Augusta Commission member Bill Fennoy says his biggest accomplishment is raising the panel’s awareness of blighted homes, but challenger Michael Thurman counters that with a stated commitment to improving neighborhoods.
A third candidate for the seat, Harrisburg physical therapist Denice Traina, has a penchant for community engagement herself and might send the May 24 election into a runoff.
“I think both Michael Thurman and Denice Traina are interested in the welfare of the city,” said Fennoy, a retired health educator. “I think their aspirations for the city are not much different than mine. But I think the people of District 1 will gravitate to the person that’s done more for the people in District 1 as opposed to a person that has done things for themselves.”
Fennoy took credit for the commission’s uptick in funding to demolish blighted, abandoned properties, which grew from less than $50,000 to about $900,000 this year when the program moved under the Environmental Services Department.
He said he tends to focus on “the areas that are most in need” but doesn’t neglect the rest.
District 1 runs from Country Club Hills, almost in west Augusta, through Harrisburg, downtown and the medical district, east Augusta and as far south as the Apple Valley neighborhood and South Atlantic Drive, where the commission voted last week to spend $300,000 on needed road repairs.
Fennoy said he has “the relationships with the other nine commissioners to make things happen,” including continued development downtown.
Fennoy supported the 2015 sales tax referendum after $6 million was included for his alma mater, Paine College. The additions for nongovernment entities were cited by opponents who defeated it at the polls. He also was a proponent for the unpopular stormwater utility fee as the only means of correcting flooding issues in east Augusta and elsewhere.
THURMAN DESCRIBES himself as a “plain-spoken person who fixes things” and has the backing of three groups known to influence Augusta elections: the CSRA Builders Political Action Committee, the Augusta Professional Firefighters Association and the CSRA Police Benevolent Association.
Thurman, who served on Sheriff Richard Roundtree’s advisory board, called himself “very pro-police” and deemed police and fire protection “essential services” when budgets are tight.
Support from the police and fire unions shows the hard feelings left from several commissioners’ efforts to silence the fire association after it was critical of Fire Chief Chris James, said association President Charles Masters.
“Bill Fennoy is not a leader on any issue to do with public safety,” Masters said, while Thurman will “bring stability” to the government.
Thurman, who has three young children and manages about 105 rental units, said he’s missing out on family time during the campaign but has a sufficient staff to keep up with his business and commission work.
Thurman owns about 36 residential properties, including several multi-family units and 17 properties along Holden Drive near Paine College.
A Butler High School graduate, Thurman bought his first property as a teenager and lived in Apple Valley for a decade.
“I have spent my entire life revitalizing neighborhoods,” he said. “I really want to focus on teaching and assisting others in doing that.”
Thurman said he also wants to “hold contractors accountable” who demand change orders and, using “outside the box” thinking, coordinate city departments to revitalize entire neighborhoods as stormwater work is done.
The stormwater fee is needed because “the city has failed in the past to do the proper maintenance,” Thurman said, and the commission must find the money elsewhere if a repeal effort is successful.
He said Augusta Public Transit is “underdeveloped” and will pay for itself in jobs if expanded.
Thurman, who is white, acknowledged he has an uphill battle to win the seat. Though District 1 is the city’s most diverse, more than 60 percent of its registered voters are black. Democrats have outnumbered Republican-ballot voters by more than 2-to-1 in the first week of advance voting.
“I grew up in south Augusta, and I was in the minority then but I didn’t feel it,” Thurman said. “I’ve never lived anywhere I was in the majority and it’s never personally affected me.”
TRAINA SAID SHE’s not seeking endorsements or campaign contributions. She serves on the city planning commission and transit advisory panel and ran for the District 1 commission seat four years ago.
“I’m a good communicator and have the ability to make sure we stay connected to the community at large,” she said. “I have the skills to work with a deliberative group like the commission so we can come up with the best outcomes.”
Traina is a trained Community Emergency Response Team volunteer, heads a community garden and founded a porch library in her Harrisburg community.
In the most recent fundraising report March 31, Fennoy led with $11,276. His large donors for the quarter included former Commissioner Betty Beard, a company owned by former state Sen. Charles Walker and two civil engineers involved with the stormwater fee.
Thurman had raised $5,555 as of March 31, with the largest contributions from businessmen Mark Pratt and Steven Kendrick, attorney Phillip Hibbard and retired Gen. Robert Schloesser.
Traina had raised $1,863, with her largest contribution from fellow activist Barbara Stenstrom.