“You recognize how life is so short and you want to make sure people have a good life,” Hamby said. “When you hear the stories of people going through a hard time, it makes you impatient to want to help get the problem solved so that they’re not having a hard time.”
Under the banner of “Athens Strong,” Hamby is running for the District 10 seat of the Athens-Clarke County commission to ensure Athens is a “skilled, engaged, livable and fair community.”
With over a decade of commission experience under his belt, Hamby has outlined over 40 policy proposals and ideas on his campaign’s platform to improve life in Athens — ranging from creating a small minority business development center, to establishing a “creative incubator” to support local artists.
For his past work and future goals, Hamby said he’s always looking for partnerships, whether with individuals or organizations, to bring ideas and plans to fruition and pass them through the commission.
“It’s not just name-dropping the partnerships,” Hamby said. “If I want to get something done, then I need to work with people in order to get it done.”
Policy and partnerships
To help ensure “Athens is working for everyone,” Hamby said he wants to establish a small minority business center to aid existing and start-up minority-owned businesses. The center would offer legal services, business training, marketing assistance and other types of services.
Hamby said the center could be financed with grant money, through partnerships with organizations and programs like ACC Economic Development Department, or by utilizing public funds.
Hamby said he wants to establish creative incubators to foster local artists, such as creating a kitchen-type facility for culinary artists and an area to paint for visual artists. The spaces would be financed through similar means as the small minority business center.
The spaces would exist inside the government-owned buildings surrounding City Hall, which are currently being used to house several of the county’s municipal departments, such as central services and public utilities. Thanks to the 2020 SPLOST Facilities Space Modernization Project, Hamby said such departments will be housed in future municipal buildings and courthouse in the next few years.
“One of the things I’ve learned on the commission is that everything kind of works together … you get one piece done, and it makes another piece possible,” Hamby said.
One of the programs the Prosperity Package outlines funds for hiring 16 neighborhood leaders across the county. Leaders help impoverished residents access multiple services and resources — such as food stamps, job opportunities and quality child care — and provide insight to the Athens Mayor and Commission about systemic barriers to escaping poverty. Hamby said the neighborhood leaders were an important aspect of the package.
“A lot of times … the focus we’ve had here in Athens is painting a broad brush about poverty, and how it needs to be fixed. And sometimes that broad brush doesn’t include individual stories,” Hamby said. “And hopefully the neighborhood leaders get at the individual stories to hear what the individual needs [are], as far as poverty goes.”
Hamby also worked with former District 7 Commissioner Kathy Hoard on a number of projects during her years on the commission, such as collaborating with the Oconee County Commission to plan and construct the Athens Caterpillar Plant in 2012, which brought over 1,000 jobs to the area.
Hoard first met Hamby when he was working his way through college in the ’90s at the University of Georgia, waiting tables at Provino’s Italian Restaurant.
“The best thing I think he brings to the [commission] is his ability to work with and for a very eclectic group of people,” Hoard said. “I’ve seen him in action when we’ve worked on zoning issues or community-wide issues, and he welcomes input from everyone, and takes it to heart and listen.”
In 2017, Hamby worked with St. Ives Homeowners Association President Jane Sullivan and other nearby community members to develop a corridor safety study of Epps Bridge Parkway. Prompted by several zoning requests to allow for high-density housing development and a commercial bank in the area, community members were concerned about the development’s impact on their neighborhoods.
Hamby worked with community members due to their concerns about the development, leading to the corridor study. He said the Mayor and Commission will review the study later this year.
Sullivan said she appreciates how fast Hamby responds to emails and phone calls, calling him a “real partner” to the homeowner’s association.
“My friends in Atlanta are amazed that I have a government official that will answer the phone,” Sullivan said. “That’s one of the great joys living in a smaller town and in District 10 as well, because Hamby is very hands-on with the community.”
Hamby was first elected to office in 2008 and ran unopposed in the 2012 and the 2016 elections. This year, he faces challenger Knowa Johnson, an event producer and community organizer, in the election.
However, Hamby said his decision to run wasn’t about him.
“It’s not about me … I hope it’s the right move for the district because I think I’ve been effective at getting stuff done,” Hamby said. “The same sort of passion that drove me to the community service then still feels quite alive.”
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the timeframe of the Prosperity Package and details surrounding the Epps Bridge Parkway corridor study. The Red & Black regrets these errors.