City Ink: Time to look back at year in Augusta

Happy New Year!

 

January is the namesake of the mythological Roman god of gates and doors. Janus had two heads facing opposite directions: one looking back, the other looking forward. At the end of 2017, it seems we should look back on some events during the past year and also at how well his predictions for the year fared.

Janus looks back sat 2017 in Augusta and sees:

The Leader of a One-Man Band: Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis

The Most Divisive Political Move of the Year: Davis’ hijacking of the new James Brown Arena site-selection process with a sketchy lease offer from Regency Mall owner Alan Cardinale and colluding with certain Coliseum Authority members to get it approved while excluding the authority chairman, the arena site-selection committee chairman and another member

The Biggest Flim-Flam Deal of the Year: The latest offer from Cardinale, which includes a gift to the city of 10 acres on which to build an arena. Cardinale would keep the remaining 62 acres, most of which the city would maintain, insure, abate taxes on and give Cardinale all rights to develop and his attorney final say on development, zoning and parking. The attorney also would get to decide what’s compatible and complementary to a sports arena.

The Second Biggest Flim-Flam Deal of the Year: Davis paying his political consultant $9,000 from his $38,700 My Brother’s Keeper budget

The Most Tasteless Quote of 2017: “When we have these big issues that turn divisive, remind ourselves that just like the good Texans in (Sutherland) Springs, they were church members together; they stood together in that church; may we also stand together.” – Davis, Nov. 6, at the Rotary Club of Augusta

Most Gone Acronym: #SOGO

Most Hypocritical Political Slogan: One Augusta

Most Shocking Real Estate Sales Contract: Two Pendleton King Park trustees attempt to sell the park out from under the feet of the third trustee, the Pendleton King Park Foundation and the thousands of people who visit the park each year, although Pendleton King stated in his will that the park was to remain a park in perpetuity. Which part of “perpetuity” did they not understand?

Biggest Turnaround: Augusta judges were clamoring to get out of 401 Walton Way and into the new judicial building a few years ago because of mold and moisture problems. Now the judges are clamoring to get back into 401 Walton Way and use “every inch of it,” for a juvenile justice center.

Most Expensive Free Speech: The cost to the city of Augusta for providing security and other services for the NAACP’s August rally calling for the removal of the Confederate monument on Broad Street topped $30,000. Labor costs totaled $21,000, while other services and equipment, including a Georgia State Patrol helicopter that flew overhead, added up to $10,000 more.

Most Disrespectful Gesture by a Public Official: Augusta Commissioner Bill Fennoy kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance before commission meetings to protest police brutality.

Most Pie in the Sky Dream: Augusta commissioners thinking that they could create a government-run probation office that would pay for itself or break even.

Most Heavy-handed Office Transition: Even before Richmond County State Court Chief Judge Richard Slaby retired at the end of July, incumbent Chief Judge David Watkins tried to get Chief Probation Officer Marie Boulton and State Court Administrator Jan Hardy to resign. Both refused, and Watkins fired Boulton, who was hired as deputy warden at the Richmond County Correctional Institution. Hardy transferred to another job in Magistrate Court making $40,000 a year less. Her Atlanta attorney, A. Lee Parks, has asked the city to settle her claims of extreme mental and emotional damages caused by being the victim of race discrimination and adverse publicity due to her sudden termination or face an administrative charge of racial discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and in federal court.

Most Transparent Political Request: Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s request to open a regional office in the Marble Palace. It was placed on a commission meeting agenda as a request “to establish a local regional office within the Municipal Building on the second floor near the mayor’s office.” City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson explained that the item stemmed from a verbal request from Kemp’s office, and that she and staff had identified an underutilized lactation room near the mayor’s office. It’s obvious, however, that a more appropriate space could be found to fulfill Kemp’s goal. First of all, mothers with nursing babies would be crowded out by folks wanting to suck up to the mayor, not knowing what lactation meant.

 

How Did Janus’ 2017 Predictions Fare? The first thing Janus predicted was that the Augusta Commission and administrators would continue their tax-and-spend policies throughout the year. Janus predicted they would continue to grow the government, which proved to be true with a new south Augusta economic development initiative; a Keep Augusta Beautiful office; and more EMTs, paramedics and a lawyer for the fire department in preparation to take over the ambulance service.

Janus correctly predicted that Commissioner Sammie Sias would succeed in his effort to financially cripple Gold Cross EMS by drastically cutting its subsidy for providing ambulance service to Augusta’s indigent and nonpaying population.

Janus also predicted that as a result, Gold Cross would cut its costs and drive its ambulances until the wheels fall off. Then, as luck would have it, Sias would call 911, and Gold Cross would dispatch an ambulance, but its engine would catch on fire halfway there, delaying emergency service for 45 minutes.

That prediction did not come true in 2017. Nor did his prediction that Gold Cross would leave Augusta and that the city would start up its own ambulance service under the fire chief. And you, the taxpayers, would pay millions in startup costs and the cost to transport Augusta’s large nonpaying population to the hospital.

Janus, however, stands by his prediction and says it’s only a matter of time.

Janus also predicted that the city’s salary study would be shelved, but he was wrong. Jackson set aside $2.8 million for employee raises and pay adjustments and will implement the study this year.

Janus also predicted that Jackson would get a two-year extension to her contract, but he was off by a year. She got a three-year extension.

Janus’ prediction that Commissioner Mary Davis would be elected mayor pro tem proved to be true, but his prediction that General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie would be fired was wrong.

Next week, if Janus is still in a predicting mode, we might ask him to look forward into the new year.

 

Condolences: The year in Augusta government ended on a sad note with the sudden passing of the city’s deputy administrator, Chester Brazzell, who was found dead at his home Thursday, possibly from a fall. Coroner Mark Bowen has ordered an autopsy.

When Brazzell didn’t appear at staff meetings, Jackson sent someone to check on him. His family had not yet relocated to Augusta from Virginia. By all accounts, Brazzell was highly regarded by those who knew him as a good, kind man.

 

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