Candidates for District 1 speak at Thursday forum

Everything you ever wanted to know about what candidates for the District 1 seat on the Augusta Commission thought about crime, blight, race relations and the TEE Center you could have heard at a political forum Thursday.

Candidates Matt Aitken, JoRae Jenkins, Butch Palmer and William Fennoy answered questions on those and many other topics for almost two hours during the Harrisburg-West End Neighborhood Association meeting at the Kroc Center.

Mr. Aitken, Ms. Jenkins and Mr. Fennoy emphasized the importance of bringing the district together and economic development, while Mr. Palmer harped on the need for a chronic nuisance property ordinance that would clean up Harrisburg and the rest of the city.

“I’d like to grow old in Augusta and walk the streets without getting my throat cut,” Mr. Palmer said. “But the way things are going, I’m not sure I’ll be able to.”

Ms. Jenkins’ plan for dealing with crime throughout the city includes more training for police officers, more neighborhood watches and more neighborhood meetings. Mr. Palmer, however, said when crime gets as bad as it is in Harrisburg, the drug dealers and prostitutes “are” the neighborhood watch.

Mr. Fennoy said his approach to crime prevention is education, starting early.

“We’ve got to educate and instill in them morals and values,” he said.

More police visibility is also important, he said.

Mr. Aitken said he’s been involved in prison ministry since he himself came out of prison 20 years ago and knows a great deal about the problem.

“Somewhere, as a city we’ve got to unite,” he said. “We’re not united now.”

All agreed abandoned and dilapidated houses are a major problem, but each had a different solution.

Mr. Palmer said property owners should be given incentives for fixing up their homes. Enforcing city ordinances already on the books is the key, said Mr. Fennoy, while Mr. Aitken said building revenues with economic development is the answer. Ms. Jenkins said working with non-profit organizations and a big effort to clean up Augusta would help.

As for improving race relations, Mr. Palmer said race relations would have to be improved by the people involved. Mr. Fennoy said he doesn’t think Augusta has a race relations problem, except when the five black commissioners don’t vote the way some people want them to. Mr. Aitken said when government leaders start leading and when pastors come together, people will come together. And Ms. Jenkins said there needs to be more literature on diversity, more ethnic festivals and more diversity training in the schools and city government.

Asked whether they would be willing to allow the public to vote again on the TEE Center since costs have risen so much since it was approved, Mr. Fennoy said the voters have already voted and that it was up to commissioners to decide when and where it should be built.

Mr. Aitken said “absolutely not.”

“Leadership should have already have that thing out of the ground,” Mr. Aitken said.

Mr. Palmer said it absolutely should be put on a referendum before the special interests shove it on through.

Ms. Jenkins said no on a second vote and suggested a town hall meeting to let the people see how the project has changed over time.

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