Audrey Hughes: “Supporting All People”

Both candidates for the Athens-Clarke County District 1 commission seat visited Cedar Shoals High School for a press conference with BluePrints staff. The sessions have been transcribed and published for voters’ consideration. See the other interview with Patrick Davenport here on Election day is Tuesday May 24. 

Can you describe the role of a county commissioner?

The role of a county commissioner is to advocate for his or her district working with other commissioners and the Mayor to come up with solutions that benefit everyone. The primary goal is to advocate for the constituents in the district.

What caused you to be interested in local politics and running for a commission seat?

I’ve been a teacher on the inside for years and there are things that frustrate me as an educator and community member. Local elections are a great place to start to get my feet wet and decide if this is something I want to pursue further. I’m giving it a try and I’m gonna see what happens. 

Can you tell us about your history in Athens and District 1?

I live on the East side. I taught at Hilsman (Middle) for eight years. For this year and the last year I moved to Clarke Middle for a different opportunity. I’m doing the gifted work at Clarke Middle. It was just an opportunity to do something different. A lot of you are familiar with the extracurricular stuff that I do so it’s a great fit. I’m connected to the East side. I live here, I’ve worked here for a decade and I’m connected to lots of projects.

You’ve worked in education for over 30 years. How does your experience as a teacher influence your ideas for District 1?

One of the big things that’s an issue is youth development. Who better to work with youth development than a teacher who’s been working with kids for 30 years in cocurricular activities that have been highly successful? I’ve been doing quality programming with young people for years. I coordinated the afterschool program at Hilsman and I was a girl scout leader for 10 years in East Tennessee. And although science and the environment is my thing I know that it may not be everyone’s which is why I think we need to recognize kids’ diverse interests.

I think the best way for us to offer a variety of programs for kids is to partner with CCSD. We need to bring the programs to the kids at the schools. It’s great that the programs are in the community but we need them in the schools too. Lots of kids don’t have transportation so we can’t reach them if they can’t get there. They are already at school so all we would need to do is get a bus to take them home after the program. 

I would also advocate for a youth center. I know I had one growing up. Teachers looking for extra money could work it, and it would be open to students and children in the area. They could come on weekends, hang out and watch movies for free. We’ve got UGA down the street with wonderful people there who want to help our kids. I think partnerships need to be developed and we need to work for all the kids in this community. 

A large part of your campaign is centered around environmental work and protection. What are some of the policies regarding the environment would you want to put in place if elected to the commission?

Let’s encourage pollinators on the roadsides, they’ve done some great jobs with the daffodil projects and wildflower areas. I’d like to see more of those. Our pollinators are in decline and we’re dependent on those to live. Pollinators are how we get fruits, vegetables and everything up the food chain is dependent on those things to live to.

I think we need to change what we do on the sides of our roads and our medians. Let’s plant more wildflowers. Right now I’m doing an experiment along the back of my neighborhood. We’ve got a pollinator project going so we’re planting native wildflowers to keep year round color and keep pollinators fed year round. So it’s kind of an experiment and it’s being funded by individual homeowners. Right now we have seven homeowners in the neighborhood who signed up. So I think that’s a start where we lead by example, and we encourage these kinds of things and show people that yes, it can be successful, it can look good and be good for the environment as well. 

Your website states you believe in fully funding the police. Could you explain your stance on law enforcement and the role they play? 

We need to fully fund law enforcement. I think we’re coming out of a pandemic and we’re seeing people that are making some bad choices when they interact with others. So I don’t think this is the time to pull back on our funding. Sometimes you have to pay a little money upfront for things to be better off in the long run.

We also need to focus on proactive measures to reduce crime before it happens. I think community policing is a great way to do that. We need to have the police more visible in the community and helping out at functions.

Next I think we need to do a better job in this county of supporting victims of crime and domestic abuse. That’s something that I’ve had some personal experience with and I think Athens-Clarke County has room for improvement. We need a resource center where people could go there to victims of other types of crimes as well. They need support.

Your opponent mentioned the importance of access to emergency services in District 1. Can you share some of your thoughts on that?

With emergency services, I do hear from potential constituents that they don’t get ambulance services quickly enough. That’s something we need to look into and work on. We need to make sure everybody in the county feels that if they needed to call 911 for an ambulance that they were all seen and heard and taken care of in a timely manner. 

Davenport and I are in agreement that there should be a hospital on the East side. Because that would be improving access to emergency services and healthcare. For example, my daughter who was dealing with epilepsy episodes during the pandemic. I was able to maneuver into my car most times and I didn’t want to call the ambulance because it was so expensive. So we would have to drive all the way across town to the West side and those were scary times. 

District 1 voters view housing affordability as a pressing issue. How do you plan on addressing this concern if elected to the commission? 

We are in a housing shortage. All the housing values are higher and the cost of moving is also very high. Honestly I don’t know that there are any solutions because the crisis is affecting everybody that is not independently wealthy. 

I would say let’s roll back the millage rate and let’s use some of the rescue plan funds. We’ve got to let the housing and building industries catch up with demand, and that will happen eventually. 

What are some ideas regarding District 1 you would propose or support if elected to the commission ?

Metro Atlanta is spreading this way. I think we need to keep our green spaces, but we’ve also got to accommodate future growth. And I think there’s a way to do that. We need to keep 30% of Athens green. I think we need to build taller buildings in certain places. And when we do, we need to have incorporated green spaces so everybody can have the luxury that I do where I can walk out my back door and I’m in a green space.

When I announced my candidacy within 30 minutes I got an email from a woman saying we need free lift services. Regular lift services are free but the ACC lift services for handicapped people are not. We’ve got people in rural Clarke County who are not on the bus line. And right now people with disabilities are having to pay for the service. We are voting on a TSPLOST and free lift services for them is something that I would like to see added. 

I also think there is a lot more with tourism that we should be doing. Athens Clarke County is a neat town. I grew up in the south part of the state and whenever we were going to Rock Eagle camp we would take a detour to Athens. A lot of different groups would do that as well just because Athens is our flagship university town. I always thought Athens was amazing with the beautiful old homes and neat structures. There are things we could do with that. We should incorporate a storytelling festival. Recently another teacher and I worked together to coordinate a field trip to some historic sites around Athens that are important in the African American community. We had lots of speakers visit with us and talk to the students. It was phenomenal. We’ve got a lot of potential and hidden gems for tourism. 

You mentioned conversations you’ve had with senior citizens of District 1. Can you tell us more about that?

As I’ve been campaigning I’ve heard a lot about the needs of senior citizens. I think we have in some ways as a community forgotten about senior citizens. I think we need to work harder to engage them in the community. Let’s have some programs for them. I know that Athens Council on Aging does a great job but I think we could work with UGA. We have a lot of poor old folks in this town. I went to a concert at Hodgkins Concert Hall, a UGA facility, and there were empty seats everywhere. It would not be difficult for UGA, if those seats are not sold the day of the event, to go to a local nursing home, put them on a bus and take them to fill those seats. It would not cost them anything. And those people who are able to enjoy the concert for free would be delighted. 

A lot of our senior citizens do get taken advantage of by business people who are not quite honest. When they call contractors out sometimes they will have them paying two or three times more than someone who knows a little bit about these jobs. We need to have some regularly occurring series of home improvement self help DIY sessions for people to learn.

What makes you different from the other candidate Patrick Davenport and why should the people of District 1 vote for you?

I’ve been an educator for 30 years and most of my career I’ve worked in high poverty schools. In these schools I’ve had youth development programs, and a lot of my former students have gone on to talk about their experiences in middle school being pivotal to their lives. Because of my experience, I think I bring a good perspective if Clarke County is making a push towards youth development. If they’re talking about sustainable growth and development, I’m somebody who’s been working with those things for my entire lifetime. I’ve had to balance the environment with the need to earn a living. I grew up doing that, and when I moved to East Tennessee on my farm I worked in humane ways. There’s a way to balance your needs with environmental needs, and I think I have those strengths.

I’m learning a lot more about the business world, and I’ve got seven months to learn a lot more. I think if you’re a rational human who’s willing to learn, you can get there. I do think as far as economic development my role as a science person will be crucial. I think I bring a unique quality to the commission; there’s a lot of business people on the commission and I’m learning to keep up with them and go in and make good decisions.

Is there anything else you would like District 1 voters to know about you?

I will be honest with you all, and I will do my best. If there’s something I’m not doing right, or something that you don’t like, tell me. I’ve taken criticism for 30 years of my life, and I’ve got a tough skin. As a commissioner I’d like to send out a monthly newsletter or blog to give everyone information. I’d love to communicate regularly with my constituents in any form or fashion. I’m not one of those politicians who will hang up on you. I want the government to be transparent, and if I make a decision and you disagree with it I’d love to talk about it. I’m accustomed to communicating with a lot of people. 

I think that we need to embrace everybody with compassion and impartiality. Everybody lives here and everyone deserves the right to live their life how they want to. Whatever your race or gender, let’s embrace you. I’m not here to judge. We are here to take care of each other.

Ikeoluwa Ojo

Senior Ikeoluwa Ojo is the News Editor during her third year with BluePrints. She is interested in pursuing a career in Childhood Education, social work or law. Ojo is well rounded within the school with activities such as volleyball and co-founding of the Minority Excellence club. She also enjoys art in her free time. This year she hopes to create more stories that students find interesting as she appreciates the fast pace of the journalism class.