Past year has seen changes

Augusta has changed since last year's Masters Tournament with construction of the Kroc Center and sales-tax projects such as the new Judicial Center, the Trade, Exhibit and Event Center and new public library. We won't mention the new jail pods going up in south Augusta since we have so many visitors in town. They're state-of-the-art, but sort of like an alcoholic uncle nobody mentions in the presence of company.

 

The mayor's office keeps churning out press releases about how high the city is ranked by Forbes magazine, which makes me wonder whether Mr. Forbes has actually been to Augusta. And if so, just how far past Gordon Highway did he go.

Anyway, we have made progress here since last year with all the federal money and grants flowing in, but there's really no telling what might be accomplished if anybody could figure out who's in charge.

COMMISSIONERS, THE MAYOR OR FRED RUSSELL? The confusion started when city officials began trying to update the city's policies and procedures manual and give the administrator more clout.

Augusta's black commissioners objected, saying that violated the city charter. They contended it would take eight commission votes to change. Richmond County legislators got involved and asked a lawyer who writes legislation for members of the General Assembly to look into the matter. Said lawyer agreed with the dissenting commissioners, who, along with the legislators, felt vindicated. Rep. Wayne Howard even called a press conference in Atlanta to announce the findings, flanked by other House members of like mind.

That was before they read the rest of the opinion which said the mayor, of all people, was chief executive officer and should be running the show right down to hiring and firing everybody from the custodian to the administrator himself. That took the wind out of everybody's sails, except for the mayor who was puffed up like a peacock until he really thought about how much work that would be.

Then someone asked Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to render an opinion on the matter which was expected last week but didn't materialize. The same delegation members who didn't read the legislative counsel's entire opinion before declaring victory are over in Atlanta fiddle-faddling around introducing local bills too late to pass.

Meanwhile, six white commissioners voted to approve City Administrator Fred Russell 's reorganization plan and give him "exclusive authority" to recommend department heads for hiring and firing. Then, last week, the Augusta Baptist Ministers Conference -- the same group that tried to stop consolidation 20 years ago -- filed suit against the city in an effort to stop the reorganization. It's a shame they didn't succeed back then, and it will be a shame if they do now.

JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED: In addition to new buildings, there have been other major changes in Augusta over the past year. The Medical College of Georgia has a new president, Dr. Ricardo Azziz , and a new name -- Georgia Health Sciences University.

Azziz wanted the new name, and he got it, but he wasn't so lucky when he asked city commissioners to close the part of Laney-Walker Boulevard that bisects the MCG campus to unify it. People in the Laney-Walker area and others, upset that the "historic" Gilbert-Manor housing project was torn down for MCG's expansion, pitched a fit.

Let's be clear here: John Wesley Gilbert , the man for whom the complex was named was a historic character, but Gilbert Manor was a crime-infested slum. Anyway, Azziz appears to have backed off for the time being. But I think he has the potential to pull it off -- if he can wait long enough.

Elected officials representing districts encompassing Gilbert Manor fought its closing for years because it would decrease their constituent base, which it did. District 121 state Rep. Howard lost 11.9 percent of the population in his district, the fifth highest loss in the state, according to 2010 census results.

CONGRATULATIONS ALL AROUND: University Hospital promoted Executive Vice President Jim Davis to president and CEO. And Dr. W.G. "Curly" Watson turned 100, after delivering his millionth baby. (Just kidding about that last part.)

GET WELL SOON: The Richmond County school system got a splendid new superintendent, Frank Roberson , after Superintendent Dana Bedden left to take a job in Texas, but after only a few months on the job Roberson was rushed to the hospital for brain surgery. We wish him a speedy recovery.

A NEW STUDY AND LESS SPACE ON THE SHELF: Also since last year, city officials received the Augusta Sustainable Development Agenda, the latest master plan for south Augusta which cost taxpayers a mere half-million dollars. It cites seven goals that contain key phrases I defined then and shall repeat now for the benefit of the visiting public.

Goal 1: Create "preferred growth" areas to better use existing infrastructure.

"Preferred growth" means that the people who do the preferring get rich.

Goal 2: Promote "concentrated development" downtown to reduce sprawl.

"Concentrated development" means only a few people get rich.

Goal 3: Designate "priority development corridors" to lure jobs and investment.

"Priority development corridors" means only a few people get rich, but they do it faster.

Goal 4: Market green "conservation subdivisions" for better neighborhoods.

"Conservation subdivisions" means the power companies don't get rich.

Goal 5: Design memorable "gateway areas" along major entrance roads.

"Gateway areas" means the people on the corners get rich.

Goal 6: Support trend-setting "prototype" projects that can inspire similar efforts.

"Prototype" projects means people who come first get rich.

Goal 7: Identify "champions" who can help bring about needed changes.

"Champions" means we get to choose who gets rich.

YOU'D THINK SOMEBODY'S BEEN HIT IN THE HEAD BY A TROLLEY: In September, the Downtown Development Authority came up with another idea to draw visitors to downtown: fines, towing and wheel locks. The proposal had been in the works since the authority's lead balloon to install parking meters failed to soar. The second proposal also failed, but they came back in January with yet another one which involved implanting thousands of electronic discs underground at parking spaces to monitor visitors' comings and goings.

THINK I'LL JUST HOLD MY BREATH AND POUT 'TIL I TURN BLUE: Another racially divisive issue was raised in Augusta when word leaked out that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had agreed to be the keynote speaker at the dedication of the Augusta Judicial Center and Judge John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse. Members of the black community are opposed to Thomas because of his stance on affirmative action, but he's scheduled to come for the dedication in May.

Adding insult to injury, the "Jr." was left off of Ruffin's name on a sign outside the center, but officials took immediate steps to remedy that at a cost of $6,000. Then came the final blow to the already offended black citizens. Ruffin's name is not on the building. Instead, it's on a sign in front, and that has State Court Judge David Watkins saying he will not move into the new building until Ruffin's name is on it.

Russell said the motion naming the center did not specify where the names should go, but commissioners will remedy that next week.

"We can handle anything they want," Russell said.

It will cost another $10,000, which is cheap when compared with losing a State Court judge.

FORE! Some things haven't changed in the Garden City the past year. Deke Copenhaver is still mayor. People still shudder when anybody mentions Martha Burk 's name. The Augusta National Golf Club is still the Augusta National. The azaleas still bloom on command. Everybody loves the greens, especially the ones that go into their cash registers. We expect some sports writer to do a piece on how tacky Washington Road is and then go home to Detroit or Cleveland. And finally, if you follow the golf traffic signs, you end up going in a big circle.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

 

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