From a cabin in the woods to Athens councilwoman

After living in and dabbling in politics throughout the U.S., Athens City Councilwoman Chris Fahl’s foray into the Athens political scene was campaigning for Mayor Paul Wiehl’s election bid in 2007.

It was an ominous start. 

“When I went out the first time … there were people who were yelling at me,” the Fourth Ward Democrat said, adding some residents even spat on her.

“You (would) talk to some people in town and they think I’m the worst thing that ever came,” she said. “It was kind of ugly.”

One year later, Fahl was appointed to represent those residents on city council, filling the seat left by State Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany.

Despite her responsibilities as a councilwoman and the chair of the planning and developing committee, the 53-year-old still finds ways to travel the world, something she said she’s done her entire life — not always by choice.

Growing up with a father in the military and a travel agent for a mother, traveling has always been a large part of Fahl’s life. 

“I traveled a lot when I was a kid,” Fahl said, “and then traveled more when I was an adult.”

After high school, Fahl took a gap year to backpack throughout Europe, and after graduating from Humboldt University in Northern California with a degree in wildlife biology, she did the same in nations scattered throughout the South Pacific.

“I have a huge, giant bucket list of places,” said Fahl, who’s been to every continent except for South America and Antarctica. “I’ll go almost any place.”

Though Fahl has lived everywhere from Roswell, New Mexico to Mississippi, she considers Maine, where she went to graduate school and lived after for a number of years, to be her home.

“I lived in a little cabin with no running water and no heat,” Fahl said. “It was back to land living.”

Fahl always had a love and an affinity for the environment, saying she “wanted to be like Jane Goodall” as a child.

As a city councilwoman, she’s become known for spearheading measures to clean up Athens — most recently, the controversial amendments to the city’s current Garbage and Rubbish Ordinance, which is up for a second reading at Monday night’s meeting and has sparked spirited debate amongst Athens residents online.

Fahl, whose term ends in 2015 said she has a common sense approach to legislating, commenting that she’s taken aback by some Ohio University students’ behavior Uptown.

“I look at them and I’m like, ‘Would your mother let you do that?’ ” she said. “You would not do that at your house. Your mom would not let you get away with that. You wouldn’t do that in your community. Why is that OK here where there’s other families?”

Fahl, who earns $7,537 this year on council, occasionally teaches courses at OU, though she hasn’t taught in a few years.

“I pick up classes here and there,” Fahl said. “I have taught Tourism and Ecotourism, plus a plant biology class.  I have also lead classes abroad for the Global Studies program, taking students to Thailand and Borneo.”

She’s also taught classes on gender, religion and sexuality.

Despite her academic background in biology and passion for the environment, Fahl has tried to incorporate planning into her education; when she was getting her Ph.D. in conservation biology from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Fahl wrote her dissertation with a planning angle.

That background serves her well on council, especially as chair of council’s planning and development committee, said Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-Third Ward, and mother of Post campus editor Will Drabold. 

“She comes at everything with systematic form of trying to solve problems and looking at things both short and long term,” Papai said. “I appreciate that approach.”

Though Fahl’s proposed amendments to the Garbage and Rubbish ordinance has sparked controversy, she maintains that council isn’t always that lively.

“It’s not sexy or glamorous. Sometimes, it’s not even controversial,” she said.

At-large Democrat Chris Knisely said she appreciates that laid-back mentality.

“She’s great,” commented Knisely. “She brings a combination of being very factual and truthful with a sense of humor. And sometimes we need that.”



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