March has definitely been a month of madness, not just in basketball, but also in Athens government and candidate forums.

March alone has seen three forums: the March 12 mayoral forum at the Athens-Clarke County library hosted by the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, March 19 mayoral and commission candidate forum at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church hosted by the Athens Community Agenda and the March 26 forum last night.

In the most recent forum, which took place in the Zell B. Miller Learning Center and was hosted by the University of Georgia NAACP chapter and Economic Justice Coalition, local government candidates were given the opportunity to promote their campaigns and platforms.

School board, commission and mayoral candidates gave introductions and discussed their priorities, as well as answered questions from the audience.

Diversity was a recurring topic from all candidates throughout the forum.

Beginning with school board candidates, many talked about the high rate of poverty in Athens and the lack of higher education resources provided to Athens youth.

Of the school board candidates present at the March 26 forum, there were four black women, two white women and one white man.



The 10 commissioner candidates took the stage after about 30 minutes of hearing from county school board candidates.

Again, diversity was a pressing issue.

Carl Blount, candidate for District 7, joked about being a white man speaking on diversity.

The crowd laughed and once the microphone was passed to Bill Overend, one of Blount’s opposers, he referred to himself as a “well-off white man” speaking about diversity.

Regardless of the skin color or economic background of the candidates, each appeared to see diversity as an important issue to focus on in their campaign.

“In order to have equal opportunity for all, everybody has to be sitting at the table,” said Tony Eubanks, District 3 candidate. “It’s not going to work if it doesn’t work for everyone.”

The moderator of the forum also noticed diversity as a prevalent discussion topic.

“There were issues that were brought up that are specific to the millennial era, particularly I was just amazed at how laser-beam focused they were on diversity and equality,” said moderator Robert Finch. “That is something that my generation -- I’m 50 years old -- has a different meaning, a different connotation.”

After 30 minutes for commissioner discussions, only three men sat at the front of the room, mayoral candidates Kelly Girtz, Harry Sims and Richie Knight.

The candidates touched on the topic of livable wages.

Because introductions went in order from Sims to Girtz to Knight, the question and answer portion began with Knight, followed by Girtz and then Sims.

Knight emphasized the need for a living wage so a worker can thrive on the salary they’re making. He also believes in higher wages.

“I look at a livable wage in ensuring that our citizens can truly thrive on the salary that they’re making, that they can provide for their families, so they can own their own home,” Knight said.

Girtz said he proudly pays his campaign staff members.

“It’s important to me that those members of my staff on this candidacy can dedicate their time and make real money doing this important work building this community,” said Girtz, who has experience in government budgets as a commissioner.

Sims is also a proponent of living wages.

“A lot of people get up and put in an eight-hour-a-day job, then go to the next eight-hour-a-day job, and in some cases, they get a four-hour-a-day job just to make ends meet,” Sims said.

He also highlighted entrepreneurship, encouraging more Athenians to own a business.

The moderator then allowed audience members to ask questions.

Although each forum is important, this one was different from the others because it was hosted by UGA students, Finch said.

“In this current political environment, students have a voice all the way from middle, high school all the way up to the millenials,” Finch said.

Candidates’ platforms and initiatives can be viewed on their campaign websites or on previous stories on The Red & Black.

The next mayoral debate is scheduled for March 29 at DT Productions on Prince Avenue.

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