Athens-Clarke County Commission Kelly Girtz—the likely frontrunner in the May mayor’s race—called for “a broader, stronger and more inclusive foundation in our community” in a speech to Athens Democrats last week.
Athens has “fantastic” employers and innovators, nonprofits, educational institutions, artists and musicians, Girtz said, but there are “cracks and fissures” in that foundation, he said. “Now is the time for us to turn the corner, and I’m here to tell you, if you’re looking for a candidate who’s going to put on some new window dressing, this is not that candidate,” he said.
Girtz emphasized Athens’ persistent poverty, dating back to sharecropping through the city’s mill-town stage to the modern largely service-based economy. Unemployment is low (at 4.1 percent, according to the most recent Georgia Department of Labor figures), but with a poverty rate of over 30 percent, the local economy is leaving many behind. Girtz—a longtime educator who’s currently a regional director at Foothills Charter High School—said he knows how to plug in disadvantaged youth to social networks, as well as use government economic development tools like tax allocation districts and reinvestment zones to create opportunity. Boosting the poor will help the middle class, too, he said, quoting the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone: “We all do better when we all do better.”
Known as a dealmaker on the commission, Girtz touted his experience tackling environmental issues, pushing for an updated bike/pedestrian master plan, securing funding for the Great Promise Partnership that has matched 600 at-risk youth with mentors and chairing a criminal justice task force that instituted reforms that reduced the local jail population by 100 inmates on average.
Girtz is likely to face fellow Commissioner Harry Sims, businessman Richie Knight, tea party activist Antwon Stephens and perhaps others—we’ll know for sure when qualifying for the May 22 election happens the first week in March.
District 7 Race Heats Up
Lawyer and former Athens Downtown Development Authority board member Bill Overend announced last week that he’s entering the ACC Commission District 7 race.
“During my almost 30 years in Athens, I have watched our unified government become more
removed from the electorate—the people the government is supposed to serve,” Overend said in a news release. “We have allowed a bureaucracy to grow that feeds on itself at the expense of the citizenry. Agendas are being pushed and decisions are being made by unelected staff, not our elected officials.”
With local journalism in decline—we’ll assume he means the daily, not Flagpole—Overend said the ACC government needs to do more to inform citizens. He also said he’s tired of endlessly studying issues with no action and the lack of planning for future challenges.
“I love Athens, but I am frustrated at the lack of progress in this community,” he said. “We need strong, focused leadership that insists that our government works for a vision of what this community could and should be—a government that works for us, and not simply to preserve the status quo.”
Already in the race is Russell Edwards, another lawyer, who owns the downtown vintage store Agora with his wife, Airee. A campaign kickoff event at his house last week drew over 100 people, including state Reps. Spencer Frye and Jonathan Wallace and Commissioner Melissa Link. Edwards told the crowd that he’s running to make downtown Athens more family-friendly.
The current District 7 commissioner, Diane Bell, did not return a call seeking comment, but has not been campaigning publicly and reportedly has been telling others she is not running for re-election.
Meanwhile, Athens for Everyone has already endorsed Link and Tim Denson, the progressive group’s founder and former president, even though there may be other candidates that enter the race in the next five weeks. Denson and Edwards have also endorsed each other.
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