While he has seven months until taking office, Augusta mayor-elect Hardie Davis isn’t sitting still until January.
Elected Tuesday with nearly 75 percent of the vote in a four-way race, Davis talked to The Augusta Chronicle about the election and described his plans for the next seven months and beyond, including the suggestion that some projects – such as the hiring of a new city administrator and development of a replacement sales tax package (which can’t go before voters until November 2015) – should wait until he takes office.
Q: What sort of guidance are you seeking from Mayor Deke Copenhaver?
A: Deke and I have been friends for many years. I’ve watched him from 2005 to now and how he’s operated as mayor. He certainly has been a great ambassador for our community. He’s held things together at a very critical time ... In 2009, the recession hit us at its highest point and Augusta weathered the storm. So he provided leadership at a critical time in spite of all of the real, perceived or imagined challenges of working with the commission ... And the relationships that I have, having been a member of the general assembly, having been under the gold dome for the last seven years, so I think there are a lot of synergies there that I think our community can gain from the fact that we are friends. There’s a relationship there. It’s not adversarial.
Q: How involved do you plan to be in city government over the next seven months?
A: The thing I don’t want to do is operate as a shadow mayor. I think that does a disservice to our currently elected officials, it does a disservice to our community to try to function as a shadow mayor or shadow commissioner. We’ve got duly elected officials doing a fantastic job of trying to administer government to all of our citizens and I don’t want to do anything to impair that.
Q: You mentioned Augusta weathered the recession, but compared to similar cities, is Augusta doing well?
A: Make no mistake about it -- we’re not the research triangle. We’re not Columbus. We’re not Macon, we’re not Savannah, we’re not Athens. We’re Augusta, and we have tremendous potential and that potential has to be tapped into, in a broader sense... Augusta, as a border city, can be better than that. That’s what I look forward to communicating and casting a broad vision for our city that people can grab ahold of and begin running with it and say this is the Augusta that we will be... I want Augusta to be a place where folks want to come into downtown and do business – government plays a role in that, but make no mistake about it, there has to be strong private investment. When you look at those other cities, the Greenvilles of the world, the Ashevilles of the world, there was tremendous private investment in the key corridors of those cities. We haven’t had that in Augusta.
Q: Will you do anything to prepare to work with the 10-member Augusta Commission?
A: I think I’m already prepared for that... There are 56 people in the senate and you need 29 of them to agree with you. And in the House you need 91 people to agree with you. I’ve been there, I’ve done that and I’ve done it with respect; I’ve done it with honor and integrity. But I’ve done it also by being willing to listen to other people’s points of view. I think that’s what has to happen on the commission. When you get elected in a district, you’re so district-minded that you’re not city-focused. And so that’s the thing that I’m going to share and cast vision for in my time of working with these 10 individuals who are duly elected by people in this community, that it’s important for you to represent the people who you elected from your district. But you have to champion the city and in championing the city, those things that are important to the most basic government needs in your district, they will get accomplished.
Q: How do you explain capturing nearly 75 percent of the vote Tuesday in the four-way race?
A: I explain it by one, the favor of God. Make no mistake about it, that has always been the key to our campaigns, that God has favored us to be able to do the things that we do. But there’s also the law of connection. When we did our early poll, we understood what people wanted in their next mayor ... They wanted someone they could believe in; someone who embodied accountability and transparency. They wanted someone who knew how to get things done, and we targeted all of those things in terms of how we touched people. Whether it was in mail, whether it was social media, whether it was on the phones. So we just ran an aggressive campaign of touching the people through all of those mediums but communicating that message and at the heart of it all, people were ready to move beyond the things that divide us and that was our message.
Q: Do you consider the election results a mandate?
A: I’ve been told that it was a mandate. Our goal was a very simple goal and that was to win without a runoff. No matter who was in the race at any time, our goal was to win without a runoff. And we felt confident that we could get it done, no matter who the players were in the race. Everything we did was with that in mind so when you look at the results of the election, clearly the community has spoken loudly, that they support us that they’re getting behind us to take this next step in our journey together as a community and I’ve (been) very pleased with that. I’m very thankful, my family is very thankful and we’re honored that people came out in overwhelming numbers to respond in that manner.
Q: How did your conversation go with Commissioner Alvin Mason when he conceded the election to you?
A: He called and it was certainly a gracious call. When he called, he shared with me that his folks had gone and pulled some of the numbers and the lead was insurmountable, and that he wanted to express congratulations, and he did and that our message of One Augusta clearly resonated with the people and hoped that I would live up to that and that he would be willing to help in whatever way he could moving forward.
Q: Will you have input in the selection of a new city administrator?
A: With what’s going on right now, there’s a lot that’s happening from the SPLOST standpoint, from the municipal building renovations standpoint and you’ve got a steady hand already in the interim administrator, Tameka Allen, and interim deputy, Steve Cassell. Both are staunch professionals and individuals that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for. Given the posture that we’re in at this point and there being so many things that are going on that are moving parts that need real solutions, I would almost offer and suggest that while it’s important for us to make sure that we have someone in the administrator’s role without the title of interim-anything, I would almost offer and say that we’ve got two individuals there functioning in those roles that are doing an admirable job. They’re steady, they’re very thoughtful, they’re staunch professionals. And so that’s something that we can address in 2015.
Q: You can see a decision not happening until next year?
A: I could. There’s been so much volatility in some of those things that happened that bring us to this place anyway. This is a way for our mayor to have someone that he can work with, who’s steady, and not try to create a new relationship and establish new lines of responsibility because he’s got two individuals who he’s worked with for years, and it does us all good to make sure that there’s a relationship in place that’s functioning and is working well.
Q: What will you do about the failure at the polls Tuesday of Augusta’s seventh special purpose, local option sales tax package?
A: When you look at the potential for us as a community, as a region, we have some things in the current SPLOST package that was vetted Tuesday night that are important to this community... That would be my goal, to make sure we meet our most critical needs first, and then look for those things that we can put in the package to garner community support, but also allow us to enhance the quality of life for all of our citizens from a public use perspective.
Q: What needs or projects must be included in the new sales tax package, since voters rejected SPLOST 7 Tuesday?
A: I’m a staunch supporter of our infrastructure needs in the community – in particular, those areas where we’ve had historic flooding, and most importantly, on the south side of town. When you talk about retail and commercial investments that are desperately needed in that corridor of our community, on the east side of 520, that’s where we’ve got some very dire needs from an infrastructure standpoint, that transcend roads and bridges ... sewage drainage and all of those things and so, we’ll have a strong focus on that and that’s where we’ll put a lot of emphasis in our general budget process as well. Those are the things that I’ll look at immediately.
Q: Will the stormwater fee under development be part of the funding equation?
A: Coupled with the fact that there was strong opposition to how the trash service was handled, that is a concern of mine moving forwards ... I think we’ve got to take a step back and not make knee-jerk reactions to things when there are revenue shortfalls. This is where we have a unique opportunity in the days ahead to truly understand where our budget dollars are going, and as we do a really fluid assessment of our budget and where our expenditures are and where they need to be, then we can properly assess is it the right thing to do, to implement a stormwater fee.