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Damon Krane (left) who is running for mayor against Mayor Steve Patterson, speaks on the Athens housing market at the mayoral debate on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 in Athens, Ohio.

City Council, mayoral candidates cover housing and environmental issues at debate

Correction Appended.

Both mayoral candidates and those running for At-Large City Council seats fielded questions Thursday at the debate hosted by Student Senate.

The topics discussed included housing issues, relationships between Athens and the university, environmental reform and safety. Mayoral candidates Damon Krane, an independent, and current Mayor Steve Patterson, a Democrat, spoke extensively about landlord issues and housing code enforcement.

A major pillar of Krane’s platform is tenant rights, of which he is working towards with Operation Slumlord Smackdown. He said when young renters try to report issues or fight back against slumlords and landlords, it is often a losing battle.

“Therefore most (housing) violations never getting reported, even when violations are identified,” Krane said. 

Patterson brought up the point that fines for landlords are changing, and that landlords could face possible jail time should they neglect their properties. Due to lower enrollment numbers at Ohio University, he said there may be a change in the type of people living in city housing as well.

“We're going to start seeing (student houses), I think, reverting back to single-family homes again which is desperately needed,” Patterson said. “So what may be construed as an ill-maintained rental unit may likely turn into a single-family home.”

Candidates also discussed what they would do to strengthen the connection between Athens and the university.

Krane cited the incident where 70 students were arrested in Baker University Center while protesting the Trump administration’s travel ban. 

“The first thing I would do is make a decisive break with my opponent’s administration and stop using city police to help the university enforce unconstitutional speech restrictions, which remain in place even after the arrest of the Baker 70,” Krane said. 

Patterson believes that efforts like the Board of Commissions and the Athens Beautification Project have brought all aspects of the community together, beyond students.

On the question of environment, candidates were asked what they would do to reduce Athens’ carbon footprint.

“One of the things that we will continue to do is what we did with the water treatment plant, which now is a solar array,” Patterson said. “That has significantly cut down on our fossil fuel use … We’ve already seen significant savings and significant savings to the taxpayer dollars because we're not paying as much in the electric water treatment plan.”

Krane said those who are wealthy and powerful must be confronted about the environment, as 71% of greenhouse gas emissions have been from 100 different companies since 1988. 

Candidates for City Council At-Large seats also fielded some of the same questions as the mayoral candidates. Those candidates discussed problems such as impoverished neighborhoods and how to increase safety in the community.

For example, Ellie Hamrick, a candidate for City Council and a Socialist, believes in redirecting money away from the police and large city expenses and putting it toward anti-poverty programs. 

“You need economic sustainability to have environmental sustainability,” Chris Monday, City Council candidate and an independent, said. “Everybody needs to be comfortable, you know. If people are so poor they’re buying whatever cheap thing they can wrapped in plastic, you can't have a sustainable environment without a stable economy.”

The candidates also discussed housing issues with some disputes between themselves. Sarah Grace, D-At Large, said the power is in the students’ hands to decide where to live.

“I think, as the demand for rental property decreases, the power of the students and other renters will increase,” Grace said. “It's not difficult to know who are the most disliked landlords in the city. You can Google and find that out.” 

Beth Clodfelter, City Council candidate and a Democrat, said she believes the most effective thing for tenants and students to do is essentially unionize.

“I think that if students get organized, then they can reap some of the same benefits that union workers have, and many other members of our society in the United States,” Clodfelter said. “I don't think that's something city council can make happen, that has to come from the renters, but I do really like the idea of there being a tenants union.” 


A previous version of this article misquoted mayoral candidate Damon Krane regarding his positions on the university using city police and the statistic on greenhouse gas emissions. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

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