The Athens Review
Voters in Athens chose to keep the 57-year-old Athens Municipal Water Authority in place, but made major changes to the city council on Saturday,
The majority of ballots opposed the proposition to dissolve AMWA, with the final count 668 to 590. The election-day voters reversed the early vote trend of 383 in favor of dissolving AMWA and 325 opposed. Absentee voters broke 53 to 40 in favor of abolishing the water authority.
AMWA Executive Director Wylie Pirkle said events occurred in the final days before the election that helped sway the outcome.
“I think a lot of people were holding off until the regular election day,” Pirkle said. “This election was more about how we pull together as a community, and help ourselves have a better life in the community.”
Pirkle said he hopes that in the future the Water Authority can help Athens showcase its assets.
“We’re looking forward to working with the new city council, and get groups around the city to focus on how to create a better business environment,” Pirkle said. “This is like day-one of a new life.”
Pirkle said AMWA should be more involved with the Athens Economic Development Corporation and other boards in the city.
“We need to be more visible,” Pirke said. “We’ve been quietly doing our jobs since the ‘50s.”
In the council races, all three incumbents lost early vote leads on election day. In Place 2, Joe Whatley overcame a 370 to 329 early vote edge by Carol Barton to win 674 to 573. Place 3 councilman Aubrey Jones led early voting 386 to 311, but trailed by seven votes after election day, 619 to 612. In Place 4, Kobler “Tres” Winn was down 361 to 336 in early voting, but won 672 to 558.
“We knew going into the election there would be a lot of passionate views on both sides,” Mayor Jerry Don Vaught said. “I’m just glad that Athenians could get out and vote, and the election wasn’t stopped.”
Vaught said the biggest priority now is to put an end to the lawsuit AMWA filed against the city in December, and which has cost more than $400,000 to-date.
“I don’t want any more of the taxpayers’ money to continue on a lawsuit that really never should have happened,” Vaught said. “If they had discussed this the way it should have been discussed, it would never had gone to this extreme.”
After the new members come aboard, Vaught hopes the whole council can work together amicably.
“I absolutely look forward to working with each one of those gentlemen to help Athens progress and grow,” Vaught said.
The AMWA board election, which would have been rendered pointless, had the voters dissolved the entity, elected a new member. With two seats open, Mike Peek was the top vote-getter, with 664 votes. Ed Gatlin finished with 487 votes, to take the second seat. Billy Carter finished third, 360 votes and Greg Hisey followed with 307. Hisey was recently appointed to the board to fill a vacancy.
Peek said he believes the voters felt the need for “new blood” on the AMWA board, and is excited to get the chance to serve the community. Peek said the court case between AMWA and the city prompted him to get into the race.
“The lawsuit is what got my attention,” Peek said. “When I see one entity supposedly representing the citizens, suing the citizens, that got me stirred up, and into the election. The lawsuit was a lose-lose proposition for the citizens, and more than likely a win-win proposition for the attorneys.”
Pirkle said AMWA is excited to have Peek on the board.
“He was an adamant supporter of killing AMWA on the one hand, but if AMWA survived, wanted to be on the board,” Pirkle said. “He is very well thought of in the community, and adamant about the things he cares about. I think he’s going to bring that same kind of enthusiasm to the Water Authority.”
All the vote totals are unofficial, until they are canvassed.