Like any human endeavor, the City of Augusta is fraught with problems.
But which one is the direst of all?
I thought I’d ask that question of the 10 people vying in contested elections to sit on the Augusta Commission. It’s not the toughest of questions, but it’s a hard one to duck, dodge or hedge on, and their answers give an interesting peek inside their heads.
As I’ve interviewed them over the past few weeks, I asked each candidate, “What is the most pressing issue facing Augusta right now?”
Matt Aitken: “Lack of progress as a city. I think we see other communities around that are growing, and we’re not.”
Bill Fennoy: “I would think that the most pressing issue facing Augusta is lack of economic development. I think that Augusta has lost some jobs that we have not been able to replace. We must do something to bring jobs to Augusta. We must do something to train our citizens to be able to step into those jobs.”
JoRae Jenkins: “The diversity on the commission. Just dealing with race all the time. I believe we just need to pull it together and stop voting on race and start voting on issues.”
Anthony Jones: “Jobs. There are a lot less of them, and I see a lot of people that need assistance day to day. I guess unemployment would be the biggest issue.”
Butch Palmer: “Vitalization. There’s been a whole bunch of emphasis placed on Broad Street, but the surrounding neighborhoods near Broad Street don’t have the disposable incomes to enjoy the goods and services of downtown. We need people who own and occupy their homes. It would be a safer, cleaner, nicer city. We need to do a government incentive to attract homebuyers back to the urban core. There’s a wealth of white and black people that will move to downtown once you get rid of the trash. And by no means am I talking about displacement. Displacement happens gradually. It’s a natural process.”
Joe Bowles: “Public perception. When you look at the events that have happened in the press involving commissioners – whether it’s their fault or not – and open records, I think there are a lot of people who think that the government’s trying to operate under a veil of secrecy.”
Joy B. Mitchell-Booker: “Unemployment. We’ve got a lot of people that have lost jobs because of the economic situation, and that’s hurting us real bad. We’ve got people losing their houses left and right, simply because they’ve lost their jobs or gone out of business.”
Cleveland O’Steen: “I just think they (commissioners) need to work together. That’s the biggest thing. Work together and be up front with the citizens. It’s accountability.”
Bobby Hankerson: “We’re gonna’ have to get past the negativity, the bribery and scheming. When those things happen, it’s impossible for us to move forward. The biggest issue is to get past that. It’s just creating an atmosphere where we cannot progress, while these things are happening. We need things to stimulate growth in Augusta.”
Bill Lockett: “Jobs. When I say jobs, I mean good-paying jobs. Augusta’s not as bad as some places, but we still have a relatively high unemployment rate.”
Another problem we face: apathy.
According to Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director, turnout on Nov. 3 is expected to be around 20 percent. While that would be much better than the 8.71 percent who turned out for the June sales tax referendum, it’s still pathetic. That’s 20 percent of registered voters, mind you, not the population at large.
For those of you interested in local government, the Augusta-Richmond County Committee for Good Government will hold a candidate forum tonight at 7 p.m. at the Julian Smith BBQ Pit on Milledge Road.
Each candidate who shows up will get three minutes to speak, and the committee will endorse candidates for commission seats and the vacant District 5 seat on the Richmond County School Board.