Hephzibah veteran calling for change in city leadership

Hephzibah United Methodist Church on Brothersville Road is a landmark in the small Richmond County municipality. The county’s only contested election Tuesday is a contest for a Hephzibah Commission seat. File/Staff

As many Georgia cities prepare for municipal elections Tuesday, it will be a quiet election day in Richmond County, with only one contested race – for a Hephzibah Commission seat.

 

In the small municipality, population about 4,000, incumbent Frank Godbee faces a challenge for his at-large commission seat from political newcomer Julius Lee Harris, Jr.

Harris, 51, said he’s a retired Army veteran who became a full-time resident of Hephzibah 10 years ago.

“I’ve seen very little growth other than the IGA,” Harris said. “I look at the growth in Waynesboro, Harlem and Grovetown. We could have had a few things out here.”

Harris said he’d like to see a change from Hephzibah’s at-large elections, which disenfranchise certain areas of the community and see the commission appoint the commission chair. The environment results in conflicts of interest and special interests, such as Hephzibah’s charter school, being served, he said.

Godbee, 74, listed his occupation as “retired” and reported living in Hephzibah for 34 years on his qualifying affidavit. He did not return calls seeking comment.

Augusta Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who lives inside Hephzibah city limits, called Godbee a friend. “I know Frank personally and he is accessible if I ever had a problem or issue,” Guilfoyle said.

According to The Augusta Chronicle’s archives, Godbee won the seat four years ago after being the only candidate to qualify. Unopposed elections are common in Hephzibah, where neither Commission Chairman Robert J. Buchwitz nor Commissioner Jody Boulineau registered any opposition for re-election this year and appear next to a blank for a write-in candidate on the ballot.

Buchwitz and Boulineau are active in one of Hephzibah’s largest entities, the Georgia Center for Innovation and the Classics, the public charter school the city paid to build. Buchwitz leads the school’s board of directors and Boulineau lists his occupation as superintendent of the school.

Early voting in the commission race has been ongoing since Oct. 16 and ended Friday at Augusta Municipal Building, according to Lynn Bailey, executive director of Richmond County Board of Elections.

Only five of Hephzibah’s 2,308 registered voters have come to the office to vote, while 66 of 96 mailed absentee ballots have been returned, Bailey said.

Election day voting will take place at the Hephzibah-Carroll Community Center, 4977 Windsor Spring Road only, and officials are expecting turnout of up to 22 percent, Bailey said.

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Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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