University merger met with cheers, suspicion

The movers and shakers are predicting Augusta will become a boomtown once Augusta State University and Geor­gia Health Sciences Uni­versity are joined into one institution of higher learning with GHSU President Ricardo Azziz officiating.


Some ordinary folks don’t know what to think because we didn’t know a thing about it until Uni­versity System of Georgia Chan­cellor Hank Huckaby and members of the Board of Regents came to town for a private meeting with local officials last week and ended up springing it on us like a shotgun wedding.

And even if we don’t really like the idea and have a lot of questions such as, “Who’s going to wear the pants in the family?” we don’t want to say so publicly.

Therefore, City Ink turned to state Rep. Barbara Sims, one of the few people in Augusta who’s been in the loop on this affair from the beginning.

“Augusta will be the Univer­sity of Georgia with a medical school,” she said. “This grows every area of our education system. It will give students at Augusta State more classes that could prepare them if they want to go on to a medical field, but it will still be a liberal arts school. And GHSU will grow and produce more doctors. We would have a bigger footprint, and we will have a firmer hold on our medical school.”

The union is expected to produce more medical research.

BUT WILL THEY LIVE HAP­PILY EVER AFTER? Augus­ta Commission member Grady Smith, a member of the ASU board of trustees, thinks the school is doing just fine and isn’t sure the union is a marriage made in heaven.

“It’s like an arm and a leg,” he said. “They each do different things. You’ve got two over there doing one thing and two down there doing something else. They’re so different."

(Like maybe a man and a woman?)

“But I don’t want to be negative about it. If it’s good for Richmond County, I’m for it, but it’s hard to make a concrete decision because we don’t know what’s going on. When did all this come about, and who started it, and what was the motivation? I know the reason you’ll hear: Money. That it will save money – but that might not really be it.”

Smith is leery of the merger because he suspects it was initiated by former Gov. Sonny Perdue, whose disdain for Augusta and allegiance to Athens and the University of Georgia and its fledgling medical school are well known. He’s also concerned that Augusta doesn’t have a member on the Board of Regents to look after its interest.

“I want to watch what I say,” Smith said. “I just want to know more about it and want to watch how they’re going to do it. We see what happened to a merger in Augusta 15 years ago that didn’t turn out so good. People make these decisions that aren’t always the best, and the taxpayers are stuck with them.”

SPEAKING OF MONEY: Au­gus­ta will get more of it when construction booms on the ASU campus and GHSU grows to incorporate the Golf and Gardens property. Nobody wants to say so because they don’t want to put any of the plans in jeopardy by ticking off the big guys in the state who like to announce major projects at news conferences to make sure they get the credit for spending your money.

BARBARA RULES: Sims was appointed to two more House committees last week – Rules, and Science and Technology – which makes her one of the most influential House members, as she’s also on the all-important Appropriations Committee. All bills must pass the Rules Committee before going to the House floor for a vote, which gives its members power. She’s also on the Transportation Committee, the Economic Development Committee, and the Health and Human Services Committee.

I OBJECT. I OBJECT. I OBJECT. Before voting no on Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s proposal to renew commissioners’ vows not to slam each other in public by reapproving the Code of Con­duct last week, Commis­sion­er Bill Lockett made a little speech:

“Many years ago, a young man by the name of Albert Einstein said if you do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, that equates to insanity. We tried this in 2006, in 2009, and now we contemplate doing it again in 2012, and nothing has changed.”

That was pretty funny seeing as how Lockett repeatedly calls for unity on the board but disagrees with everything. He also puts items on agendas over and over again, such as to discuss the policies and procedures manual and authorize a criminal audit of city government. And when Monday’s administrative committee agenda came out, there were two repeats from December agendas, one being to ask the state attorney general for an opinion on the definition of “ordinary business” as specified in Augusta’s charter.

In December, Lockett agreed to withdraw that item until Superior Court Judge David Roper issued a written order in the lawsuit filed against the city by the Baptist Ministers Conference of Augusta. Roper ruled in the city’s favor Nov. 17 but didn’t specifically address the number of votes it takes to pass a measure of “extraordinary business” because the question wasn’t asked in the ministers’ suit.

So Lockett wants the attorney general to give examples of ordinary business that can be passed with six votes and extraordinary business that takes eight.

OK, but if this item fails this time around and then reappears, we’re going to know something.

JUST SAY NO: Augusta Com­mis­sioner Jerry Brig­ham and Richmond County school board trustee Jack Padgett have asked state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, not to sign off on the reapportionment map that was unanimously approved by the 12-member ad hoc committee in November but not approved by a majority of commissioners later.

Busy movers and shakers have joined Brigham and Padgett in asking members of the legislative delegation not to sign off on the map.

Both Augusta senators must OK the plan for it to pass without going to the full House for a vote, where Sims could wield her power to defeat it.

In an e-mail to Stone, Brig­ham, a member of the ad hoc committee who later voted against the plan, stated his objections, chief of which is that “the racial makeup shuffling of the districts appear to be done for political purpose and not for equal representation.

“It was the policy at the beginning of consolidation to allow the minority population of Augusta to have equal representation with the majority population, when the county was 55 percent white and 45 percent black. This policy also seems to have been abandon(ed) too now that the county is 54 percent black and 46 percent white. Yes, I voted for plan 3R because I believed that it was better than plan 3 which was not as good as plan 2. I would ask that you support plan 2 or draw your own plan.”

After outlining the process and steps that led to the approval of a plan that increased the black population of District 6 to 60.6 percent from 52.9 percent, Pad­gett asked Stone not to agree with the “bad and disruptive plan.”

“Just say no and send it on to the full house.”

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Read more about the proposed merger