Patrick Davenport: “Building Bridges”

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 Audrey Hughes here on Election day is Tuesday May 24. 

Can you describe the role of a county commissioner?

What we do is create and craft policies that affect our local lives. Our main job is to do budgets. We finance the police department and the fire department. We also finance the streets, the roads, the parks and all the services when it comes to street cleaning and new parks. I’ve been lucky to be District 1 Commissioner for three years and four months now.

How did you get interested in local politics?

As I was getting older, I started to see a difference in the policy making and the direction that Athens was going. I wanted to give back to my community by becoming a commissioner and actually affecting the policies that are taking place in Athens-Clarke County. 

You were elected to the county commission in 2018. Could you share some things you’ve accomplished since then?

One of the things I’ve worked on that I’m very proud of is having the landfill placed next to my family’s property tested, since over the course of 20 years about 12 of my relatives have died from cancer. One of the things I worked on was providing redress to those individuals. We got an independent consultant to come out to take a look at the soil, do air quality tests and water testing. And then we’re also going to do community outreach to educate the individuals and find out ways that the county as well as residents can work together if they find anything.

As a whole as a community, we have worked on affordable housing, and we have more parks in play. We have the North Downtown Development (Project) taking place. We have a whole bunch of TSPLOST projects taking place. Also, recycling is a lot better because of my colleagues and I. There is a long laundry list of good things that I believe that we have done to benefit our community.

You attended schools in the Clarke County School District and graduated from Cedar Shoals as well as the University of Georgia. Can you share about your history in Athens and how it affects the ideas and policies you create and support?

Growing up in Athens, I understood the neighborhoods, I saw the growth and the development. I saw the businesses that work and some of the businesses that didn’t work. I use that history to help me decide what’s best for Athens-Clarke County. Because if stuff didn’t work in the past it’s not going to work in the future. I believe that history of growing up here and going to school here, knowing some of the families and some of the business leaders and the people in the community helps me craft policy that hopefully works best for everybody.

We know that you are a part of the Economic Justice Coalition, and run the Peachy Clean Cleaning Service. How do you think  these positions translate to county commision/city government?

What we do with Economic Justice Coalition is voter registration and voter empowerment. We educate the voters on the importance of why you need to vote. And we also educate the voters on some of the policies that are of importance like health care benefits and the living wage.

I’ve always been an advocate of a living wage. Peachy Clean actually pays about $17-18 an hour. Some of my fellow Commissioners and I have helped the county actually increase the minimum wage from $13 to $15 (an hour). Because we want everybody in the county who works to have a starting wage of $15 an hour.

Your 2022 platform on your website prioritizes public safety. Can you share some about that? 

Unfortunately in years past we have had this movement to defund the police and that was a national movement. A lot of my family members and friends actually work for the police and sheriff’s department and for the fire department. I believe that our police services provide an essential service for our community and are well needed. However, we need to think holistically of a new approach for how policing needs to be done.

I’ll continue to support the police department, but also provide more mental health services in our community through various behavioral health programs with our community partners. 

The best way to do that is to continue to research and provide funds for those programs and do research to make sure they are effective.

What would you say are some of the shortcomings you believe are in the police department right now? What would you like to see change in terms of policy and operation?

The morale in our police department is low. It’s hard to recruit police officers. They’re often criticized and ridiculed and their pay has not been (good), based on the type of work that they do. I  would love to boost their morale.

The police should just stick to crime and burglary, sexual assaults, traffic control, UGA games and things like that. I think that’s what people signed up for when they became police officers. They didn’t need to start doing social services type of work.  We need to continue to work with our different organizations that are ready to go to work in a more effective way when it comes to a more holistic approach of addressing the needs in our community. 

I think that working with our community partners is the best way to reduce the burden and the workload and increase the strength of our police department.

Your 2022 platform also prioritizes affordable housing. Can you share about that?

I am a supply-demand type of person. The more housing we have, the lower the cost will be because the demand won’t be so high. We have the inclusionary zoning policy that we just passed that will actually help with affordable housing. We are incentivizing the developers to use some of our vacant lots and vacant spaces, as well as rolling back some of the codes that we have that will be restrictive, that will help developers build affordable housing in our county. We just passed a policy to build more neighborhoods. We had some restrictions in place that prohibited neighborhood building, but we passed some policies that encourage just more neighborhood development. I believe that the more homes we have the lower costs would be. 

You mentioned the importance of making sure voters weren’t silenced. Can you tell us what you’ve done to help prevent that?

We’ve got a lot of people in our community who don’t read the newspaper and don’t pay attention to local politics. All they do is work. One of the things that I’ve done is reach out to those communities, build those networks and get those phone numbers. Whenever there’s a legal policy that’s going to get passed I call them and educate them. I do that because sometimes the silent voices are the majority versus the loudest voice. You need everyone’s input If you want to create a better community. 

In March 2020 you were the only commissioner to vote against the gathering limit due to COVID-19, then in July 2020 you were the only commissioner to vote against closing bars at 10 p.m. Could you share some context behind these decisions?

I’m in the service industry and during COVID there were a lot of downtown restaurants and bar owners that were actually following the CDC recommended guidelines. I am a person who grew up in poverty and I understood the fact that there are people out there who were well intentioned, and do the best they can to make some money and to keep food on the table. I wanted to keep those businesses open. From a community perspective I felt it was not right to hurt all the businesses when only some were doing wrong.

A big part of your opponent’s campaign is environmental activism. What environmental work have you done as a commissioner? 

One of the policies I’ve worked on alone is that any county event must use biodegradable or recyclable material. For example at AthFest they are going to have aluminum cans and plastic wear. Any ACC event funded through the county is going to have reusable plates and cups. This is something that was passed two years ago and I’m very proud of. 

What environmental work do you plan on continuing if reelected?

Composting and continuing the efforts of working with our community partners to make sure that we understand the benefits of composting. Currently the landfill in district one is affecting my family. I’m trying to reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill. We did provide more money in our TSPLOST to build a new recycling center as well as continuing to work with UGA and our community partners to continue to educate the public on the proper way to recycle and the benefits of recycling. I am also currently the chair of the solid waste advisory committee.

What do you have to say to voters that are skeptical about you and your campaign in light of your DUI?

I am accepting of my responsibility. People make mistakes in life. What my lawyer told me was there were more prominent people in my shoes and because of who they were they never saw a day in court. The judge even recognized the fact that there have been other people who made mistakes and just didn’t own up to them.

It has been a lesson learned and I understand I have lost a lot of support. I understand that people have the stigma about my incident. Being a Black man, recidivism is very high for people who make mistakes like me. It’s hard for people who look like me to get up when they fall down. 

I have the courage and faith that hopefully the voters will forgive me. If they don’t I completely understand. I always tell people to just pray for me. It takes a lot of courage for me to knock on people’s doors knowing that they know and are critical of me. I still ask for their vote. 

What makes you different from the other candidate Audrey Hughes, and why should the people of district one vote for you?

I’m actually from Athens. I know this community. I literally love my town. I’m not going anywhere, my burial spot is here. I speak for a voice that people may not realize is here. I grew up in poverty. I was rich once, then I went back into poverty due to the recession. So I understand both sides of the track. I’m a small business owner. I try to speak as best as I can for the business community. I know some of the families here in town and the businesses here in town. So when it comes to experiencing and understanding Athens I would say that I would be the best bet. I grew up here, know this place and love my town. 

Is there anything else you would like district one voters to know about you? 

I’m a very proud Democrat. You can see that through my work and voting history.

I believe in building bridges instead of walls. I try to be methodical in thinking and I’m very slow paced when it comes to some of our policies. I believe that some of the more complex policies shouldn’t be passed in a few months and we should take our time to dissect it to understand what’s going on. 

My loyalty is to the people, regardless of race. I follow the people. If you don’t follow the people, what’s the point of being an elected official? We all live in the same space, regardless of white or Black, rich or poor we all live in the same community. Your ideas might be far left or far right but there is somewhere we can meet in the middle and have an agreement. At the end of the day we all have to work together because if we don’t we are going to leave people off the table.

Ikeoluwa Ojo

Junior Ikeoluwa Ojo is the Assistant News Editor for BluePrints Magazine. She plans on pursuing a career in social work, child psychology, or law. Outside of school, she enjoys cooking, braiding hair, and creating mandala pen art designs. Ojo’s goals in journalism this year are to produce a variety of interesting news pieces. Her favorite part of journalism is the student-led aspect of the class, and she enjoys meeting news people and hearing their perspectives through interviews.