Today is the day Janus, the mythological Roman god with two heads facing opposite directions, would usually look back on the old year in Augusta and make his predictions for the new year.
However, it was such an eventful year in local politics we’re going to skip Janus’ predictions for this year and focus on the best, the worst and the in-betweens of 2011.
NEWSMAKER OF THE YEAR: Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason deserves this award because his alleged attack on his wife Velma the night before Christmas Eve and his arrest four days later are the only things that gave the public some relief from TV and newspaper stories about last-minute Christmas shopping, food bank shortages and where to go for a free meal.
QUOTE OF THE YEAR: “I’m a defender and protector. That’s what I do.” – Alvin Mason, in an interview on the Fattz and Cher show on 96.3 Kiss FM radio the day after his arrest for allegedly attacking his wife.
BEST ADVICE OF THE YEAR: ‘‘Always acknowledge your wife.” – Commissioner Corey Johnson before being sworn into office in January. He said that’s what Richmond County State Court Judge David Watkins advised him to always do in a public ceremony.
“So I’m going to say first, thank you, uh, for my lovely wife being here,” he said.
UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR: “The hard part is making it happen.” – City Administrator Fred Russell, after a January presentation of his plan to reorganize city government, revise the employee policy and procedures manual and revisit the city charter.
WORST PHRASE OF THE YEAR: “The administrator shall have exclusive authority to recommend candidates for department director positions.”
WORST SNUB OF THE YEAR: Mayor Deke Copenhaver and commissioners ignoring Richmond County Legislative Delegation Chairman Wayne Howard’s letter requesting a joint meeting during the legislative break, beginning the week of Jan. 17.
The purpose of the proposed meeting was to discuss changes to the personnel manual that would give the administrator more power. (See Worst Phrase)
BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE YEAR: That Mayor Copenhaver had the power to hire, fire and run the whole city government show. Furthermore, that he was stuck with the job unless he could get a two-thirds vote from the Augusta Commission to change the charter.
The opinion from the Office of Legislative Counsel, released by members of the local legislative delegation in February, turned out to be wrong, though, so the Boy King was stripped of the power he didn’t even know he’d had for six years.
FIRST WORST OMISSION OF THE YEAR: Omitting Jr. from the late Georgia Appeals Court Judge John H. Ruffin Jr.’s name in the inscription on a granite sign at the new judicial center.
SECOND WORST OMISSION OF THE YEAR: Omitting Ruffin’s name from the judicial center building itself, an omission remedied after Judge Watkins refused to move into the new building until Ruffin’s name was on it and before U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas came to dedicate the John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse.
WORST PITCH OF THE YEAR: The one Commissioner Matt Aitken made for the city to study how much a new downtown baseball stadium would cost.
MOST OVERUSED PHRASE OF THE YEAR: “Extending the olive branch.” The mayor used it after breaking a tie to remove the word “exclusive” from the section of the personnel manual pertaining to the administrator’s authority to recommend the hiring and firing of department heads.
Mason used the phrase in a recent commission meeting after Commissioners Jerry Brigham and Grady Smith, who had voted for the proposed redistricting lines in the final ad hoc redistricting committee meeting, then voted against them in the commission meeting.
Mason noted that the majority black ad hoc committee could have voted for any plan without input from the white members, but instead had extended the olive branch and sought their input. And Brigham and Smith had, in return, slapped them in the face with it.
Smith later said it wasn’t an olive branch the committee extended but a cactus plant.
WORST DECISION OF THE YEAR: Russell granting raises to 44 city employees during a budget crisis.
WORST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR: Goes to Mason for publicly berating and interrogating city officials, and especially for his shameful inquisition of deputy administrators and department heads while Russell was out of town.
Having invested himself with the powers of judge, jury and chief executioner, Mason put Russell on trial in absentia and convicted him of illegally promoting some employees and giving them and others raises, and in so doing, of violating provisions in the city’s policies and procedures manual.
BEST REACTION TO THE WORST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR: “The only thing they didn’t do was serve popcorn,” Smith said afterward. “I was disappointed in the downgrading and talking to people like that. He thinks he’s talking to a bunch of grunts down at Fort Benning, Ga.”
BEST QUIP OF THE YEAR: Came from Commissioner Bill Lockett after Augusta Professional Firefighters Union spokesman Charles Masters had called for the resignations of Chief Howard Willis and deputy chiefs Mike Rogers and Carl Scott. Commission chambers had been filled with firefighters and EMTs, and as they were leaving Mason and Smith started arguing and were about to come to blows.
“Better get the firemen back,” Lockett said. “We’re going to need some emergency medical attention here.”
BEST ACTOR OF THE YEAR: The surprise Smith, a longtime Forest Hills Golf Course board member, showed after hearing that the course has paid only $143 a month for city water since time immemorial was almost believable.
WORST MEMORY LAPSE OF THE YEAR: Russell said he couldn’t specifically remember whether he did tell commissioners the land for the $12 million TEE Center parking deck had not been donated after previously telling them it had been donated, and couldn’t specifically remember whether he didn’t tell them.
Commissioners couldn’t remember either, though.
WORST SCHOOL SYSTEM IN THE STATE: Richmond County.
WORST IDEA OF THE YEAR: Russell’s proposal to sell the landfill.
BEST JUDICIAL DECISION OF THE YEAR: Augusta Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge David Roper’s ruling in favor of Augusta-Richmond County in a lawsuit filed by a black ministers’ group, finding that the Augusta Commission did not act beyond its authority in delegating increased powers to the city administrator.
WORST AREA HOUSING DEVELOPMENT: Magnolia Trace in Columbia County.
DIREST PREDICTION OF THE YEAR: “This is the worst budget I’ve ever given you. … We’ve been able to skimp. We’ve been able to tighten our belts, but in this case, we might be eating the leather those belts are made of.” – Russell, after presenting the 2012 city budget proposal
MOST PROMISING STATEMENT OF THE YEAR: “We’re gonna have to come up with a new mechanism to raise additional revenue, because at the point we’re going at now, we’re not going to have a government.” – Lockett, after hearing Russell’s 2012 city budget proposal