by Penne J. Laubenthal
Milly Caudle, affectionately known as “Red,” is a petite dynamo who was appointed a year and a half ago to fill the unexpired term of Athens City Councilman Henry White who was elected to the state legislature. Milly is currently a candidate for Place Five on the City Council. The election will take place August 26, and Milly will be hosting a rally on the courthouse square at 9 AM on August 2.
Since joining the city fathers just over a year ago, Milly has helped propel the city of Athens, Alabama, into the 21st Century. This week I talked with Milly about her long career as a professor of history at Athens State University, her vast experience with historical preservation, and her vision for the future of the small town of Athens.
Milly, thank you for taking the time to talk with Swampland. Can you tell us how your training as a historian has been beneficial to you as a politician?
My lifelong love affair with history has enabled me to see the big picture, to envision both the forest and the trees. Also, my doctoral minor is in political science; consequently, I believe that I understand the principles involved in our form of government. Whenever possible, I apply those principles to the practical issues that arise.
Speaking of practical issues, Athens has made huge advances since you became a member of the city council. Tell us about some of those accomplishments
During the year and a half that I have been a council member, we have made great strides toward our potential as a model small town. In that short time we have accomplished the following:
1. negotiated the sale of the archival building to the county so that the building could be upgraded and the archives expanded,
2. restored the College Inn, a prairie style 1930’s café/gas station, as an office building for KALB (Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful) and as a tourist attraction,
3. supported various social agencies, among them the new Family Resource Center and Habitat for Humanity,
4. approved the reorganization of several city departments—a step toward making our pay scale competitive with surrounding communities,
5. passed an ordinance making loft apartments in downtown legal,
6. amended the legal sale of alcohol ordinance to allow wine specialty shops downtown,
7. supported the Athens Municipal Historical Commission making possible an upgraded set of regulations and a new manual for residents,
8. passed new anti-litter and animal control ordinances,
9. settled lawsuit between Athens Water Authority and Limestone County Water Authority,
10. co-sponsored with Limestone County the first hazardous waste clean up,
11. purchased the former Kroger building with the intention of housing a new public library, and
12. provided tax abatements and other incentives for new industry and commercial development.
Wow, that’s quite an impressive list. I understand that a exciting new community group has been extremely influential in helping rejuvenate downtown Athens.
The group called Spirit of Athens (SOA) was founded in 2006 by Carolyn Crow, owner of Pablo’s on Market, and other local citizens. SOA is a perfect partner with Athens City and Limestone County governments. As a member of the board of directors of SOA and, at the same time, a member of the city council, I have been able to serve as a liason. SOA and our governments share a common goal: the revitalization of downtown Athens through the development of unique businesses. These one-of-a-kind businesses will create an ambiance designed to attract both tourists and local citizens alike, thus enhancing our sales tax revenue base. Since the establishment of SOA, several new businesses have opened in the downtown area, notably such restaurants as Luciano’s, Tortillas Blanco, The Oasis, Athens Gyros, and LuVici’s. A large pizza parlor is scheduled to open soon next to Pablo’s (a bookstore, art gallery, and deli).
The Spirit of Athens, often working hand in hand with the Chamber of Commerce, sponsors a number of events. Last October SOA presented the First Annual Storytelling Festival. SOA also sponsored a Christmas Open House on the square, and is planning an Alabama/Auburn Day on August 16, 2008 as well as another “open house” to be held in late summer or fall.
Perhaps the most positive aspect of SOA is that it provides a vehicle for citizen participation. Athenians now feel that they have a stake in their community. Certainly, Spirit of Athens has been instrumental in returning the city’s focus to the town center.
Well, much has been accomplished, but I am sure you have grand plans for the future of Athens if you are elected in August. What are some of your challenges?
If I am elected I must adjust priorities from time to time to fit realities. Providing Athens with a new state-of-the-art library is high on my list. Other projects include the development of an environmental plan designed both to make our city more green and to reduce fuel costs, maintaining our educational excellence, moving toward more competitive salaries for our city employees, cooperating with the Limestone County Commission to enhance the quality of life so that retirees will be attracted to the pleasant nature of our town and county.
What are some of the obstacles to progress that must be overcome?
There are always obstacles to progress. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to find funding for the improvements we seek. In an era of economic growth, expenditure for sewage and infrastructure must be made before revenues can be realized. Growth also makes demands on services which must be paid for. Opposition to change can also impede progress, but I have observed that Athenians are now able to distinguish between a positive and a negative change. Evolving attitudes are helping us to promote and develop the kind of community in which we want to live.
Milly, thank you again for your time. Athens is indeed fortunate to have you as one of its citizens.