Helen Blocker-Adams says she’ll bring a different dynamic to the mayor’s office and a new culture to city government.
As a woman, she’ll forge and repair relationships among the Augusta Commission, city employees and the public, she said in an interview with The Augusta Chronicle.
Blocker-Adams was raised in Augusta and overseas in a military family. She has a degree in journalism and has worked as a radio talk-show host, motivational speaker, author and small-business owner.
She faced criticism after a 2005 run for mayor. Finishing third, she endorsed eventual winner Deke Copenhaver over Interim Mayor Willie Mays, who would have become the consolidated government’s first black mayor.
Q: How would Augusta be different if you had been elected mayor in 2005?
A: Augusta would be a more unified Augusta if I was mayor in 2005. My strengths are relationship-building, working with diverse groups of people, treating people with respect, building coalitions, creating win-win situations. Those are the type of things that I plan to do in the future and would have been doing over the past eight years.
Augusta not only has so much potential but has come a long way in the past eight to nine years, but definitely would have been farther along in terms of the negative perception in terms of race. Of course, a lot of it is seen in our county commission. I think it’s not as bad as it seems, but there has to be a different way that things can be handled, and I believe that I’m the type of person that’s very approachable.
Q: Would you like to see the charter amended so the mayor would have more powers? If not, could you unify Augusta as a weak mayor?
A: With me and my personality, being a stronger mayor in the definition of having a vote without the commission being in a tie, I don’t think that’s a prerequisite … because of my strength, my demonstrated experience over the years in putting events and projects together with limited resources and bringing the right people together to get the job done, empowering people to utilize their skills so that everybody could work together for the common good.
Q: If you could accomplish three things during your tenure as mayor, what would those be?
A: The first thing would be creating a vision that everybody can buy into. When I say everybody, I’m speaking of the 10 county commissioners and the mayor, but that vision needs to be put together by the 10 commissioners and the mayor, and everybody needs to feel like they’re on the same team and right now that’s not happening at all.
I know when I ran in 2005 some of the same problems they’re having now they were having in 2005. That is, put together a budget, and if it falls short then we’re going to dip into the reserves. They were dipping into the reserves in 2005 and they’re still dipping in the reserves, so how about putting together a budget that at least breaks even?
The third thing would be the whole perception of Augusta not being the best that it can be … Right now there’s such a disconnect of trust between the public and our elected officials. One part of the community feels like, oh we’re being neglected; another part of the community feels the same way. We can’t keep working on just one side of the community at the expense of another – there’s got to be a plan and a vision that it’s all of Augusta, and so that’s the perception that I want to get past us so the first four years that would be my priority.
Q: How would you engage with the community?
A: The same way I do now. That’s what I do – that’s how I am engaged in the community, by just being there, making myself present. I’m in the schools, I’m going to businesses, I have been an ambassador for Augusta as a small businessperson for 22 years.
It’s just natural for me to show up at any given opportunity whether it’s a school, whether it’s a community event, and people just want to be listened to.
Q: What do you view as the main issue with racial tensions or racial divides, either on the commission or wherever? As mayor, how would you approach that situation and make it better?
A: Our government is structured in a way that it’s perceived that District 1 is against District 7 and District 6 is against District 2. Our government is structured that way; that’s not the commissioners’ fault … Developing that relationship so that you know what … Maybe what’s going on in District 7, maybe I should pay attention to what this commissioner is saying versus, “This is my district – no.”
As a result, it always seems like the votes are along racial lines. I think it’s more district. If you look at these districts some of the districts are like 99.9 percent black and then there’s others that’s not, so the perception, of course, in the media, the nice media has a way of capitalizing on the flaws versus finding, you know, there’s some good going on, too …
In the community, the community is fine. It starts at the top; that’s where the issues are.
Q: In a recent forum you said that residents wouldn’t oppose a tax increase if the government was honest. In what way is Augusta’s government not honest?
A: I think that our county commissioners aren’t giving the public all of the information about special purpose local option sales tax 7. For example, the (special purpose local option sales tax) is going to be on the ballot on May 20, and the public had no input. If the public had no input, then the perception is “Why not?”
Until that happens, until the public feels comfortable and I’m hearing there’s people now that’s suing the local government because of conflict of (special purpose local option sales tax) 6 and (special purpose local option sales tax) 7 … it seems that our commissioners hurry to make decisions on things and then have to backtrack. It’s happened time and time again, and as a result, that’s the public perception – wait a minute, you know what, are they telling us everything?
We’ve got to be honest and say, “You know what, we are in a mess, we have messed up but we need to get it right, we need you all to buy into what we need to do, yes we’ve made some mistakes and let’s move on,” and that’s what I mean by honest.
Q: Will you vote for the special purpose local option sales tax?
Q: What would you change in it that would change your vote to a yes?
A: Definitely more dollars for infrastructure – $50 million for infrastructure for what’s needed in Augusta-Richmond County? We have to put more money in there for infrastructure. I don’t know the line items are to say move this or move that, so definitely more money would be in there for infrastructure, but getting the public’s input so they can at least have input.
Q: Do you think you’re going to face any kind of learning curve coming into the mayor’s office?
A: I think anybody that runs for any office would. We’ve got five candidates in this race; none of us have been mayor, so yes, there’s going to be a learning curve. But here’s the advantage – I think in this particular race, with the election being in May, I’ve got a seven-month learning curve. And I’ve already been in conversations with department heads in meetings. … Deke and I have a good relationship anyway, so I’d be able to work and kind of shadow him, so January 2013 you’ve got a seamless transition.
Q: As mayor, what would you like to see as the relationship between city government and the school system?
A: Right now, I don’t know if there is not a relationship between the two. I don’t know if they meet on a regular basis, I don’t know. But I do know that because we’re two different entities but we’re all part of the same city we all should have a similar vision and that is to help Augusta be the best that it can be.
For example, I would want to just call the superintendent and say, “Let’s have lunch.” I have that relationship with (Superintendent Frank) Roberson; I had that relationship with the previous superintendent, because I’m very proactive in that way – how can we work together?
It’s very important for the mayor to be seen as pro-education.
Not just books education, I’m talking life, just living, so that our young people will not just leave Augusta and not want to come back. That’s a common statement, “I want to get out of here.” That’s OK; I wanted to leave and go to college but I also wanted to come back.