Sitting Down with Mayor Kelly Girtz

Mayor, Athens-Clarke County Unified Government
Tell us a little about you and your time in Athens. 

I moved to Athens in January 1996 to attend graduate school and then worked as a public school teacher and administrator here for twenty years before becoming Mayor. The creativity and vitality of the Athens community is infectious, and within my first year here, I wanted to stay for the long-term. In addition to hosting a great live music scene with more stages in walking distance than any city I’ve ever visited, there are tons of great outdoor recreation opportunities here for biking, hiking and all kinds of play. As a parent to a third-grader, I can tell you that it is a fantastic place to be a parent, with tons of great programming within the Clarke County School District and beyond.

What are you the proudest of as Mayor of Athens?

I’m most proud of having moved the needle to extend the benefits of living here to more of our residents. Historically, Athens has been an economically bifurcated community, and racially segregated, for as long as it has been a place on the map. By focusing on access to housing, employment, and public sector amenities for all, we are setting the stage for more successful and more integrated generations to come.

photograph by Marigold Solutions
photograph by Marigold Solutions
What do you see in the future for Athens in prosperity and growth? 

We look at prosperity in layered terms: we want strong public health measures, we want a strong economy, we want continued success in the creative community, and we want to make sure Athens is a great place to raise a family. In the years ahead we will have more high-wage employers joining Boehringer Ingleheim, two Johnson and Johnson subsidiaries, Caterpillar, RWDC, and many others. There is also a strong small business community of creatives and entrepreneurs that will only expand. We make every effort to link research and development activities underway at UGA, our own Economic Development Department’s work, and training opportunities at the Athens Community Career Academy (serving high school students) and Athens Technical College. With an enormous amount of public sector investment in recreation and infrastructure, we are poised to grow in terms of both population and quality of life.

Being a UGA graduate, how did you celebrate the Bulldogs National championship. 

I jumped up and down on my living room floor with my nine-year-old, my wife, and our neighbors. We are hoping there wasn’t too much structural damage!

Pic 5
When you are not working on the issues for the community, how do you relax?

I do lots of hiking and walking throughout the community. I like a good cup of coffee and the occasional cocktail, and I’m a big fan of the music community here, past and present, so any night I can go listen to music is a good one. I also like to read, especially memoirs and nonfiction.

What are some of your favorite places you like to visit in the community? 

The rapidly expanding Greenway Trail network is a great way to get some exercise, reflect and see some fantastic vantage points, including a view of Sanford Stadium from the Firefly Trail bridge over the North Oconee River, and the location that William Bartram documented in his 1791 book Bartram’s Travels.

What would you like the visitors or potential businesses considering Athens to know about the area? 

This is a magnetic community where it is easy to get around, easy to find a great meal and something fun to do, and a place with a strong pool of prospective employees.

What is your most enjoyable experience as Mayor? 

The chance to interact with residents here is invaluable. There are so many smart, caring, vibrant, and creative people that make up the Athens community. That never gets old.

What is your favorite vacation spot? 

I’m really fond of the lowcountry area of Georgia and South Carolina. The history and geography there are fascinating, and the beauty of the marshlands is striking to me every time I visit.

What were some of the toughest challenges you faced in 2020/2021? 

Every existing challenge was heightened over the last two years: healthcare needs, housing stability, food insecurity, and the need to provide positive direction for young people, among others. In addition, the social climate that was already strained from the last several years of political and social media dynamics became even more challenging as people’s usual relief valves – travel, social time, arts activities, and more – were missing or limited. Slowly, though, people are finding their compasses again and I am looking forward to a great 2022 with the community I love so much.

Photography: Provided and by Aimee Cheek


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