Planning is the name of the game for Athens City Councilmember Chris Fahl, a Democrat facing a primary challenger for the first time in her 12-year career as a member of the body.
Fahl recounted in a recent interview that one of her greatest accomplishments on Council was helping to implement the city’s first comprehensive plan, a document that outlines a municipality’s aspirations over a decade or two. She also worked on a committee that distilled the plan to determine what council would prioritize and work to make reality.
“People should realize comprehensive plans are really powerful documents because so much time and energy is spent on getting public input,” said Fahl, who chairs the body’s planning and development committee.
A Democrat with an educational background in regional planning and conservation, Fahl is now working with City Planner Paul Louge to establish a citizen committee to help gauge public opinion on what should be prioritized within the recently approved comprehensive plan for what the city hopes to accomplish through 2040.
The roughly 50-page document sketches a roadmap of how to address issues ranging from housing to funding of the arts. While the plan has already been agreed upon by the body, it’s still a living, breathing document ripe for revision.
“Plans are, I call them organic. Just because it’s sitting there doesn’t mean you can’t twiddle with it,” she said.
When asked how Fahl is thinking about her campaign in the face of a primary challenge from longtime Athens resident Alan Swank, who has a fairly different set of priorities, she said she’s “been around the block” campaigning for both herself and other members of Council.
“At this stage in our democracy, it’s good that people want to run,” Fahl said.
She discounted the argument made by many local activists and Councilmember Pete Kotses that Council has a diversity problem, with all members elected as Democrats and most being white, older homeowners.
Though, Fahl recognized that barriers exist for young people with aspirations to run for office, including that the job is part-time and can only provide supplemental income, effectively excluding candidates who don’t have the resources to work a day job on top of holding public office.
Noting that all of her accomplishments on the body were made in partnership with other members, Fahl said she was also proud of legislation she worked on that governs the disposal of hazardous materials to protect the city’s single source aquifer. She also touted her role in establishing the body’s affordable housing commission, an effort to provide low-cost housing for young professionals.
Currently, she’s working on an ordinance that would establish a tree bank and a front yard pollinator program to ensure pollinators are kept within the city.
“I have experience. I have the right kind of experience that’s needed right now in Athens,” Fahl said when asked why voters should turn out for her. “I think that my background makes for a councilmember who works a lot with other people.”