Though University of Georgia students come from all over the state and the U.S., all are affected by the local government of the town they live in.
The Athens-Clarke County Unified Government is made up of 10 commissioners and a mayor. County elections are nonpartisan, but the mayor and commission are mostly left leaning. Athens’ voters also tend to support Democrats in state and federal elections.
The next local election will take place in May 2020, with half of the commission districts — the even-numbered ones — up for election. ACC commissioners serve four-year terms, with half of the districts up for election every two years. The mayor also serves a four-year term with a maximum of two consecutive terms.
After serving as ACC District 9 Commissioner from 2007-2019, Kelly Girtz was sworn in on Jan. 8, 2019 after winning the May 2018 election.
Prior to becoming Mayor, Girtz worked as an educator, serving as director for Student Services at Foothills Charter High School from 2015-2018 and working as a teacher and administrator in the Clarke County School District from 1998-2014.
Since Girtz became mayor, he has committed the city to a 100% clean energy plan by 2050. The plan was adopted after Girtz joined about 100 mayors in signing the Sierra Club’s Mayors for 100% Clean Energy Initiative pledge in February.
The new plan also addresses the above-average energy prices that Athens households face each month, as well as the issue of minorities, people in poverty and the elderly spending higher portions of their incomes on energy.
On June 5, the mayor and commission approved a host of anti-poverty measures with the “prosperity package,” proposed by commissioners Mike Hamby and Ovita Thornton. Among other things, it allows senior citizens, people with disabilities and government employees to ride fare-free on ACC transit fixed-route service, which began July 1.
Athens has 10 districts, each represented by a commissioner. Last year’s election in May had six seats up for election, with progressive-leaning candidates taking all of them. As of now, the 2020 election will include at least two new candidates in Districts 8 and 10.
District 1 Commissioner Patrick Davenport served as vice president of the Board of Directors for Georgia Legal Services. District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson is also the founder of Athens for Everyone, a progressive group that endorsed every winning candidate in the May 2018 election.
District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker is a graduate teaching assistant and doctoral student at UGA. Parker is also a hip-hop artist under the name Linqua Franqa.
District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link kept her seat in the 2018 election and is managing editor of Ethics & the Environment, a peer-reviewed journal within the UGA Department of Philosophy.
District 4 Commissioner Allison Wright previously served on the CCSD Board of Education. She has been a commissioner since 2013, and most of her district contains the UGA campus. District 6 commissioner Jerry NeSmith was also sworn in alongside Wright.
Attorney and District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards is also one of the newer commissioners along with District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton, who served on the CCSD Board of Education for 16 years.
District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod, serving since 2007, is a UGA geography professor. District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby began his term in 2009, has worked on several campaigns and is a publisher at Athens Believer magazine.