Citing health reasons, City Council president to resign

File photo.

Jim Sands, left, then president of Athens City Council presents departing council menber Elahu Gosney with a framed portrait of City Hall in this 2013 photo.

Longtime Athens City Council member and city native Jim Sands passed away last week at a small assisted living facility in Ashley, Ohio. He was 75.

Sands' sister Janeen said the two grew up on Mulberry Street, right by East Green of Ohio University.

“That was kind of our village,” Janeen Sands said.

After serving in the U.S. Navy, Sands and his partner, David Ratliff, purchased the Athens Flower Shop at the corner of Madison Avenue and East State Street. The entire family helped run the shop, his sister said.

Once, she asked him what he liked most about running the flower shop.

“He said what he really liked is he thought the flower shop and the services they provided made people happy,” Janeen Sands said.

Sands also served as president of the Athens Foundation and president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce.

“He was a business owner, and a great servant of our community — and Jim was an outstanding individual in all regards,” said former Athens City Council President Bill Bias.

Sands, a Democrat, spent 16 years on Athens City Council, serving seven terms as a member between 1998 and 2011 and then one term as president from 2012 to 2014.

“Jim was probably the finest example of a public servant I've ever met,” said Bias, who knew Sands for 50 years.

Sands was gay, but that's not why he ran for council, his sister said.

“He said, ‘I’m going to run for City Council but not as a gay man — but because I love Athens,’” Janeen Sands recalled.

Sands co-sponsored the 2011 city ordinance that created a register of domestic partnerships for same-sex partners, four years before the U.S. Supreme Court recognized gay marriage in 2015. When the city passed its ordinance, Sands said action was largely symbolic, but it was “a personal decision (between partners) to make a public expression of commitment,” according to The Athens Messenger.

Fahl said the legislation was an example of his character.

“The reason why Athens is known as a progressive city — very early on Athens was a leader in domestic partnership rights,” said current Athens City Council member Chris Fahl. “We have gone on from there because of his leadership in those early days.”

In 2015, Sands announced in a letter to Athens City Council that he and Ratliff, his romantic partner of 42 years, had been married two years earlier at the Metropolitan Unitarian Church in Washington D.C. In the letter, he wrote that "the ceremony was attended by friends and family members welcoming of our commitment to each other." Ratliff, an Army veteran, passed away in 2014 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Current council president Chris Knisely said he taught many of the members of council “how to lead in the community,” adding that he was always open to citizen input. She praised his “wonderful and gentle spirit.”

“Consistently, what people said was that he was a very understanding and kind and gentle person — at the same time was an effective public servant,” Knisely said.

Sands was a mentor to other members of council and brought a weight of institutional knowledge with him — along with a sense of humor, Fahl said.

“It’s sad whenever we lose our elders a lot of institutional knowledge goes with them," she said. "But people who are truly mentors in the community — they pass that knowledge.”

Sands resigned from council in 2014, citing health problems following severe seizures that arose from fall at the flower shop earlier that year. In a farewell letter to the city, he wrote, "Thank you all — city employees and citizens of the city of Athens — for your support as I acted as a member of City Council and as president of Council. I am proud to have done so and hope I have been instrumental in maintaining and improving the environment within the city of Athens."

His condition required him to spend much of his time in Columbus, but "he always wanted to go back to Athens," Janeen Sands said.

“I think that's where he felt like his roots were,” she said.

A celebration of of his life is planned for next spring, when his ashes will be placed in an urn made of an Athens brick.

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