Augusta Commission talks downtown crime

Commission wants plan to secure downtown
Dr. Benjamin Casella, the president of the Downtown Augusta Alliance, addresses the Augusta Commission. Much of Tuesday's meeting was spent discussing ways to increase safety and reduce crime downtown.

A weekend mugging and a carjacking in downtown Augusta prompted a flurry of suggestions Tuesday that Augusta Commission members said they hope can meld into a “holistic approach” to crime downtown.


Commissioner Bill Fen­noy, whose District 1 includes downtown and Riverwalk Augusta, where a visiting couple were beaten and robbed Friday, said something must be done to keep visitors coming downtown. He had placed a discussion about installing cameras and signs along the riverwalk on Tues­day’s meeting agenda before the weekend attacks took place.

“In light of what has happened in downtown Augusta, in light of what we’re talking about revenues going down, we don’t want Augusta given the image of an unsafe city,” he said, suggesting a committee evaluate the options and make recommendations.
Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson and Commissioner Mary Davis said they agreed with the need to develop a complete approach to address downtown crime.

“I agree we need to sit down with IT, the sheriff’s office,” Davis said. “This is on everybody’s mind right now, and if we can get a complete proposal for what we can do to encompass every part of security, and make people feel safe, and look at lighting as well. That’s another issue I would like to bring to the table.”

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said he’d like to see increased security presence, possibly using a set of Segways now in storage since the city’s downtown special tax district expired.

“I just want to make sure that we’re looking at this situation with a holistic point of view,” Commissioner Alvin Mason said. “Not necessarily a knee-jerk reaction” to weekend events, which also include a brawl caught on video and posted by bystanders on Youtube.

“It’s an embarrassment, no question about it,” Mason said.

He said he wanted involvement of the sheriff’s office.

“I would be a little skeptical about doing anything initially,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that’s the job of the chief law enforcement officer.”

Commissioner Marion Williams said he agreed with involving the sheriff, but that there were some things the city could do, such as cutting back overgrown shrubbery and trees that obscure visibility and give criminals a place to hide. He also suggested bringing service animals downtown to assist.

The commission approved the discussion as information and agreed to work toward developing a plan.

Also on Tuesday, the city’s sales tax revenues, subject of an earlier commission discussion, were reported to be down for the month and year, but City Administrator Fred Russell maintained that the 4 percent to 6 percent decreases weren’t worthy of concern yet.

Riverwalk visitors wary after couple's mugging
Riverwalk mugging prompts public forum
Riverwalk crime, old mill on agenda

The commission took little action regarding the burned Southern Milling feed mill on Twiggs Street after hearing from former city attorney Jim Wall that ongoing litigation involving owner Edgar Matthews had delayed his action on the mill.

Commissioner Marion Williams said the structure, which had been on the city’s list of endangered properties when fire caused significant damage, is a hazard to the community.

“Ain’t but one man that’s got enough money to fix that place up and it’s God,” he said.

Wall promised action in six to eight months, and the commission tasked Administrator Fred Russell with providing a monthly update on its status.