Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Augusta Commissioners' opinions still differ on 'slum' designation

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Everybody has one. An opinion, that is. And to say opinions are divided on calling downtown Au­gusta a slum in order to create an Urban Rede­vel­op­ment Area and save money on financing the $40-plus million renovation of the Mar­ble Palace is an understatement. Some folks think the negative reaction to the word is much ado about nothing, while others think it’s the devil in disguise.

Most city officials, including Mayor Deke Copenhaver, City Administrator Fred Rus­sell and Augusta Commission members, say “slum” is just a word legislators put in the law authorizing urban redevelopment 50 years ago, a meaningless anachronism the media latched onto to create controversy.

“YOU CAN CALL ME AL”: “For $2 million, you can call me a bum,” said Com­missioner Corey John­son.

Commissioner Alvin Mason said he’s not scared or worried about the word “slum.”

YOU CAN BELIEVE WHAT YOU READ IN THE PAPER: Commissioner Bill Lockett wants to know why the plan was sprung on them out of the blue.

“Why is it that I had to find out from print media that this was in the works?” he asked.

BLUE SKY PIE: Commis­sioner Wayne Guilfoyle is opposed because the plan calls for part of the bond money to be paid back with the next round of special purpose local option sales tax funds although they haven’t even been approved.

BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE: Commissioner Marion Wil­liams isn’t worried about the word. It’s the authority that would oversee it that bothers him.

“It’s not just the slum name,” he said. “That’s an issue, but that’s minor when you think about what they’re trying to do. I’m not giving power to somebody when I don’t know who I’m giving it up to. Anytime you’re creating an authority, you’re losing power. I’m not going to support it. It’s the tail wagging the dog.”

“TALK IT UP AND GIVE ME THE GO ROUND ROUND”: Down­town businesswoman Bon­nie Ruben asks why the city is spending $40 million redoing the Marble Palace but won’t clean up downtown.

“Beer cans, food wrappers, weeds, ankle-deep water when it rains, and plenty of plain old muck and dirt – welcome to the Garden City,” she said. “We have so much potential but stay stuck in the ditch – now the slum ditch. I don’t care what kind of spin they attach to it. It is totally negative and hurts future development. To make matters worse, they are not even using the money to improve the area that will take the hit for the negative terminology. We suffer on Broad Street while they get a renovated Marble Palace – and for what?”

ALL WE NEED NOW IS A UFO: Commissioners are expected to vote on designating the Urban Redevelopment Area and receive the proposed downtown redevelopment plan at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

When I noticed Lincoln County resident Al Gray is on the agenda to speak on the matter, I asked him via e-mail to give me a pithy preview of what he plans to say.

“Pithy? Me?” he replied. “OK. When the Augusta Chronicle’s Susan McCord unleashed the bombshell that Mayor Copenhaver might sign an Urban Redevelop­ment resolution declaring Augusta’s CBD a SLUM, the property rights warning lights and sirens were heard all the way up in the pinewoods of Lincoln County. Fred Russell’s resolution looked like a 6 layer cake festooned with so many abbreviations like URD, URA and URP that it made me think my URO doc might need to make an emergency call. Since he was unavailable, I asked the clerk of the Augusta Commission if ‘the man in camo’ from Lincoln County could butt in yet again in their bi-weekly circus down in that marble-walled shack. I guess she said yes.

“Well, what I want to make folks think about this time is a deceased board that will be resurrected like Lazarus, unlimited sort-of-devious powers that commissioners might sleep through, how 99.75 percent of Augusta can be bled dry in service to a district smaller than a truck farm, and maybe how we should not hold it against Bill Clinton for pondering the meaning of ‘is’ when the mayor is ready to describe $100’s of millions in glittering new buildings as so many shacks in a slum.”

ARE THEY REALLY LONGING FOR THE GOOD OL’ DAYS? At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners also will discuss whether to put the vehicle and equipment maintenance contract with First Vehicle Services on a month-to-month basis and seek proposals from other companies or bring the operations in-house.

Apparently, the ones who want to bring it back in-house don’t know or have forgotten the rampant theft of tires, vehicle parts and gasoline that occurred when the garages were run by Richmond County until 1994. Shop managers, for the most part, were unqualified political appointees moved over from other departments such as recreation.

Inventory control was non-existent. Hundreds of tires went missing, some of them left the garage under deputies’ arms. Employees and prison inmates working at the Tobacco Road garage were making barbecue grills and selling them. And everybody who was anybody in Richmond County government got free gasoline at the city pumps and their vehicles washed and serviced.

When The Augusta Chronicle started poking around in the records, garage employees loaded them on a truck to be dumped at the landfill, but somebody blew the whistle, and Georgia Bureau of In­vestigations agents stopped the truck. The whistle­blower got fired. The shop manager and a couple of other employees were arrested and charged, but nobody went to jail.

DRIP DRIP DRIP: Speaking of gasoline, four commissioners have used 1,129.68 gallons, or $3,855.61 worth, of gasoline this year courtesy of taxpayers. Bill Fennoy used $830.14 worth; Johnson $882.36; Williams, $1,266 and Grady Smith $877.11, according to city records. In 2008, seven commissioners pumped $10,000 worth of gasoline using city-issued Fuelman cards.

UP, UP AND AWAY: Augusta businessman Brad Usry could become the third candidate for mayor next year.

“I have been entertaining the idea,” said the president of Fat Man’s Mill Café and Enterprise Mill Events. “I was approached by some people I respect very much who asked me to consider it, which I said I would do.”

Mason and state Sen. Hardie Davis have already announced their candidacies.

Usry’s son, Havird, is involved with the businesses, and Usry finds himself much at the same stage his mother, Carolyn Usry, was when she decided to run for the Augusta City Council the first time and gave Brad and his sister, Jan, more responsibility in running Fatsville Chow and Fat Man’s Forest on Laney-Walker Boulevard.

Carolyn Usry was a hard-working councilwoman who served 14 years in the 1980s and ’90s. She died in 2007.

In Columbia County, Doug Duncan said he’s considering running for the Dis­trict 1 commission seat now held by Ron Thigpen.

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nocnoc
41117
Points
nocnoc 09/14/13 - 08:19 pm
4
1
Amazing how much Bad gas

a Downtown District commissioner can spread around and still need Gas.

701
Points
Barry Paschal 09/14/13 - 08:43 pm
3
0
CORRECTION: NOT a challenge

Doug Duncan could NOT have said he's considering a "challenge" to Ron Thigpen. Thigpen long ago said he has no intention of running for re-election or for any other office after his term expires next year.

triscuit
2991
Points
triscuit 09/14/13 - 10:01 pm
3
0
Run Brad!

Run Brad!

Little Lamb
45281
Points
Little Lamb 09/14/13 - 10:47 pm
6
1
Shame on us

It is of no importance whether the government uses a loophole in the urban redevelopment law to obtain funds to renovate city hall merely by declaring the entire downtown a slum. The shame is that they are wasting many millions of dollars to do the renovation. They should have fixed the things that needed fixing, but should not have gone to the extravagances they envision.

The government of Wadley recently did the same thing; and the people are dismayed, but what can they do? The city council authorized the new Wadley Taj Mahal. Augustans are in the same boat.

Where is a commissioner who will say, “Enough!”? Where is a commissioner who will say, “No!”? That is the kind of commissioner and mayor we need today.

Little Lamb
45281
Points
Little Lamb 09/14/13 - 10:55 pm
4
0
Clueless

Sylvia Cooper reported:

Commissioner Bill Lockett asked, “Why is it that I had to find out from print media that this was in the works?”

Because, Bill, your city administrator wants to keep you in the dark. It looks like he is succeeding. Several of your fellow commissioners were well informed, but not you. Do you want to sulk and pout, or do you want to jump into the middle of the game and make things happen?

Little Lamb
45281
Points
Little Lamb 09/14/13 - 10:59 pm
5
0
On the record

By the way, Commissioner Lockett, did anyone answer your pathetic cry for information? I didn't think so. Are you man enough to demand an answer from Fred Russell, or must you cower back in fear of your administrator?

dichotomy
32020
Points
dichotomy 09/14/13 - 11:03 pm
7
1
"Commissioner Alvin Mason

"Commissioner Alvin Mason said he’s not scared or worried about the word “slum.”"

Mason certainly would not fear the word slum. He has been instrumental in creating one in South Augusta.

And what is Williams doing with all of that taxpayer gasoline? Is he siphoning it out and saving it to sell at the drag strip or something. It is always the ones that lecture the most, talk the loudest, sound the most sanctimonious, that are the ones who are abusing their positions, and the taxpayers, the most.

rebellious
20630
Points
rebellious 09/14/13 - 11:52 pm
10
0
What We Read

from week to week, in Sylvia's City Ink, and sprinkled through out the pages of the Chronicle, The Metro Spirit, even the Urban Pro Weekly and Metro Courier, is the equivalent of the response when you ask a family member how a terminally ill relative is doing. Some are eternally positive, in the face of bad test results or actual condition. Some are forever negative, even if an upturn or remission has occurred. And others give you the real story, through a look in the eye, a sigh, a droop of the head to study the floor.
The fact is, our city is sick. Made sick through her own actions, like a diabetic still eating candy, or an alcoholic drinking continuously, or a smoker who lights up while on Oxygen. Like a shopaholic, we waste money on things we don't need, then look for ways to get more money to spend while the rent is due and the lights are about to be shut off. You have heard of the sickness, they borrow money (26.5 million) they have no means to pay back. When asked if everything is Ok, they assure you they are fine and tell of the next big influx of money, all the while the water has been cut off and they are dodging the repo man by parking the car next door. That is our city as she stands today. And rather than face the reality, take measures to slow the spend, save the money, restrict to the basics, we plow full speed ahead into that abyss of bankruptcy. We ignore the cries of our citizens who are starved for basic services such as drivable roads and clean streets, and opt for a flashy new Big Screen (Municipal Building, Law enforcement Center, Judicial Center) which we neither need nor can afford.
And as in some families, there are children who want to keep Momma just alive enough so they can cash her Guvmint check and spend it. They don’t really want her to get well, because then she will decide the proper way her money should be spent. Other children who are self sufficient, want the parent to recover and return to the days of full function.
Then there are the doctors, some who want to see the patient healed and thriving while others recognize the sickness as a means of income and a source of their sustenance.
As in a family of ten children, each Commissioner is but one vote, one voice, one opinion. When the majority refuse to see what is right for the good of the whole, the unit declines at worst, or maintains a position of sickly poor health, as is the case in Augusta.
I am an optimist by nature, but a realist by necessity. The current direction (Slum designation, et. al.) is the midway to the end. As much as I hate to say it, we are headed into our demise. As a patient whose average temperature is 98.6 degrees, if his head is in the oven and his feet are in the fire, the actuality of his condition is far from normal.

Riverman1
82181
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Riverman1 09/15/13 - 03:04 am
8
0
F-100 Pick-up Front End BBQ Grill

So some commissioners don’t use any county gas while others use a lot? That used to be the case and I assume it still is. I’m surprised Grady Smith would siphon hi-test from the city to his vehicle. Ole Larry Sconyers never took any gas or any kind of reimbursement from the county. On the other hand, Andy Cheek used enough city gas one year to drive to Mars, drive around the Mare Erythraeum and back to earth. I’m pretty sure Deke doesn't suck on the siphon hose.

To demonstrate the greed of the commission, I fully expect the vehicle maintenance to once again become county run even though it was a monumental failure in the past. Marion Williams explained the power commissioners want to keep and this is power over money, jobs and freebies. What man wouldn’t want a BBQ grill made out of the front end of a county owned F-100 pick-up?

Riverman1
82181
Points
Riverman1 09/15/13 - 04:16 am
8
2
Deke and Al Gray

I see most of our Richmond County knowledgeable commenters have just about given up. NocNoc says he’s packing up and heading to the mountains. Rebel says it's terminal. It will be interesting to hear the tangent points Al Gray will make at the next meeting.

He seems to have the ear of some of the black commissioners because of his expertise finding misdeeds with the TEE Center. Deke didn’t like him too much and wanted to know what his credentials were. Heh. That is about the most salty thing Deke has ever uttered at a commission meeting.

Riverman1
82181
Points
Riverman1 09/15/13 - 03:19 am
5
1
Emergency Dictator for County

So what’s THE solution to Richmond County government as Susan McCord was asking the other day besides moving to the mountains? I have the most practical and realistic answer. Wait a little longer and let the financial troubles begin to snowball, then appeal to the state to appoint an emergency manager as Michigan did with Pontiac and Detroit.

These managers are also known as emergency dictators because of the powers they wield that are most certainly not part of the democratic voting process. One angry black Congressman called them “plantation masters.” If you think Marion Williams has power among his constituents in the urban area wait until they get a dictator. That man be bad.

nocnoc
41117
Points
nocnoc 09/15/13 - 06:15 am
9
2
Riverman it was a simple decision for us.

Move before we are overwhelmed.

In our eyes, the Augusta (Downtown) welfare state has become like that leech that attaches to you in the swamp, but you keep wading through the water trying to reach dry land on the far side, so it can be removed cleanly and properly.

We quickly saw only more leeches are attaching themselves as we were trying to find dry land and the swamp is growing in size.

As Downtown continues with its own version of SAVE THE A (and we all know how the last one turned out) we only see more tax
increases, more leeches and projects in a dying downtown.

The CSRA knows the real Common Business District (CBD) is the West Side for ARC. But that does not keep the Downtowner's from spending $MILLIONS$$ over and over on a known hopeless cause.

Now we have 7 Downtown focused Commissioners that have voted to borrow $$$$ from taxes, that the taxpayers have not even passed yet?

SPLOST 7?

So can anyone give me a viable reason

WHY my family should live in an Officially declared Mega Slum?

avidreader
3096
Points
avidreader 09/15/13 - 08:23 am
3
0
Brad Usry

Mr. Usry is a hard-working man with a genuine love for our community. I'll vote for him.

catfish20
250
Points
catfish20 09/15/13 - 08:28 am
6
1
Bonnie Ruben

Bonnie Ruben needs to clean up her own downtown property before she can complain about others.

Little Lamb
45281
Points
Little Lamb 09/15/13 - 09:20 am
7
0
Referendum

Ole Fred Russell tells the news media that the reason he went with the urban redevelopment bonds was to save some money on carrying costs. But the real reason is that if he had used conventional municipal bonds, the matter was subject to a referendum by the voters. Those urban redevelopment bonds do not require a referendum. He gets to bypass the people.

itsanotherday1
41948
Points
itsanotherday1 09/15/13 - 09:26 am
8
1
"Bonnie Ruben needs to clean

"Bonnie Ruben needs to clean up her own downtown property before she can complain about others."

Does that change the accuracy of what she said about downtown?

Brad Owens
4287
Points
Brad Owens 09/15/13 - 09:30 am
5
0
There is so much more to this "slum" idea.

I wonder who has read the entire proposal besides Al Gray and a few folks I know?

This will be another TEE Center fight give what is on the table.

dichotomy
32020
Points
dichotomy 09/15/13 - 09:45 am
5
0
"If you think Marion Williams

"If you think Marion Williams has power among his constituents in the urban area wait until they get a dictator."

If we keep electing commissioners the caliber of Marion Williams we most assuredly will get one.

Riverman1
82181
Points
Riverman1 09/15/13 - 11:07 am
6
1
Waiting to hear what Al says

Yeah, Brad, I'm waiting to hear what Al says. From what he told Sylvia he will be hitting on the same subject Dichotomy, NocNoc and others have been complaining about for awhile. A disproportionate share of county funds being used in the old city urban area. Keep in mind all those hotels around I-20-Wash. Rd. send the occupancy tax they collect to fund projects nowhere near them. You are probably right this remodeling job is the new TEE controversy.

As far as Bonnie Ruben, downtown would be far worse without her presence downtown. Few have taken the risks to stay there like she has. Her nice hotel on Broad St. is almost out of place in that less than stellar area.

Fayette
89
Points
Fayette 09/15/13 - 11:10 am
2
0
Downtown

So what's new pussycat????

seenitB4
85289
Points
seenitB4 09/15/13 - 11:21 am
4
0
Ok I'm worried now..

When Rebel gives up, heck, you know the ship is taking in water & LOTS of it!!

"We ignore the cries of our citizens who are starved for basic services such as drivable roads and clean streets, and opt for a flashy new Big Screen "......That statement of Rebel's reminds me of something....I saw BIG tvs in the middle of run down houses held together by slats....in MEXICO ...near the Cancun area...this happens when the population has zero control of directing their resources to the needs of the population...only a few "landlords" are enjoying the cream at the top.....they can't fix the problem so they buy a detraction of sorts--entertainment by tv.....sad & disgusting at the same time..

I don't blame them entirely for going for the big tv....they see their situation as hopeless....evidently you do too Rebel & I do understand your feelings...so...whatta want...42inch or over 50 inches??

seenitB4
85289
Points
seenitB4 09/15/13 - 11:52 am
4
0
Let us be HONEST here

YOU don't have the VOTE to change the direction of Richmond county...

Clayton county didn't have it
DeKalb county didn't have it
Large parts of Fulton county lost it

Just like River said...let the Emergency Dictator take over..coffee anyone?

With a little Baileys in it...cause ya gonna need it.:)

countyman
19718
Points
countyman 09/15/13 - 12:18 pm
1
7
The Chronicle won't let this

The Chronicle won't let this subject go, but didn't want the public to know about the opportunity zone in Martinez...

The nicest hotels are located downtown, and not in West Augusta. Plus the tourist coming to Augusta are paying for the redevelopment in the old city. The majority of those tourist coming here are definitely not coming to South Augusta verus the old city(especially the CBD).

I always have to laugh at the comments about 'saving' downtown, but the same people want us to spend MILLIONS in South Augusta.

seenitB4
85289
Points
seenitB4 09/15/13 - 01:00 pm
5
1
ctyman please--think

Don't blame the AC for putting the news on here..think now...how did Columbia county pass the opportunity zone without a peep of flack from the news or public...could it be that the commish in Col county know how to pass unpleasant news without stiring the masses?? Some KNOW how to do that....but Richmond county stays in a flux & knawing at each other so much that every stinking piece of crap hits the newspaper....blame the commish..

Believe me....if RIVER didn't see the Martinez zone pass in the news ...weelll it wasn't there so much....we all know he devours the news except when he is searching for that beautiful female blow up robot..(in his mind). LOL I just can't help myself this am..heheheh.

701
Points
Barry Paschal 09/15/13 - 01:09 pm
8
1
Martinez zone

Columbia County's extensive work to create an opportunity zone in the overdeveloped Martinez area received extensive coverage. One big difference between that effort and Augusta's is that Columbia County created the zone WITHOUT using the term "slum." Ever.

seenitB4
85289
Points
seenitB4 09/15/13 - 01:20 pm
4
0
^^^thank you Barry

I rest my case.....words mean something.

Riverman1
82181
Points
Riverman1 09/15/13 - 01:32 pm
7
1
Lots More Total Hotel Rooms Out in County

Countyman said, “The nicest hotels are located downtown, and not in West Augusta. Plus the tourist coming to Augusta are paying for the redevelopment in the old city.”

The point is there are many more hotels at I-20 than downtown. They take in much more in the hotel tax than the downtown area does, yet they get nothing in their areas. I don’t buy for one minute that most of the “tourists” come here because of the downtown area. Most come here because of the Masters, personal golf and business which is spread out over the county.

Brad Owens
4287
Points
Brad Owens 09/15/13 - 01:35 pm
5
0
Barry wins a Cee-ghar

Funny how the little details get left out of propaganda spin.

We have MORE than enough ammo to shoot this down based on what is in the proposal itself.

Want a local "Fed" printing fiat bonds to fund every bright idea Augusta Tomorrow and the CABAL comes up with? Here ya go, create this zone.

The proposal is a licence to print money with no limits and the regular restrictions goneon the issuance of bonds. This is a slippery slope and given the track record of the CABAL downtown, we would be treated to Detroit-lite in no time.

BEWARE TAXPAYERS! As Admiral Ackbar would say, "It's a TRAP!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_H3gpL7BhAk

countyman
19718
Points
countyman 09/15/13 - 03:50 pm
1
6
Can we please see the

Can we please see the multiple articles related to this extensive coverage? Why should the media treat Columbia County different simply because they didn't use the word slum to protect their image? The same image created by the local media already.

I bet this is the same type of extensive coverage in terms of the TEE center versus the exhibition hall. One county spends almost $10 million in taxpayer funds, and not one word from the local media. The other county spends taxpayer funds to build the center approved by the voters, but everything little thing is brought into the spotlight.

Whether or not the word 'slum' didn't get used, because of trying to protect any type of image. The area of Martinez is still an opportunity zone.

The Masters is one event, and held during one week. What about the medical tourism due to the Medical District?

How can anybody really believe more people are coming to Augusta for personal golf compared to the Arts in the Heart, ESI Ironman, Southern Nationals, Westobou, etc held in the CBD?

The hotels at I-20 are located in West Augusta, and not South Augusta. Where are the comments telling the commission to spend money in West Augusta? All of the comments from the usual people always centered on South Augusta.

Riverman1
82181
Points
Riverman1 09/15/13 - 04:51 pm
4
1
Medical tourism is miniscule

There are hotels at Gordon Hwy and 520 also. There are probably more rooms there than the hotels downtown. Plus medical tourism is miniscule compared to the Masters visitors. The Masters brings in over $100 million a year plus the good publicity.

Hey, I'm all for county spending money in West Augusta, too. Anything to get some of the city spending away from that downtown slum and the cabal.

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