The new Athens-Clarke County Inclusion Officer, Krystle Cobran, and Mayor Kelly Girtz outlined their vision for the newly-established ACC Inclusion Office and answered audience questions at Ciné Lab on Jan. 13. Cobran outlined her vision and approach to addressing the “gulfs” between different groups of people in Athens, such as race and age.

“I need you to tell me the truth. I mean like the raw, unvarnished, unadulterated truth,” Cobran said to the audience. “I need [you] to tell me what you're seeing. Tell me what you're feeling. I need [you] to tell me what you're experiencing. I need you to ask me the hard questions.”

Cobran outlined three initiatives — which she called “foundational steps” — to learn from the Athens community. The first initiative is a podcast featuring the stories of Athens, told by Athenians, to build a “shared understanding” of people’s and Athens’s history. The second is an Inclusion Fellowship program to research various topics such as other counties' inclusion department’s proposals. The third is a “walking and listening” tour in each of the county’s commission districts to hear residents’ concerns and challenges “face-to-face.” Cobran hopes the residents’ responses will help inform the office’s future initiatives.

While these initiatives are still in progress, Cobran said she has recorded “eight to 10” episodes of the podcast, which will be released in a few weeks. Additionally, she has met with multiple commissioners to discuss the “walking and listening” tour.

Cobran said, as she is in the early phases, her job is to “operationalize listening” to serve all of the local government’s employees and all of Athens. For the 2020 fiscal year, the county has budgeted Cobran $175,000, which includes her salary, the Girtz said.

“I think Krystle is in a good position — in the driver's seat — to figure out what that path forward looks like. We don't want this to be something in name only,” Girtz said. “I really want substantive tangible outcomes from [the office].”

During the public forum, no one in the room voiced criticism of Cobran or the Inclusion Office, while several people praised Cobran and the office.

Karen Menke, a member of Moms Demand Action, said she thinks Cobran is up for the task. Menke was impressed by Cobran’s experience designing college courses at UGA about intersections between the law and race and other social categories.

“I thought she was terrific. I was most impressed with her,” Menke said. “I thought she was an ideal candidate [to lead the office] because of her background.”

Under the purview of the office, Cobran said she would seek to address the issues and inequities faced by different racial groups, ages, socio-economic groups, gender, gender identity and LGBT groups.

“This is not an inclusive list. I may be forgetting you,” Cobran said. “If I'm forgetting, please know that you are not forgotten.”

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