By: Mohamad Burjak
On January the 8th, the city of Athens inaugurated Kelly Girtz as its new mayor. Girtz won the mayoral election this past May with a majority 60.5 % of the vote, beating his opponents former commissioner Harry Sims and businessman Bobby Knight by an outstanding margin (Aued 2018). This is not his first position in local government. After working in the Clarke county educational system for over a decade, as both a teacher and principal, he ran for the 9th District’s county commission seat and won; he served for 3 consecutive terms.
His entrance into the mayor’s office is forthcoming of a political shift in Athens-Clarke county; while previous mayor Nancy Denson could be described as a moderate, Girtz is aligned with a far more progressive faction of Athens democrats. He, along with the newly elected county commissioners, were all supported by the local progressive political group Athens for Everyone. He is a staunch supporter of all Athens for Everyone’s key issues, which include the expansion of transportation services, placing restrictions on the use of plastic bags, and the decriminalization of marijuana (Lefevre 2018). The same can also be said during his time as commissioner of District 9, voting on a number of issues favorably to the organization (Athens for Everyone 2018).
Girtz has stated that the expansion of affordable housing will be a top priority for his administration (Shearer 2019). Almost 35% of Athenians live in poverty according to Census Bureau (“U.S. Census Bureau quickfacts: Athens-Clarke County, Georgia,” 2017). Combine that with the increasing population of students studying at the University of Georgia, many locals struggle to find housing that they can afford. The new mayor has said in the past that housing developers have a lack of focus when it comes to family housing (Gratas 2018), stating that “commissioners have not put forth direct initiatives to relieve these housing pressures.” He does have a point; in an Athens-Clarke County Housing Student done by ADP Solutions Consulting group, it was found that between 2005 and 2015 only 11% of new housing units were marketed to members of the workforce (ADP Solutions Consulting 2016), meaning those making between $34000 and $68000 annually.
ADP Solutions Consulting (January 2016). The Athens-Clarke County Workforce Housing Study: Working for the Best. Retrieved from https://www.athensclarkecounty.com/DocumentCenter/View/31989/Athens-Working-for-the-Best-Final—Full-Report-reduced?bidId=
Athens for Everyone (2018). ACC Mayor and Commission: Kelly Girtz. Retrieved from https://athensforeveryone.com/acc-commissioners/kelly-girtz/
Aued, Blake (2018, May 22). Kelly Girtz Elected Mayor in a Landslide, and More Election Results. Retrieved from https://flagpole.com/news/in-the-loop/kelly-girtz-elected-mayor-in-a-landslide
Gratas, S. (2018, October 24). Pushed out: Middle-class, working families struggle with housing availability. Retrieved from https://www.redandblack.com/athensnews/pushed-out-middle-class-working-families-struggle-with-housing-availability/article_549cf3a8-d260-11e8-9f5a-7bdb2d9cdc88.html
Lefevre, Kaley (2018, March 22). Moving on from Mayor: Nancy Denson recounts her time in office. Retrieved from https://www.redandblack.com/athensnews/moving-on-from-mayor-nancy-denson-recounts-her-time-in/article_873dfa46-2d60-11e8-8567-3b7b083259ec.html
Lefevre, Kaley (2018,February 20). Athens for Everyone ranks commissioners on voting records,stances. Retrieved from https://www.redandblack.com/athensnews/athens-for-everyone-ranks-commissioners-on-voting-records-stances/article_26020974-15d3-11e8-8ae9-33ab343bf844.html
Shearer, Lea (2019, January 5). Political shift coming for Athens with new mayor, commissioners. Retrieved from https://www.onlineathens.com/news/20190105/political-shift-coming-for-athens-with-new-mayor-commissioners
U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Athens-Clarke County (balance), Georgia. (2017, July 1). Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/athensclarkecountybalancegeorgia