Suppose you called a meeting to plot the course of Augusta’s future and only six of the 10 members of the governing board showed up?
That’s what happened Friday when the city’s Boy King, Mayor Deke Copenhaver, asked commissioners to approve a new special purpose local option sales tax.
Commissioners Bill Lockett, Marion Williams, Corey Johnson and Alvin Mason were conspicuously absent, thereby abdicating their responsibility and disenfranchising the people who voted them into office. I’m sure they all had good excuses, though.
Unbeknownst to us until Friday, there’s a politician amongst us: Bill Fennoy, the only black commissioner to show up. He sold his vote for $10 million and secured a goodly amount of the $194.3 million for his District 1, pending voter approval May 20.
Not only did Fennoy get the promise of $6 million for Paine College’s James Brown Fine Arts and Cultural Center and $4 million for demolition of dilapidated structures, but he also got $5.25 million for the mills project; $750,000 for the Greater Augusta Art Council’s ART Space and $2 million for its Public Art Implementation; $2.5 million for the Imperial Theatre; $4.25 million for the Miller Theater renovation; $500,000 for the Augusta Museum of History; $500,000 for the Phinizy Swamp Nature Park; $2 million for the library; $2.5 million for the Canal Authority; $400,000 for the Boathouse Rowing Center; $400,000 for Riverwalk Augusta and $1.5 million for the Downtown Development Authority’s surface parking lot.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle also showed political skill by helping Hephzibah and Blythe get more money in the tax package than they probably got from all other previous SPLOST issues combined.
He also succeeded in getting $10 million more for engineering by cutting two new fire stations, juvenile court and public defender offices, which might have been a mistake. Granted, infrastructure is important, but just how much money can the engineering department successfully spend in six years? There’s $50 million in the tax package, an expected $10 million more a year when the rain tax goes into effect and about $300 million from the transportation tax.
The Boy King got the mills project in the package and probably lifetime tickets to the symphony and theater, along with all the canvas he can paint. He and his sidekick, Matt Kwatinetz, the executive director of the Augusta Regional Collaborative project, i.e. consultant, both won by keeping the arts people happy and the mills project on the table.
Georgia Regents University got money for the cancer center. While there’s been some grumbling about offering to spend money to build a hospital in Columbia County, folks need to realize there’s a big difference between an educational institution and a hospital. The $8 million goes toward cancer research, and that could save your life, provided you live long enough.
That’s what can happen when you show up. You have to wonder about the commissioners who didn’t. Show up, that is.
THE DOG ATE MY SPLOST LIST: Mason wants to be mayor, so it looks like he’d want input on what would happen during his term. Or is it going to be his tactic not to participate and blame other people when things don’t go right?
Johnson wants to be elected state senator and go to Atlanta and vote on statewide issues, but it’s hard to believe he could do that if he’s afraid to vote on the local tax issue.
Lockett, meanwhile, takes his toys and goes home when he can’t get his way. In this case, not participating means his district won’t get any toys.
Then there’s Williams, who said he was out of town Friday and wasn’t going to change his schedule “to come back and fight with folks that weren’t going to do right anyway.”
He said he’s going to do everything he can to defeat the tax at the polls.
“They cut a deal with the newest commissioner (Fennoy),” Williams said. “For whatever reason, this thing is being pushed. Why was it fast tracked?”
Williams said he’s not against the $8 million match for GRU’s cancer center, but he wants to see “their paperwork.”
“They say it will create jobs,” he said. “It won’t be no six-figure jobs. It will be maids and low-paid workers. I don’t trust them. I think we was ramrodded. The mills project was pushed down our throat. Now the mayor done gone on vacation. He’s done some underhanded things. It was done by design.”
Williams keeps his track record intact by not being for anything or liking anybody.
DO I HEAR $6 MILLION? The mayor had given the board a heads-up on his $187.4 million proposal, and after some horse trading, additions and subtractions – the additions being more than the subtractions – ended up being almost $7 million more, plus $3 million or $4 million for interest for bonded projects.
It was a suspenseful meeting, though you could tell there’d been much discussion beforehand. Fennoy said people in the community felt like the tax package was being pushed down their throats and that he’d much rather give them an opportunity to speak and then come up with a list of projects.
Copenhaver said they were using the same process that had always been used, except that they’d never had a May election.
“We didn’t create the situation,” he said.
Still, Fennoy said it was going to be a “hard sell” until the mayor proposed $5 million for dilapidated houses and asked, “Is there any way in there to get Paine up to $5 million?”
And so it went, with the mayor auctioneering.
“Would my colleagues be willing to go $5 million on Paine College? Four million?”
“I would be willing to give $187 million to infrastructure and forget the projects,” Fennoy said.
Donnie Smith called for a recess and after some deal-making in the hall and at the dais, they reconvened and approved the package.
STONE ROCKS CONGRESSIONAL POWER STRUCTURE: Republican congressional candidate John Stone says the Washington establishment has declared war on voters of the 12th District by interfering in the U.S. House race.
After Stone reinforced his earlier announcement by signing the Republican Trust Pledge for new House leadership, he said the Washington establishment went into panic mode and recruited new candidates into the race to muddy the water, including state Rep. Delvis Dutton, R-Glenville.
The Augusta Chronicle had an article on Dutton’s past financial troubles Saturday. He did not respond to phone calls and an e-mail asking whether he was recruited by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“This is why I was trying to avoid all of this by calling for the 12th District candidates to decide on one candidate,” Stone said. “But now that it’s out the NRCC is packing the field, I think the voters can see why I made the call for new leadership. This is gross interference in the primary campaign in our district.”
Last week, Augusta’s Eugene Yu dropped out of the Republican race for the U.S. Senate and entered the 12th District race.
“Nobody influenced me,” he said.
OOPS! I misidentified the person quoted in last Sunday’s City Ink concerning her home being damaged by raw sewage. The speaker was Gena Kirkendohl, not Annie Blount. I’m so embarrassed.