City Ink: Absent mayor misses plenty of photo opportunities

Where in the world is Mayor Hardie Davis?


As evacuees flooded into Augusta to escape Hurricane Irma, the best I can figure is the mayor evacuated to escape Augusta. The last I saw of him was in a picture at a news conference Sept. 8, the day the first evacuees from Savannah were arriving.

Now I ask myself, “What would be important enough for the mayor to miss numerous photo opportunities showing him welcoming hurricane survivors to Augusta?”

A smart politician might even have been seen on TV unloading water and supplies at shelters or even serving food to old folks and children. Even a political neophyte like President Trump got that right. I saw him on TV unloading water in Florida.

If the impact on Augusta had been worse than it was, who would have known how to get hold of the mayor?

Not the mayor pro tem. Not the commissioners. Not the administrator.

And the mayor was not returning phone calls or text messages.

Mayor Pro Tem Mary Davis said she knew he wouldn’t be at commission committee meetings Tuesday but didn’t know where he was.

“I haven’t seen him since Sammie Sias’ breakfast last Saturday,” Commissioner Ben Hasan said.

“I haven’t seen him, and I haven’t talked to him,” Commissioner Dennis Williams said. “I received several calls this week asking did I know where he was.”

Neither had commissioners Andrew Jefferson, Grady Smith, Sean Frantom, Marion Williams, Wayne Guilfoyle or Bill Fennoy. Nor had City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson.

Sias did not return a phone message.

So where in the world could the mayor have been while sheriff’s deputies and city workers were clearing trees from streets and roads during and after the storm?

In New York playing Legos with Alan Cardinale?

Explaining what #SOGO is to a roomful of foreign investors?

We’re sure he wasn’t hiking the Appalachian Trail. Only a governor would do that.

Out With a Bang: Every time you turn around in Augusta these days, some official is resigning or retiring. Just last week, Augusta Economic Development Authority Executive Director Walter Sprouse resigned after almost 15 years. He’s going to be available as a consultant for a while, but his main post-retirement efforts will be to help his son Sam expand his business, Charleston Woodworking School, into a new building and enjoy his four grandchildren.

Although rumor had it that some authority members were disgruntled with Sprouse because two of his program managers, Scott Poag and Jonathan Davis, resigned within a week of each other in March, Sprouse said he is going out with a bang.

“Thursday, we did $940 million worth of revenue bonds,” he said. “That’s the most bonds in our 47-year history.”

He was quick to note that the authority is the conduit through which the bonds are approved.

“We don’t get the bonds,” he said. “We don’t sell the bonds. We don’t give anybody any money.”

And they’re not necessarily tax-exempt, he said. “They can get tax breaks. Sometimes, they do. The county sets the rates.”

Out With a Golden Parachute: Augusta’s human resources director, Michael Loeser, will retire Dec. 31 after less than two years on the job, fully vested in the city retirement program and eligible for severance pay as a senior executive staff member.

According to several sources, Jackson is dissatisfied with Loeser’s performance and planned to demote or terminate him. He chose a better path for himself.

The HR department has had a series of directors since the mid-1990s and a lot of problems and turmoil to go along with them. After Miller Meyer, now deceased, retired, John Etheridge became director. I remember him saying that every time he turned over a rock, something bad was under it. He wrote a seven-page letter of resignation to the city before taking his departure.

After Etheridge, Equal Opportunity Coordinator Brenda Byrd-Pelaez served in a dual capacity as HR director, which apparently was too much for her because she stayed in her office a lot with the door closed, burning incense. The following paragraph from her letter of resignation sums up the problems then and now:

“Admittedly, I have experienced a plethora of disappointments, such as lack of competent and loyal staff, fiscal resources, professional respect and an inability to discipline internal Human Resources staff without negative recourse. This has been a difficult but yet enlightening journey.”

After she resigned, Robby Burns became interim director. Then there was Rod Powell, who came on the scene in 2008 and remained until he tackled the revision of the city’s Personnel, Policies and Procedures manual, also known as the PPPM. Unfortunately, then-commissioners Bill Lockett and Alvin Mason took a strong disliking to Powell’s revision and to him, too, I think, and he soon retired to sunny Florida.

That was in 2011, and the position was filled with interim directors until commissioners hired Tanika Bryant in 2013. I don’t know exactly what happened to cause her to resign two years later, but it was some skullduggery involving an anonymous letter. Then along came Loeser last year.

Some people have questioned how Loeser could be fully vested in the retirement program after such a short time on the job. The answer is that it is one of the inducements to senior executive staff candidates. Another valuable inducement is continued medical benefits in retirement.

Meanwhile, another costly revision to the PPPM seems to have ground to a halt.

Greener Pastures: Former Deputy IT Director Michael Blanchard has seized a great opportunity as Columbia County’s information technology director.

And, as previously reported, the popular Engineering Department Director Abie Ladson will leave the city Oct. 31 to run his own business.

Close Encounter of the Fanged Kind: Talking about hiding from the public, during our storm cleanup, Ernie had a run-in with what might have been the mayor of our south pasture.

A lot of people consider politicians snakes in the grass, but in this case, it wasn’t a politician that Ernie stepped on. It was a rattlesnake coiled up in the twigs and leaves, perfectly camouflaged, and if he hadn’t been standing on the snake’s head, it would have bitten him for sure. He said it wasn’t a matter of whether he jumped off but how high he jumped. So the snake stayed in a coil while I fetched a shotgun. Ernie shot it twice, but it kept moving for a long time. It had five rattles and a button, so Ernie said. I didn’t get close enough to see the rattles.

Naturally, I called our neighbor Sammie McCorkle to tell him what had happened, and I told him the snake wouldn’t seem to die. Sammie said the old-timers said it wouldn’t stop moving until it thundered. I think Sammie had that mixed up with the saying about when a snapping turtle bites you, it won’t turn loose until it thunders, but I didn’t bother to try to correct him because he’s kind of hard of hearing on the phone. Actually, he’s hard of hearing off the phone, too.

Anyway, he said that Ernie should hang the snake on a fence. It seems like I remember people a long time ago saying that would bring rain.

So since we don’t need any more rain, Ernie just let it lie there until morning.

Last week, it was a skunk in our yard. A lot of people think politicians are skunks, too. Some are. Not that I know any.



Pop Rocks: Augusta, my Christmas wish list has one thing

My family often accuses me of being a difficult person to Christmas shop for. While it is true that my tastes run toward the particular and tend to lean heavily on easy-to-wrap standards such as books and records, I believe that as I get older, I’m less concerned with the item than the idea. Give me something I believe you have thought about and carefully considered, and I’m happy. The present clearly purchased at the drug store the day before is met with considerably less enthusiasm.

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