Longtime Athens resident Alan Swank recently began the first ever primary challenge against incumbent Councilmember Chris Fahl in her nearly 12-year career as a member of the body. But he doesn’t plan to fixate on his opponent.
Instead, Swank, a Democrat, is set on conducting his campaign with a more positive tenor.
“I think that’s what most people want. They want to know what you’re going to do rather than what the other person can’t do,” he said.
He outlined a three-pronged platform that addresses a range of issues he believes are important to residents of Athens’ fourth ward — one of the most diverse in town, ranging from East State Street’s commercial district to the near east side neighborhood and all the way back to the River Gate/River Park apartments.
One of Swank’s top priorities is to restore what he calls “fiscal responsibility” to Athens, ensuring that taxpayer dollars aren’t spent frivolously in the face of the worst economy since the Great Depression, while enrollment declines at Ohio University, the city’s economic lifeblood.
“If I get elected I’ll keep a clear eye on the city’s budget, the contracts that we enter into, and the expenditures that we make so that taxpayer dollars will be used in the most responsible way possible,” he said.
Swank also wants to provide quality and affordable housing for residents, particularly senior citizens who he said leave town because of the steep cost of homes.
“The institutional knowledge, the community involvement that we lose when these folks leave the city — it diminishes the quality of life here,” he said.
Unlike many other candidates running for City Council, improving conditions for tenants of rental properties isn’t a central arm of Swank’s campaign, and he said people should be more careful when discussing the matter so as not to generalize all landlords as negligent or predatory. But he’s still interested in improving conditions for renters by checking with Mayor Steve Patterson to ensure that Athens’ Code Enforcement office is “fully staffed and fully funded.”
“Rental housing of a quality nature where the rules are enforced and the leases are honored is something we can work on if people are willing to work together and lay their cards on the table,” Swank said.
In an effort to improve communication with constituents, Swank, if elected, plans to hold quarterly precinct meetings to hear what’s on the mind of fourth ward residents and to inform them of legislation before it’s introduced to ensure they’re intimately involved in the law-making process from start to finish. He also wants to expand the city’s social media outreach efforts.
Swank grew up in Akron and attended Muskingum University, studying to become a history teacher. He came to OU for graduate school in the 1970s and eventually became a teacher at Athens High School, where he also coached girls volleyball and track. He later found his way into the yearbook sales business.
Locally, Swank was vice president of the East Elementary School’s PTO and a three-term president of OU’s now-defunct Green and White Club, the university’s athletic boosters. He’s chair of the Athens Arts, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and was the first president of the Far East Side Neighborhood Association.
It isn’t Swank’s first time tossing his hat in the ring for City Council. He ran unsuccessfully in the 2015 Democratic primary seeking an at-large seat. This time, he plans to knock on each door in the fourth ward, which he says should be much easier within the ward rather than citywide.
“I’m not really advocating a whole bunch of radical changes by any means. The one thing I found out is whenever you’re talking about change, people back up a little bit,” he said. “But when they can see the personal benefit of that change — how it affects them in a positive way — they’re much more receptive to your message.”