National and state politics are at the forefront of media coverage. News feeds are flooded with the daily chaos of congressional and executive affairs. While federal policy dictates a large facet of our lives, local officials focus on the details. In government, there are no small parts. The Rep. Spencer Frye fellows were given an opportunity to hear from recently elected Kelly Girtz, Athens’ new mayor, to discuss local government policy.
When Athens voters elected Kelly Girtz as the new Mayor, his attention to detail was clear. During his campaign, Girtz promised to address matters both small and large. After being sworn in on January 8th, it wasn’t long before his words soon became reality. Today, with only 3 months under his belt, Mayor Girtz has taken steps to rectify longstanding concerns within the community.
Before his role in politics, Girtz had a commitment to his fellow citizens. He was struck by a desire to serve while working with Social Services’ Trauma Department as a college student at Old Dominion University. The inconsistency of social work, encouraged him to pursue a career in teaching.
Upon graduation from Piedmont College with a Master of Arts, he began as a teacher and administrator in Athens. It was during his time as a teacher that Kelly Girtz realized if he can have an honest conversation with 14-year-olds, he should be able to with 60-year-olds. After serving as Regional Director of Student Services and Special Education for Foothills Charter High School, he left wide-eyed and decided to run for County Commissioner.
As a member of the Athens-Clarke County commission, he was given the opportunity to fully digest local needs. In understanding that the ACC spreads beyond Prince and Broad Street, the former Commissioner traveled to the bounds of county lines. Near the end of his third term in office, Kelly Girtz set his sights on addressing the potentials for change within the community by running for Athens’ mayor.
One of the major concerns he has addressed is the minority experience in Athens’ downtown area. It has been a controversial topic for many years with little change. As a response, bars are now required to post dress codes visible for entering patrons. Those found responsible for discrimination must answer to local officials. As bar discrimination is an evident manifestation of Athens’ race relations, there is something to be said on a deeper level. Mayor Girtz says he is interested in reshaping the infrastructure to better accommodate all members of Athens’ diverse landscape. One example being the creation of the Office of Inclusion and Diversity this year.
It is clear that Mayor Kelly Girtz has chosen to be the mouthpiece for citizens all across Athens. He is devoted to enriching the community. Since the election, he has ensured that the high school graduation rate continues to grow, as it has reached 80% in 2019. Notably, an accomplishment he attributes to hardworking teachers and administrators in local public schools. In taking steps to make all Athens citizens a priority, Mayor Kelly Girtz continues to prove that local government has a crucial role in the facets of daily life.