Athens City Council candidates assembled in Walter Hall on Thursday night to discuss hot-button issues in Athens as they prepare for the November election. 

Hosted by the Ohio University Student Senate Governmental Affairs, the town hall open forum included questions from both moderators and students. 

The candidates — Arian Smedley, D-At Large; Sarah Grace; Pat McGee, I-At Large; Noah Trembly; and Peter Kotses, D-At Large — were often asked about relations between Athens residents and students. 

The student moderators, Alex Jackson, Matt Mamone and Nate Horton, opened with a question about involving OU students more in city activities. 

“Council members should encourage students to get more involved,” Smedley said. “Invite students into city and county commissions. Just engage students in real, tangible ways.” 

Young people were a common topic for the night as candidates spoke on issues such as The Athens Cannabis Ordinance, or TACO, and the Richland Avenue project. 

One moderator asked a question related to getting young people, including OU students, involved in local government. 

“I don’t think generic advertising works with students and local government,” Grace said.

Along with those issues, candidates were concerned with issues such as a dwindling state budget and infrastructure in Athens. 

“Use the money we have and use it wisely,” McGee said. “We need to get people to invest in Athens. Athens is incredible to live in, but people aren’t moving here because the housing situation is not adequate.”

When the moderator questions ended, the floor was opened up to audience members who attended to ask the candidates questions.

One audience member’s question was directed toward all candidates, asking their feelings on the TACO initiative and the legalization of marijuana. 

All candidates were in support of legalization, however candidates were somewhat divided on TACO’s clarity. 

“I believe many residents are not aware of potential costs,” Grace said. “A marijuana charge can impact student financial aid. (TACO) could lead to confusion, and I would hate to see students suffering long-term consequences for doing something they thought was legal in Athens.”

Another community question was asked about candidates’ opinions on the Richland Avenue project. The candidates all seemed to agree about one thing — something needed to be done about the pedestrian problem.

“I think it would benefit the students,” Trembly said. “Peak hours at the intersection average four cars per minute, and there is an average of 8,925 pedestrians in a day. The pedestrian tunnel really is the best option.”

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