While chatting over biscuits and coffee, around 40 attendees were called to order by the University of Georgia student government president, who thanked them for their presence.
“We are so excited that you’re here. This is always an amazing event for you to discuss ideas to improve our community,” Student Government Association president Cameron Keen said.
On the morning of March 28, members from SGA attended the biannual mayor and commission breakfast at the Dougherty Street Governmental Building. SGA senators, cabinet members and executives met with Athens-Clarke County commissioners and civil servants.
After his introduction, Keen thanked Mayor Nancy Denson for her role in coordinating the event. Although Denson had to leave shortly after to attend a meeting, she did deliver some opening remarks about the event’s history, which has been held for about four years.
“I think it has been so unbelievably productive, for both the commission and the students,” Denson said.
The first topic discussed was off-campus lighting, specifically in regard to safety.
“Budget is the No. 1 challenge because those street lights are really expensive and to pay for the electricity to fuel them is really expensive,” commissioner Melissa Link said.
Jeff Scarborough, chief of the ACC Fire Department, discussed safety in reference to downtown bars.
Scarborough is more concerned with the safety of the businesses, proper identification of the exits and emergency lighting inside these downtown businesses.
“We’re not the fun police,” Scarborough said. “We just want to make sure, at the end of the day, everybody goes home, and nobody ends up being carried out in a body bag. We want to make sure folks are safe.”
Discrimination has also been a concern of students, especially within the downtown bar scene.
“We always need to be attentive to creating an inclusive atmosphere across the county, and especially downtown, since it’s what many people think of as embodying Athens,” mayoral candidate and commissioner Kelly Girtz said.
Keen referenced the anti-discrimination ordinance passed in 2016 but said discrimination remains a problem.
“I think improvements have been made, but there’s still a lot of work left to be done,” Keen said. “Whether that is discrimination through the guise of dress codes or private parties, I hope SGA continues to look into this issue.”
Campus involvement and student engagement was the last topic. Some students discussed local internships as a way to connect with the local community.
“They mentioned … allowing students to stay in Athens, to get these experiences, because of how much the community loves the university and how much the university loves Athens -- trying to bridge that gap,” said Anderson Felt, SGA Odum School of Ecology senator.
Participants in the event said the talk will create some improvements in the ways Athens and UGA interact.
“We got a lot of tangible ideas that the next administration can really face on ... One idea we discussed was maybe a smaller, Athens-specific job fair,” said Austin Gibbons, director of student resources for SGA.
“I think it was really important for us, as we close out our year, to know what issues to communicate to whoever is elected next,”
- Kal Golde, SGA treasurer
Commissioner Allison Wright also floated the idea of having politicians give input at SGA meetings.
“What if they invited us? They could have a different commissioner maybe attend an SGA meeting, and we could just give them an idea of things on our agenda that might interest them,” said Wright.
Among the attendees were Athens-Clarke County Commissioners Link, Wright, Jared Bailey, Andy Herod and Girtz, of districts 3, 4, 5, 8 and 9, respectively.
Kal Golde, treasurer of SGA,discussed possibly producing a list from students about areas off campus that need better lighting at his table. He also mentioned advertising the process for students to bring forward complaints against bars, if they feel that they have been discriminated against.
“I think it was really important for us, as we close out our year, to know what issues to communicate to whoever is elected next,” Golde said.