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Jerry NeSmith, District 6 commissioner, talks to Athens citizens at the Athens Mayor and Commission meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Photo/Jason Born)

Members of the University of Georgia Student Government Association and other student leaders met with the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission to talk about campus safety, sustainability, lighting and community outreach on Monday morning.

The catered breakfast took place at the Dougherty Street Governmental Building from 9-11 a.m. Roughly 40 UGA and ACC representatives gathered to discuss issues faced by Athens locals and the university’s students.

While the venue could not host every SGA member, SGA Directors of Government Relations Nadav Ribak and Andrew Stephens selected a variety of members involved in different organizations across campus. In order to include the most viewpoints, Ribak said members in attendance were from a multitude of organizations ranging from Greek life to community involvement to community outreach.

“We just want to have a discussion. We want the ideas to start flowing, we want people to be talking, we want commissioners to see what’s pressing to us as students and we want to see what we can do from here,” he said.

One of the main issues at the forefront of the conversation dealt with sustainability. Anderson Felt, SGA director of academic outreach and SGA sustainability liaison, led a discussion on topics such as eco-friendly transportation.SGA Public Affairs Advisor Austin Gibbons said SGA “commend[s] the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government for their commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2035.”

Mello Robinson, SGA director of multicultural outreach, introduced the topic of community. The roundtable discussion focused on increasing diversity, inclusion, community service and other similar measures that can “make Athens feel more like home for all students and all citizens,” Gibbons said.

SGA President Pro Tempore Matthew McDaniel mediated a discussion concerning lighting. This topic dealt with LED lighting and other initiatives to make the campus and the Athens community feel safer. The discussion of safety served as a follow-up to the public safety question and answer panel facilitated by ACC Mayor Kelly Girtz.

“We take very seriously our responsibility to the public at large,” Girtz said. “We want to recognize that our job is to provide the best outcome to this community.”

Cleveland Spruill, Chief of the ACC Police Department, sat alongside ACC Chief Assistant Solicitor Will Fleenor and ACC Municipal Court Judge Ryan Hope. The three men broached subjects related to public safety, such as pre-arrest diversion programs and past incidents involving college students. The representatives gave advice on how to successfully interact with the police and the courts system. The men agreed that being cooperative to officers can be beneficial, but that does not mean it is advisable to waive one’s rights.

“I think it's better for you if you can be as civil as possible in a stressful situation,” Fleenor said.

SGA President Rachel Byers thanked Girtz, ACC Commission members, local government staff, and the UGA Office of Government Relations for their assistance in setting up the event.

“Over the next few weeks, Melissa, Nav, and I are committed to debriefing with the student leaders who were in attendance this morning to hear how they think SGA can create impactful change for our student body and our local community,” she said in a statement provided to The Red & Black. “We are excited to work on issues of sustainability, safety, and community, and we know that partnering with county leaders will help our administration and SGA administrations to come.”

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