Unification and Hyphenation of Athens-Clarke County

What's the deal with this fancy hyphenation in the name "Athens-Clarke County"? Could the residents not decide what to name it? Did Athens get married but decide on hyphenation so it could keep its professional identity? Is it just cool to refer to both names?

Yes, Athens got married. The City of Athens and Clarke County became one flesh in January 1991. Happy thirteenth anniversary, guys! Seriously, that's what they did, except that their identities fully merged and there is no individual Mr. or Mrs. to speak of. (If there were, I assume that Athens, being named after a goddess, would be the Mrs., and she could use her hundreds of restaurants to cook for Clarke. Clarke would use his landfill to take out the trash.) Yes, this is like Gokou and Vegeta fusing to become a more powerful individual, except the fusion dance took over 24 years. The city and county, like many of their residents, were trying to be cool and trendy so they identified city-county consolidation as the "in"thing to do, although Columbus-Muscogee County beat them to it 20 years earlier.

The consolidation of these two local governments was total, meaning that any organization that bears the name Athens-Clarke should not be confused with the type of jointly operated services that may be found in other counties. For example, both the City of Macon (in Georgia) and the unincorporated areas of the county in which it lies, Bibb, are served by a single fire department, the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department. In this case, the department essentially belongs to Macon but Bibb County pays them to extend their services. So the joining of a city name with a county name could indicate a joint operation or a single operation, leading to the confusion that hyphens are cool.

The lack of hyphens can also be confusing. For instance, why does the sheriff's department call itself the Clarke County Sheriff's Office even though there is no such entity as Clarke County? I do not know, but I can only speculate that the sheriff wants to appear conservative and not wear hyphens. The courts changed their names, however: the State Court of Clarke County became the State Court of Athens-Clarke County, for example, and the Municipal Court of the City of Athens became the Municipal Court of Athens-Clarke County. The Clarke County School District did not hyphenate its name, but it was not part of the county government to begin with since it is a subdivision of the state, and the Athens-Clarke charter didn't mention the school system. The Athens city school system merged with the county school system in 1955, back when hyphens were barely beginning to creep into youth culture.

Athens-Clarke County is both a city and a county, so that totally blows your mind. It is common for people to write "not applicable" in the "city" blank of a legal document, then "Athens-Clarke" in the "county" blank. Yes, the "county" part of the nomenclature is dominant for some reason, maybe because it would sound stupid to say "City of Athens-Clarke County." (However, City Hall was not renamed County Hall.) What did this mean to anyone who lived in Clarke County but inside Winterville's or Bogart's city limits? Those governments wanted to keep their own cityhood, so they kept their previous incorporated territory and their relationships to the county stayed the same, even though the county also became a city.

One idea that was discussed to explain why some residents of the previously unincorporated areas of Clarke County resisted unification was that they might lose their identity. Yes, that's a big issue in Georgia's smallest county (in terms of land area), isn't it? Yes, that's exactly like, say, Britain taking over those six northern counties in Ireland and ruling them from across the Irish Sea. Imagine the dramatic symbolism in replacing the Clarke County flag with the Athens-Clarke County flag! I'm surprised that violence didn't break out.

What significance did the old Athens city limits have after consolidation? A lot, I tell you. They formed the basis of taxing districts. You didn't think hyphens were free, did you? The area inside the former city limits is designated the Urban Services District, and the area outside is called the General Services District. This actually means that the old rule about not firing a gun in the city limits now says not to fire a gun in the Urban Services District. There are no road signs showing where these boundaries are, though. The Solid Waste Department publishes a picture of what the USD looks like. (The boundary seems to go east along the North Athens Perimeter Highway from Jefferson Road, then south and southwest along the perimeter system from the interchange at its northeast corner, then north along the Middle Oconee River until it reaches the North Athens Perimeter Highway again, then east along the perimeter until it reaches Tallasee Road, then northwest along Tallassee until Quailwood Drive, then northeast along Quailwood until Whitehead Road, north along Whitehead until Jefferson Road, and finally southeast along Jefferson until that first point at its interchange with the Perimeter Highway.)

So what is "Athens" now that there is no such named city? It may only be a geographic name. Damn good geographic name.


ACC Online. "Athens-Clarke County Unification History." Athens, Georgia: ACC Public Information Office.

Athens-Clarke County Code of Ordinances (2003). Tallahassee: Municipal Code Corportation.

Athens-Clarke County Recycling Division (2003). "Athens-Clarke County Urban Services District" (map). Athens, Georgia: Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department.

Bibb County Code of Ordinances (2003). Tallahassee: Municipal Code Corporation.

City-County Government Commission of the San Antonio City Council and the Bexar County Commissioners Court (1996). Report and Recommendations. San Antonio: MySanAntonio.com.

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