Six out of ten teens think America is headed in the wrong direction, according to a new study by the University of Chicago. In Athens, the Mayor’s new Youth Commission hopes to change that dynamic locally through opportunities for area youth to voice ideas and questions.
Mayor Kelly Girtz started the youth commission to promote youth involvement in local government. The Commission is for 10th-12th graders that live and go to school in the Athens area. 17 members currently sit on the commission, and these students can attend any public, private, or homeschool in Athens-Clarke County. Commission applications opened up this past spring for candidates who wanted to be a part of political conversations and decisions.
Mayor Girtz served as a teacher and administrator at WR Coile Middle School and Classic City High School in the Clarke County School District from 1998-2014 and has a lot of experience working with students.
“The youth commission was really born out of the spirit of working with the high school students and middle school students,” Girtz said. “Knowing how much energy and enthusiasm that students bring to the table is important. We want that energy brought into the work we do in city hall, and we want to provide teenagers an opportunity the way in.”
Clarke Central Junior Isabella Gonzalez plans to go into politics when she is older, so joining the commission is a logical choice for her.
“This is a really good start for me,” she said. “I’m only 16 and I’m already serving on a Mayor’s Youth Commission,” Gonzalez said.
Girtz hopes the commission will inspire the future voters and boost confidence in adolescents to learn more about how policies are created. The commission will also help them become more active in voting.
“It’s no secret that even in the voting world and the electoral world the people who don’t vote are disproportionately young,” Girtz said. “I would love it if one of the outcomes of the youth commission is that we get the youth vote up.”
According to Girtz, the first step with the commission was to discuss how they would operate and what outcomes they hope to accomplish.
“I’m eager to have the commission members define this process for themselves,” he said. “I also want them to decide what work they want to be engaged in this year.”
Projects and suggestions get finalized through a voting process involving the council as well as the committees.
“Committees and council members will present ideas about the problems they see in the community,” junior Tykerius Monford said. “Then we decide to make a vote. Two-thirds have to agree about these issues in a consensus before we make a suggestion to the mayor.”
The Mayor is planning to open up applications for new members annually during the Spring. However in the Fall they will be setting up another time for people to join.
“Not everybody had this on their radar,” said Girtz. “This fall we’re going to open up another opportunity to join, and there will be an orientation for the members just like the one we did in the spring.”
Interested students with questions can view information on the Mayor’s Youth Commission at accgov.com.