Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Commission needs lesson in love

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Valentine’s Day looms, and love is in the air. But as everybody knows, there’s no love lost among Augusta commissioners, which is why Mayor Deke Copenhaver asked them to reaffirm the commission’s Code of Conduct, so the public won’t know just how much they hate each other.

Apparently, some commissioners could care less about keeping up appearances. Commissioner Bill Lockett said they had approved the code in 2006 and in 2009 and nothing changed. They didn’t get along then, and they don’t get along now.

Commissioner Alvin Mason said he had a problem with the code provision about setting aside individual differences and supporting the commission’s actions.

“It’s awfully difficult to meet up and lay down your differences,” he said, “especially if you have some legitimate reason in your own mind, and/or some proof.”

The mayor remained undeterred and has placed the code on the agenda for commission retreats Thurs­­day and Friday at the Au­gusta Marriott at the Con­ven­tion Center, where City Ad­ministrator Fred Russell will try to pin commissioners down on what they want to do about next year’s budget deficit, a decision they have so far been able to sidestep.

THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW HISTORY ARE BOUND TO REPEAT IT: Having been witness to more commission retreats than I care to remember, I thought it might be fun to look back to see whatever came of the goals and good intentions.

The first one of the modern era was in 2004, when then-Commissioner Betty Beard proposed a two- to three-day retreat for commissioners to work on solving the city’s financial problems for the future instead of applying “band-aid” solutions every year.

So much for that.

BLAH, BLAH, BLAH: In 2006, commissioners ended a daylong retreat at the Old Government House pledging unity, togetherness and respect. They set goals to improve their effectiveness as city leaders and attempted to work out personal and professional differences that had divided them.

The new year was less than two weeks old, but abstentions, voting along racial lines and tension among commissioners had stalled government progress.

Prompted by facilitator Gordon Maner of the Uni­ver­sity of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Gov­ern­ment, commissioners said they wanted to achieve commission unity to help improve the public’s perception of city government and, ultimately, improve economic development and Augusta’s reputation as a forward-moving city.

To solve lingering trust issues, they pledged to form a “buddy system.” Each commissioner would partner with a colleague with whom he or she was not close to learn more about each other’s lives. They also agreed to take tours of each district to better understand community needs, and plan cultural diversity training.

Five days after the retreat aimed at resolving racial divisions, commissioners reached a stalemate on electing a mayor pro tem – with the votes falling along racial lines.

MORE BLAH, BLAH, BLAH: At a February 2007 retreat, commissioners agreed on measures designed to streamline meetings and improve their image.

Instead of holding people with business before committees hostage for hours, they agreed to break long meeting agendas into two days. All except then-Commissioner Marion Williams agreed to adhere to the two-minute rule when speaking and to speak only twice on the same subject.

COMMISSIONERS, WE HARDLY KNEW YE: In March 2008, Maner issued a report after a retreat, saying it was truly amazing how far the commission had come since last year.

“(A)nd the excitement about the future is clearly in each of your minds and displayed clearly on your faces,” he wrote.

Commissioners agreed to work on 14 areas and assigned tasks to everyone. As it turned out, only Russell delivered, with a plan for signs and banners at major and minor gateways and throughout Augusta.

The mayor’s task was to lead a commission review of the charter and recommend changes that I predicted would take a little longer – say, well after those signs they put up at the gateways are rusting off the posts.

WHO’S FOOLING WHOM? “This was your best retreat ever!” Maner gushed in a letter to the city after the 2009 retreat in Athens, Ga. “You are beginning to live the title of the book Good to Great with your commission setting the example and the pace for staff and your employees, and all are feeling the old culture of fear and intimidation rapidly fading away, and the new culture of servant leadership and service excellence is emerging at a steady pace.

“I am truly amazed to see how you all have grown over the last three years; you work better together, you’re focusing on the real pressing challenges Augusta faces currently and in the future, your public image is like never before, and you all have settled into a maturity of serving, which will only allow great things to happen.”

Two months later, commissioners split along racial lines over paying for the TEE Center.

MORE APPARENT THAN REAL: “It’s such a joy now to see how they’ve come together to focus on the real challenges,” Maner said after the 2010 retreat.

It was an improvement over previous years, in which the commission spent much of the time arguing one side of Augusta versus the other, he said.

The mayor and commissioners appeared to reach consensus on several issues, including revamping the city charter to increase the administrator’s powers.

TREATED TO TWO RETREATS: On the agenda for a retreat last March were 25 questions for commissioners to review and answer before having an outside firm draft a new charter. That’s the last we’ve heard of that.

In July, commissioners were at odds over the city’s revised personnel manual and Russell’s government reorganization.

THE THREE R’S: RACE, RACE AND RACE: Word is, the redistricting map known as Plan 3R, which was approved by the ad hoc committee in Augusta in November and dropped as a House bill by Rep. Wayne Howard last week, will not be approved and that a compromise bill is waiting in the wings. Plan 3R is controversial because, for the first time, black majority districts outnumber white majority districts 6-4.

CSI AUGUSTA: Commis­sioner Jerry Brigham received a solicitation from the Procurement Depart­ment to bid on the forensic audit of the TEE Center parking deck. Brigham, an accountant, said he will not respond.

PULL UP A CHAIR: Repub­li­can 12th Congressional District candidates Rick Allen, Lee Anderson, Wright McCleod and Maria Sheffield are scheduled to speak at the Augusta-Richmond Coun­ty Committee for Good Govern­ment meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Julian Smith barbecue pit. Augusta’s new fire chief, Chris James, is also scheduled to speak.

Comments (48) Add comment
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Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/11/12 - 09:12 pm
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I was overwhelmed with all

I was overwhelmed with all the information about the TEE parking deck and Lori Davis and Al Gray addressing the Commission.

Many Arrows
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Many Arrows 02/11/12 - 09:15 pm
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A "culture of corruption"

A "culture of corruption" isn't easily spun.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/11/12 - 09:34 pm
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Since we are going to be

Since we are going to be paying one of the LLC's to run the parking deck in this combined private, government operation, I wonder if the Marriott would be willing to disclose executive salaries and what the owners of the hotel are pocketing? Anyone think the value of the Marriott has increased since the TEE and parking deck began construction?

Many Arrows
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Many Arrows 02/11/12 - 09:47 pm
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The place is full of

The place is full of parasites - Augusta that is. It is the Chicagoland of the South. If you cannot make it in legitimate business, leech onto the government teat. If you are good at it, get it done so that nobody gets to see what you are doing.

Conservative Man
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Conservative Man 02/11/12 - 10:02 pm
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Even though the Commission

Even though the Commission meeting was eventful, ya'll have to remember who Sylvia works for.....which means she probably has to be a bit more careful about what she says than we do....

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/11/12 - 10:10 pm
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It reminds me of Baghdad Bob.

It reminds me of Baghdad Bob.

willie7
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willie7 02/11/12 - 11:12 pm
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Sylvia, it time to give it
Unpublished

Sylvia, it time to give it up. your articles, or your columns are becoming "STALED".

Many Arrows
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Many Arrows 02/12/12 - 08:36 am
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Can we say unbridled

Can we say unbridled arrogance.....cost your bondholders $200 million....3 months later get a 100 photo spread in your own paper ballyhooing you as an inductee into the Georgia Business Hall of Fame..... preach loudly about the evils of debt......promise to deed over land in same paper.....turn that promise not just into air, but $7 million in debt air.....just as somebody seeks to hold your public raiding for scrutiny, get 6 lapdog commissioners to quickly forestall openness after you got busted pulling off subterfuge.....poor them, they now went out on a limb for him and are dangling over a precipice. Great show, Sylvia, sorry you missed it.

dichotomy
37406
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dichotomy 02/11/12 - 11:55 pm
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15 years of going downhill

15 years of going downhill since Consolidation and all we have to show for it is the hotel, TEE, and parking deck we built Paul and the boys with our tax money. Meanwhile, our commission is still the most dysfunctional government in the nation. How about it county residents? How long are you going to take this before you raise up and throw off this bunch of dysfunctional, corrupt, and incompetent bunch of bumbling blowhards we've got downtown? There are ways to do it. There are ways to separate from "downtown" again. There have been other areas in the state who have managed to separate themselves from a consolidated government which under served and over taxed them. I would say that South Augusta and rural south Richmond would be a prime candidate for such and action. I believe we could prove in a court of law that we have been raped, robbed, and left for dead.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/12/12 - 07:51 am
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The most unusual column and

The most unusual column and responses I've ever seen. I believe the Augusta Spring is on. Facades are being ripped off to expose the true rot downtown.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/12/12 - 09:07 am
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I wonder why a new TEE

I wonder why a new TEE couldn't have been built on the existing Civic Center property? Of course it wouldn't have helped the Marriott so much that way. Plus it wouldn't have allowed a multimillion dollar parking garage being built at tax payer expense to solve their parking problems either.

Austin Rhodes
2985
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Austin Rhodes 02/12/12 - 09:22 am
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Not

Not disagreeing/validating/mentioning any specifics noted above...just noting for the record that you are all using the Morris furnished online forum to bash/beat/berate the living Hell out of him.

Every single day.

To quote the late, great Jesse Carroll "That's ironical".

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/12/12 - 09:27 am
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Austin, we pay to be here and

Austin, we pay to be here and express our opinion. It's not a gift. However, I have noted how I feel uncomfortable slamming Mr. Morris at times. The phrase I used is it's like going to his party, drinking up his liquor and then talking bad about him. I, also, said he has done lots of good for this community and I appreciate it. The problem, as I noted previously, is his business interests are so entwined with Augusta and politics that it's hard not to point out things that don't show him in a good light. It would be intellectually dishonest to do otherwise. Maybe that's your game, but not mine.

seenitB4
97221
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seenitB4 02/12/12 - 09:33 am
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I will have to say Austin

I will have to say Austin does have a point.....

It takes a big man to stand when the arrows are coming from all directions-----no pun intended here....
I will give him credit for the good he has done----but alas.....we don't live with perfection in any world...
I'm surprised he doesn't post here.....hey..maybe he does..:)

iLove
626
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iLove 02/12/12 - 09:34 am
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Now is the time for more
Unpublished

Now is the time for more young professionals to run for a commission seat.

It is amazing that when the 4 commissioners bought up the questions, THEY we the ones in the wrong....FAST FORWARD TO THE PRESENT....now that we have the answers, it's the other way around.

I say get rid of the 6 and replace them with more like the 4 . At least they have "T. Fortitude" to stand up for the citizens and the City.

Also thanks to Lori and Al. I voted for Lori!

eb97
835
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eb97 02/12/12 - 09:37 am
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Now all of you know that deck

Now all of you know that deck was built to park all the cars coming to the ball park that Deke hasn't built yet on our tax dollar. You know that this deck solved the parking problem the new ball park would have created. I sure hope this thing goes all the way to the Atlanta News papers, just hope Billy has no pull there.

iLove
626
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iLove 02/12/12 - 09:37 am
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And to Sylvia....yea....it's
Unpublished

And to Sylvia....yea....it's about time to hang it up. You can't play both sides. What kind of column was this? Augusta is a sad sad city. Certain leaders are sad excuses for men. SAD EXCUSES FOR MEN.

iLove
626
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iLove 02/12/12 - 09:39 am
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So true eb, so true.
Unpublished

So true eb, so true.

iLove
626
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iLove 02/12/12 - 09:45 am
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As I reread the article, why
Unpublished

As I reread the article, why are most of the boldfaced names African American????

Smh @ Sylvia. What does Marion Williams have to do with this???

eb97
835
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eb97 02/12/12 - 09:51 am
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ilove, it kinda looks like

ilove, it kinda looks like the blame was being placed on the African American commissioners for problems within the government. Just more of the same. I think a few sitting on the left of the Mayor and the Mayor included need to look in the mirror before spouting blame on anyone.

Conservative Man
5578
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Conservative Man 02/12/12 - 09:54 am
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Austin's point is a good

Austin's point is a good one...ironic is the word...Ironic that some of the very posters on this page are obviously involved in the efforts to get to the bottom of the whole sorry mess, which may eventually tarnish the reputation of one of the most powerful men in the region. The man who owns this very newspaper..
But the greater point is, we all know these very same powerful people do some good works for the community, but that does not give them immunity from being exposed..if indeed they have done wrong, it should be known, regardless of who they are or where the arrows come from.

seenitB4
97221
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seenitB4 02/12/12 - 09:58 am
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Sylvia...I'm still with ya

Sylvia...I'm still with ya girl......I know the edge ain't easy ....hey..we have many on here walking that edge everyday...heh

Riverman1
93458
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Riverman1 02/12/12 - 10:09 am
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I'm telling y'all this is the

I'm telling y'all this is the most unusual occurrence I've seen since beginning to comment on the Chronicle. An open revolt about what's NOT being written.

Riverman1
93458
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Riverman1 02/12/12 - 10:10 am
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0
How's that land bank thing

How's that land bank thing working out?

iLove
626
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iLove 02/12/12 - 10:19 am
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Thanks eb. So true. I like
Unpublished

Thanks eb. So true. I like asking questions, usually knowing the answer (not always) to get people to think and realize what is actually being said without actually saying.

Riverman1
93458
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Riverman1 02/12/12 - 10:34 am
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Many Arrows without you and

Many Arrows without you and another friend who emails me privately, I would have never comprehended exactly what was going on. I'll put my accountants up against Joe Bowles any old day. The next time he says all I do is complain and never offer solutions, I'm going to tell him to come on here and we'll discuss HIS solutions...such as the land bank.

Riverman1
93458
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Riverman1 02/12/12 - 10:40 am
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SeenIt, sure we all love

SeenIt, sure we all love Sylvia. I have no doubt she feels bad now. Some of y'all who are close to her should contact her and assure her we all understand in addition to the support we show her here.

Conservative Man
5578
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Conservative Man 02/12/12 - 10:47 am
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Yeah, Sylvia is a gem. And

Yeah, Sylvia is a gem. And she usually writes from a "tongue-in-cheek" perspective. And from what I saw there was nothing remotely funny about what happened Tues at Commission. Kinda hard to write jokes about a train wreck.....

Many Arrows
-1
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Many Arrows 02/12/12 - 11:28 am
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Sylvia is indeed wonderful as

Sylvia is indeed wonderful as are several others I know. We have to be sad for them. We look upon this and gain resolve that there be consequences for those who who impose such harm on these wonderful people. Yes, these are powerful men, but they have put themselves in an utterly indefensible position.

seenitB4
97221
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seenitB4 02/12/12 - 11:39 am
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0
More powerful than a

More powerful than a locomotive....
Prediction....

Land donations will be made..sales will be made...names will be cleared.

Sorry guys....my $$$ is on the man.

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