Who’s afraid of a little sunlight? Walmart and the city of Athens, apparently. According to an article by Al Norman on the Huffington Post, officials are resisting efforts by community activists, including the local Occupy movement, to bring more transparency to plans to build another Walmart to the small city in Georgia.
Occupy Athens charged that city officials and a Wal-Mart developer met privately last September to dramatically alter the use of a major riverfront property in downtown Athens. Mayor Nancy Denson asked the Economic Development Foundation to go into executive session, according to the local newspaper, “ostensibly to discuss hiring a project manager for the river district, also known as Blue Heron.” But instead of discussing the Blue Heron—a proposal for a $25 million office/research park—the Commission in private voted to kill the Blue Heron park, and replace it with a 100,000 square foot big box store. The Mayor since has acknowledged that the private meeting was illegal under state law.
Like other Occupy movements around the country, Athens activists had set up an encampment in a prominent location to call attention to their demands. They chose a spot directly across from City Hall and stayed there until they were evicted on March 7th. Despite this setback, local groups are continuing to ask tough questions about the new Walmart that will be built in their community. According to Al Norman, this may just be the start of a bigger trend.
The Occupy Movement nationally has given local residents more confidence in their ability to take on the 1% corporations like Wal-Mart. The ruckus in Athens, Georgia challenges the notion that in the deep south everyone goes along to get along. “We have made city officials nervous,” Occupy Athens explains, “that the people of this town are no longer willing to swallow their half-truths and hurried explanations for illegal meetings and backroom dealings with Wal-Mart cronies.”
Will Walmart get a free pass in Athens or will elected officials start asking the tough questions? Stay tuned.