It’s a crowded, competitive field in the Hephzibah-area District 4 Augusta Commission race between longtime neighborhood activist Sammie Sias, activist pastor Melvin Ivey and two newcomers, Tomasenia Jackson and Gwen Watts.
“No individual or any group runs this candidate,” said Sias, a retired Army sergeant major who pursued the commission post four years ago. It’s a subtle jab at his likely biggest competitor, Ivey, for whom Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams is actively campaigning.
Sias’ new radio spot says, “our local government is stuck on pause … black and white,” and he plans if elected to “get away from all the petty bickering” on the commission.
Sias said his record is full of neighborhood activism and service, such as the work he did with Sand Ridge Neighborhood Association, against Gold Cross EMS gaining exclusive access to Augusta’s EMS zone and his role, as a plaintiff, in 2012 federal litigation needed to ensure a federal judge redrew commission district lines fairly.
But race isn’t integral to Sias, who grew up in rural Cordele, Ga.
“I’m sick and tired of people saying minorities don’t vote,” one part of the argument made in a current federal case in which Ivey is a plaintiff over the moving of the election date from November to May 20.
Instead of a minority business office, Sias said Augusta needs a small business incubator.
“You don’t have to make it racial to make it work,” he said.
Ivey, who retired from the Navy and the U.S. Postal Service, has a different take. He’s pushing to get a massive water park built near Diamond Lakes Park and says it would revitalize the area and create badly needed revenue.
“District 4 and South Augusta in general has been somewhat stagnant,” Ivey said. “Nothing is happening and people are looking for some change and they want to see some transparency in the government.”
Ivey said he might not shy from “a good debate” with fellow commissioners because “in the process of a good debate, you learn.”
Jackson moved to Hephzibah from Wrens, where she served a city council term, in 2009, to be closer to the doctors and hospitals monitoring her cardiomyopathy.
She’s better now and fighting the negativity she said she has encountered from the men in the race.
“I think people tend to take this race very personally,” she said. “When your ego gets in the way, it tends to distort your race.”
Instead, Jackson said her focus is on collaboration.
“We must come together for the better needs of Augusta, Georgia,” she said.
Watts, retired from Savannah River Site has schooled hundreds of all-ages adults in computer and career skills, including writing and public speaking since leaving SRS, first through her business, Marketing Skills Training Center and now using the same program at her church.
Watts said her extensive background in “bureaucracy” – she’s a military wife – and in time management make issues on the commission evident.
“What I don’t understand is whoever’s in command needs to take command of what’s happening” during the meetings, she said. “When we see it on TV, all we see is dysfunction.”
Instead, she’s of the “make things happen group” and voters should uphold their end and hold elected officials accountable, Watts said.