UGA Libraries Logo

Interview with Gwen O'Looney, Part 1, November 14, 2014

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:20 - Early life / Coming to Athens

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Gwen, would you state your full name and where you were born?

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney recalls her childhood growing up on St. Simons Island. She describes how she eventually came to live in Athens, Georgia after deciding to become the state coordinator of Region 10 Federal Child Abuse and Neglect Resource Center. O'Looney talks about her government proposal of the Neighbors for Helpers Programs, which eventually succeeded in being passed. O'Looney discusses the creation of the first computerized referrals system, which served as an information and resource center for the city of Athens.

Keywords: Athens, Georgia; Community Connection of Northeast Georgia; Kellogg Foundation; Meridian Mississippi; Redbook Magazine; St. Simons Island; University of Georgia

00:09:20 - Working with Jimmy Carter / Getting into Athen's politics

Play segment

Partial Transcript: When did you first get into politics and what were the circumstances?

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney describes getting an internship with governor Jimmy Carter as his liaison in the Department of Human and Social Services. She talks about her participation in his campaign, and what she learned from the experience. O 'Looney describes her later experiences working in the Boys Club of America (now known as the Boy's and Girls Club of America) in New York City. O'Looney relates relocating to a neighborhood located on Cobb Street in Athens, Georgia. She explains how the neighborhood was endangered due to encroaching industries and public housing districts. O'Looney talks about how her the housing situation led her to become more involved in Athen's politics as a way to ensure that her neighborhood would be protected. O'Looney talks about how she ran for Tax Commissioner, and how she eventually accepted running for the position due to the refusal of other politicians.

Keywords: Boys and Girls Club of America; Calvin Bridges; Cobb Street; Department of Human and Social Services; Jimmy Carter; Nancy Denson; New York's Southerners for Carter; Office of Voluntarism

00:16:15 - Running for Tax Commissioner

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So I ran, and I walked my ward...

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney describes running against Nancy Denson for city council. She specifically remembers a phone conversation with Nancy Denson in which she learned about Denson's opposing views towards the community and voting privileges. O'Looney then discusses the mistake announcement of the election results. As the announcer mistakenly proclaimed that O'Looney has lost the campaign. O'Looney then discusses her views towards the transformation of the previously partisan city council into a partisan governing body, and voices her disapproval of the lack of public participation in the process. O'Looney discusses the campaign process, specifically detailing the financial aspects of running for city council.

Keywords: Athen's City Council; Athens; Calvin Bridges; Campaigning; Campaigning finances; Nancy Denson; election results

00:23:46 - Addressing the Athen's education system / Athen's economy

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So can you describe Athens during this first term that you had?

Segment Synopsis: O'Loooney discusses the transition of Athens's school system's directory. O'Looney describes her views toward Charles Purivs who became director of the Athen's school system, and who, according to O'Looney, disapproved of drug and sex awareness school courses. O'Looney delves into the financial corruptness experienced by Athen's government, as company owners often controlled the distribution of wealth in the city. O'Looney also talks about the economic division between the University of Georgia and Athens City, as she claims non-University related companies often neglected the monetary support of Athen's city.

Keywords: Charles Purvis; Hugh Logan; Kellogg Foundation; education system

00:31:10 - Facing opposition / Plant Vogtle

Play segment

Partial Transcript: It was hard for an outsider.

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney discusses the opposition she faced in conducting her duties as a member city council. She recalls an experience where she supposedly angered the then mayor of Athens, Lauren Coile, by passing a historic preservation act, which he deemed unecessary. O'Looney relates how she was promptly placed in the finances division of city council as a result of the incident, which she recalls as being a fortunate event. O'Looney describes the discussion of building the two unit nuclear power plants, named Plant Vogtle, and focuses on the lack of debate by other council members due to the predetermined decision-making powers exhibited by the large companies.

Keywords: Caroline Reynolds; Georgia Municipal Association; Jules Johnson; Lauren Coile; Nancy Denson; Plant Vogtle

00:37:02 - Political climate of Athen's city government / Passing the Historic Preservation Ordinance

Play segment

Partial Transcript: At that time, was there a liberal contingent in Athens?

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney describes the lack of the liberal presence in the city government of Athens. She discusses her decision not to run for mayor, due to the weariness she felt as consequence of the constant maintenance of public appeal. O'Looney discusses opposition to the passing of the Historic Preservation Ordinance and specifically how she addressed the disapproval. O'Looney also describes the former Mayor of Athens, Dwain Chambers, and his participation in the passing of the Historic Preservation ordinance.

Keywords: Calvin Bridges; Dwain Chambers; Historic Preservation Ordinance; Paul Kyne

00:43:54 - Race relations in city council / Controversy surrounding alcohol consumption

Play segment

Partial Transcript: During this time, what were the race relations like in Athens...?

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney discusses how the absolute power of the mayor of Athens resulted in the consolidation of power from the hands of the Athen's city government. She explains how this led to the East Athens community city council representation (a primarily African American district) to be controlled, along with the rest of city council, primarily by the decisions of the mayor. O'Looney addresses the issue of alcohol consumption in Athens and the controversy surrounding it. O'Looney describes her position and her approval of widening the alcohol selling hours, as a deterrent to students who might feel the need to travel for alcohol. O'Looney also discusses the large Christian influence on the Athen's city government.

Keywords: East Athens community; Ed Turner; John Taylor; alcohol; race

00:52:54 - Clarke County Commissioner / Consolidation of Athens City and Clarke County

Play segment

Partial Transcript: What was county government like at this time?

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney describes the Clarke County government and she list the names of members who stuck out to her and her initial impressions of them. O'Looney talks about the issues between the Council and the City over the expansion of the Athen's city water system. She describes the advent of the Athens city and Clarke County consolidation efforts by Georgia, and the response of the public. O'Looney discusses the alcohol crackdown which was supposedly supported by mayor Dwain Chamber and Evard Price with the intent of upholding their Christian religious values. O' Looney discusses corruption in the Athen's city government, and the consequential public response to the strong-mayor form of government.

Keywords: Clarke County; Dwain Chambers; Ed Benson; Evard Price; George Bullock; Jim Holland; John Jeffery; Jule John; alcohol; county-city consolidation

01:01:27 - Sub Rosa decision-making / Consolidation

Play segment

Partial Transcript: The county had control over SPLOST.

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney describes the what she considers to be unprofessional deals made between Lauren Coile and Jim Holland, and Buck Griffin, over the land appropriation for the building of the Athen's Classic Center. O'Looney discusses the unification of Athens city and Clarke County through the Charter Committee, which was created to inform the public of the unification efforts. O'Looney talks about the charter, written by Paul Hardy, which served as the official legitimization of the Athens City and Clarke County unification. O'Looney shares her opinion on the charter, which she describes as a well-written governmental document.

Keywords: Buck Griffin; Charter Commission; E.D Benson; Fordson, Bently, and Griffin P.A.; Lauren Coile; Paul Hardy; SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax); Unification

01:08:27 - Reactions to Unification / Running for city council

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Was there any strong opposition?

Segment Synopsis: O'looney talks about the suprising lack of strong opposition towards the unification. O'Looney then discusses the upcoming election and how she decided to run a second time for city council when she was informed that both Nathan Williams and ED Benson, her political oppositions, were running for city council. O'Looney describes the anger she faced from opposition once the unification act passed, which consolidated the Athen's City and Clarke County governments into one government.

Keywords: Caroline Reynolds; Dwain Chambers; ED Benson; George Bullock; Jim Holland; Nathan Williams; Randolph Holder; unification

01:15:33 - The Classic Center / Running for CEO

Play segment

Partial Transcript: The county had a meeting in which...

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney describes the proposed architectural blueprint of the Classic Center, which she recollects was promptly nicknamed "the bomb factory " due to it's industrial-esque design. O'Looney discusses how the Classic Center design was supported by Jim Holland due to the possible financial burden of changing the design. O'Looney also describes the complexities of city council, and how she initially focused on the campaign process as opposed to the particulars of political positions. O'Looney describes the surprise people initially showed when she announced she was running for the CEO (Chief Elected Officer) position of Athens-Clarke County.

Keywords: CEO (Chief Elected Officer); City Council; Classic Center; Jim Holland; Kathy Hoard; Solid Waste; campaign; police

01:22:18 - Winterville debate / R.E.M's contribution to the campaign initiative

Play segment

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney talks about her experience participating in debates during her campaign. She recalls how she used her experience in human services to advantage during the debates, as she was recognized for her ability to relate her arguments back to the people of Athens. O' Looney recollects an incident where Wesley Whithead, who she describes as old-fashoined mayor, publicly supported her after the debate held in Winterville, Georgia. O'Looney describes how support from the Athenian band, R.E.M, helped boost her popularity among potential voters, and additionally provided thirty percent of the campaign funding.

Keywords: Junior League; Micheal Stipe; Prince Avenue Baptist Church; R.E.M (band); Wesley Whitehead; Winterville, Georgia; campaign; debate

01:30:26 - Running against E.H Culpeper

Play segment

Partial Transcript: My first campaign manager was John Whitmore and he lived in Watkinsville.

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney continues with describing her experience in running for CEO. She particularity recalls running up against E.H Culpeper, whom she describes as the candidate proposed by the "old system" of Athens. O'Looney talks about the runoff election and recalls an incident where E.H Culpeper supposedly ran an aggressive, ad aimed toward O'Looney's campaign. She describes the disapproval expressed by the public in response to the nature of the ad, which she believes helped her gain public approval.

Keywords: CEO (Chief Elected Officer); E.H Culpeper; John Whitmore; campaign

01:36:55 - Early months in City Council

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So talk about the early months that it took to begin to make this new government work?

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney describes her commitment to citizen involvement; a position which she believes she upheld in office. O'Looney recollects how she convinced Bob Snipes (the assistant manager of Athen's Public Works), to become the head of water distribution in the new Athens-Clarke County. O'Looney talks about Mariam Moore, who was the first African American woman to run for city council, and was additionally the founding member of the Athen's Neighborhood Health Clinic. O'Looney describes how facing gender prejudice in City Council often led to frustration as she would be commonly ignored and talked over during city council meetings.

Keywords: Athens Neighborhood Health Clinic; Bob Snipes; E.D Benson; Ed Turner; Ken Jordan; Miriam Moore; Nathan Williams

01:45:31 - Facing prejudice in City Council / Digitization in City Council

Play segment

Partial Transcript: How did you get them to do what you advocated for?

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney discusses how she dealt with sexism as the CEO. She describes her experience in working with John Barrow and talks about his dedication to the saving of an old Athens firehouse. O'Looney relates the process of the digitization of city council's information services, and recalls the reluctance of some city council members to the computerize process.

Keywords: Jim Holland; John Barrow; Marilyn Farmer; National Park; digitization; duplication; prejudice; unification

01:53:22 - Addressing duplication / City faculty turnover

Play segment

Partial Transcript: The duplication was at the top...

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney talks about how the unification of Athens-Clarke County led to the duplication of city council positions. She recalls the early retirement plans offered to those with duplicated jobs, which she says had the drawback of losing people with important talents. O'Looney talks about the process of changing city hall's interior design, especially the layout of the mayor's office, which she did as an effort to make the building more inviting to the people of the city. O'Looney also addresses the eventual turnover of staff after unification, as some previous staff were "non compatible" with her ideologies and outlook towards the public.

Keywords: Calvin Bridges; Caroline Reynolds; Dwayne Chambers; Harry Sims; Jack Lumpkin; Jim Holland; John Culpeper; Michael Stipe; Police Department; Ronny Chandler; duplication; unification

02:01:20 - Overview of first and second term

Play segment

Partial Transcript: John Culpeper, who was the finance director...

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney talks about how her extensive knowledge of the city council budget helped her to push through legislation. O'Looney describes the role of the chief manager position, who was in charge of all operations in personal. She also describes the mayoral position, as the mayor possesses the right to appoint the chief manager, attorney, and the auditor position- which she describes as the "eyes of the elected officials on the government." O'Looney talks about her support of implementing an auditor position (as a mean of ensuring government accountability), and relates the consequential backlash expressed by the city council members. O'Looney describes her first term (of four years), and second term- which was focused on the unification of Athens-Clarke County.

Keywords: Chief Manager; John Culpeper; Mike Hamby; Reservoir; Unification; auditor

02:08:35 - Running against Mike Hamby

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I did not have opposition...

Segment Synopsis: O'Looney recalls running against Mike Hamby for the position of CEO (Cheif Elected Officer), she recalls an instant where Mike Hamby used a letter she had written for recommendation for a scholarship in a debate, as evidence for him being a good choice. O'Looney describes her disagreeing rebuttal during the debate, as she felt Mike Hamby would not be an appropriate fit for the position. O'Looney recalls being informed by Paul Hardy that she was the first head of a newly unified government to ever be re-elected in American History.

Keywords: CEO (Chief Elected Officer); Mike Hamby; Paul Hardy; re-election