Lori Myles says she’ll bring the classroom experience she has gained as a longtime – and sometimes controversial – Richmond County educator and much more into the Augusta mayor’s office if elected May 20.
In an interview with The Augusta Chronicle, Myles said she has advocated for the city since arriving by Greyhound Bus more than 30 years ago from Memphis, Tenn.
Inspired by the leadership of former Augusta Mayor Ed McIntyre, Myles said she’ll quit her job as language arts teacher at T.W. Josey High School on May 21, the day after she is elected.
“When it comes to standing up for what’s right, or whatever, whatever flack I get, I don’t have a problem with it, because not only am I a troubleshooter, but I don’t mind confronting it if it means the betterment of all of the city,” Myles said.
Q: If elected mayor, what are the main issues that you want to focus on?
A: I believe the first things we’re going to have to deal with … is transparency. I truly don’t believe Augusta is transparent. I believe that we have an issue here in Augusta where, No. 1, we’re looking at areas of leadership that many of us are on two different sides of the table.
So what we have done in Augusta because of lack of transparency in Augusta?
We’ve made concessions, concessions for peace. But I believe the concessions for peace have just about run out for us. One of the main things in my platform is to bring that transparency, bring that accessibility, but also of course you know the other aspects of it – the economic development, the revitalization – yes, all of that is a part of my platform … We’re going to have to deal with transparency, accessibility and collaboration as a team as far as the commission and as far as the mayor.
Q: When you say concessions for peace, peace between whom?
A: As they say: You better deal with the elephant that’s in the room. Our commission has so many times dealt with the aspect of or voted on the lines of black and white. Augusta is not a black Augusta. There is not a white Augusta. All the races are here and we should be looking at Augusta as a city. I truly believe that some of the things that we have done as far as voting or not voting, or not showing up are signs of concession.
Q: What do you think about Augusta’s image? Where is it right now, where does it need to be and how do you get us there?
A: I want to put it in as a family. The family knows that our house is, let me put it in the kids’ terminology, “tore up from the floor up.” But the outside still sees Augusta as a historical city with some of the greatest entertainers, educational people, high-ranking writers, novelists, things of that sort. We all know of the legacy of the Masters. When I go home, they still speak of Augusta’s grandeur and what Augusta has to offer. Other people outside, they may see little snippets but for the most part, what are we going to do here in the city to change our image? That’s what I’ve been saying on the floor. No. 1, let’s stop changing the frames on these pictures – let’s change the picture. It’s time for a true makeover of the city of Augusta, and it’s going to need to be done not only by someone who’s in love with the city and is part of the city, but also one who’s willing to bring everyone to the table.
Q: Are you for (the new special purpose local option sales tax)?
A: The answer is yes; let me tell you why. No. 1, this is a reoccurrence of a plan and a decision that has already been made. Many of our commissioners are now saying, “Oh no way, please say no, please say no,” they said, because, one, we didn’t have the public meetings. I said, you’ve got to go back and look in your history. A couple of years ago, you didn’t have public meetings either. All of us were not here? The meeting was called in 24 hours – excuse me, I need you all to know the next SPLOST is coming in 365 days. Nothing has changed.
Q: When did you decide that Augusta needed you as mayor, and how tough was that decision?
A: In 1981 with Ed McIntyre – I saw in our former mayor that that’s someone I would like to be … After hearing his vision and being around the things that he had actually talked about, even with the riverwalk. Inner court secret, as they say, I used to also work right here at the Ramada, the Eagle’s Nest. Since I was the waitress, every day about 5 p.m. our mayor, Mayor McIntyre, along with Mr. Bill Lockett, and of course Mr. Oscar Brown, they all would actually come up, for just a time of relaxation. So I was able to also know them then. That increased my want to see myself as a leader as he was.
Q: What did you learn from Mr. McIntyre?
A: One thing I learned from him is all confrontation is not bad. I say that because as a leader, I saw some of those things from the campaign. One of those things that our former mayor did was he made sure that everyone – everyone – in the city of Augusta was included. He saw, which is really to me the only reason the charter, the consolidation is in place now, he saw a full Augusta. He didn’t see pieces of Augusta. He saw a city that is not only beautiful, not only historical, but a city that it would not matter to him what it took.
Q: What differentiates you from all the other candidates?
A: I already said, on paper, not one of them can touch me. I’m not talking about the doctorate. I’m talking about the community service. I’m talking about being at the table. I don’t have a problem, if I had to use one word, that word would be leadership. And the subtopic word would be empowerment. I had to go there, sorry. One thing about all leaders is, No. 1, real leaders believe in not only teamwork but to empower whoever is next to you or whoever else is in the room.
In other words, I can’t be the effective leaders that I am supposed to be unless my weakest link is as strong as I am. In Augusta, that’s what we’re going to have to realize. That we cannot just strengthen downtown. We’ve got to strengthen south Augusta, west Augusta, excuse me, went the wrong way, east Augusta. We can leave nothing out.
Q: One of the key character traits of a good leader is good judgment. Last year you got into trouble with the two handouts that you gave out that had racial slurs on them. Do you think you showed poor judgment and do you regret having done it?
A: Your question made judgment to say that I did not make a good judgment. And I beg to differ. Let me say why. Because the book Huckleberry Finn … you need to know the whole story. Huckleberry Finn uses the N word over 209 times. One of the requirements of an educator, especially in ELA, is to have our students read and critically think and analyze. What they do or fail not to tell you is what they already know. In reading Huckleberry Finn, the book states because of the way it’s written, and Huck has to deal with it, that the N word is acceptable …
Well, what we did is we took it to three different stages. We took it to the era of the 1960s and we took it to the era of 2014. And we state, in 2014, it’s acceptable for them to use that word once again, as it was used back then with Huck. So don’t get upset when you’re reading and you’re hearing Huck and everybody else called this because now you’re saying, this is a good thing over there. So if it was good there and it was good in the ’60s as well. If it was good in the ’60s and they were told to look at a picture to incite, No. 1, feeling and thought, if you’re looking at this picture right here, immediately, what do you think? Immediately, what do you think Dr. Martin Luther King is saying? What do you think the men that are arresting him are saying? In essence what are they saying: If it’s OK then, OK there, is it OK for you to call yourself that? And is it OK, No. 1, to use it?
The reason that I beg to differ, even in the school now, if at no other time, do they not use the word, they do not use it around me. And that’s a respect from me that says, No. 1, as I told them, some people as they hung from that tree, the last word that they heard was here, here and here. Was it acceptable? And I still tell them that it’s not. May be trouble in your eyes, but I look at it as an eye-opening experience.
Q: So you don’t regret it?
A: No, I think it was great judgment. And I’m still fighting it.