Four of the five Augusta mayoral candidates spoke at a forum Thursday sponsored by the Richmond County Association of Educators, and much of what they said was pure and utter nonsense.
Most of it was just words strung together into sentences as empty as the storefronts I passed on Broad Street going from the Chronicle building to the Board of Education building.
Candidate and Augusta Commission member Alvin Mason has the advantage of seven years’ experience in city government. In comparison to the others there, he was the only one who seemed to have a grasp on the reality of the government they want to lead.
SMALL BUSINESSES, BIG IDEAS: Concerning small businesses, candidate Helen Blocker-Adams said she would create an advisory committee that would be mentors for small businesses. Maybe she means to do something different from what the city is already doing with the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise office and Local Small Business Opportunity Program, which also has an advisory committee.
Candidate Charles Cummings, a former nightclub owner, said he thought small businesses should have the same benefits and tax incentives as large businesses and that the city must provide friendlier service.
“Just to make an application is $200 or so just to say, ‘I want to run a business,’” he said. “No one wants to give up $200 to find out they can’t run one. You need to know in advance your business is going to survive.”
Candidate Lori Myles, a language arts teacher, said, “Right now on the commission agenda is the fact that right now in Augusta Mr. Ellis Allbright, who is the CSRA small business administration. He actually heads it, and as a matter of fact about three months ago he has been championing the fact that No. 1, out of all the business owners in the city of Augusta, women own less businesses than all.
“Now get this stat. Only
3 percent of owned business are by black women. Now all the women in Augusta – I said all. I did not say black. But all the women in Augusta need to ask themselves, ‘Why is it they are owning less business?’ … All I’m saying with you and to you and to this only is, yes, grants are available. Wow! Seminars are available. The thing we need to do is make sure that the word gets out because I did read somewhere that the people perish because of the lack of knowledge.”
Vision, Lori. Vision.
THIS SUBJECT IS GETTING DOWNRIGHT TIRESOME: As to whether they’d change the charter to give the mayor more power, the candidates, except for Myles, are saying the very same things people said the first time the subject came up shortly after consolidation. Mayor Larry Sconyers went into office saying he was going to run the city like a business but was mistaken.
“Changing the charter is not the answer,” Mason said. “Changing the person in the seat is the answer. This is what I mean about that. It’s leadership.”
That’s what past mayors thought until they were elected. Sconyers’ motto was “Together We Can.” At his first meeting, commissioners threatened to walk out because he’d made changes to the agenda.
Blocker-Adams said changing the charter wouldn’t be a priority in her first four years.
“The mayor’s power comes from being able to collaborate and build bridges with the commissioners,” she said. “The mayor has the ability to be able to work with all commissioners, collaborate with all of them, build relationships and find the common vision.”
And the moon is made out of green cheese.
Blocker-Adams also said she’d want to meet personally with each of the city’s employees. All 2,800? She wouldn’t have time to do anything else her first term.
Cummings said the mayor has the power of persuasion, and the city administrator has too much power, some of which should be transferred to the mayor.
“When commissioners come to a point where they can’t agree, I think the mayor has power to step in and get involved with the citizens and find out from his own perspective what the citizens are trying to get done, and then move forward with his own effort and own initiatives,” he said.
Obviously, he has no idea of how the mayor and commissioners work. If the mayor moves forward with an initiative they don’t like, they can cut his budget like a former commission did to Bob Young when pushed for ethics reform.
BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY: HOW TO ATTRACT: Myles proposed an advisory council “so we can ask the people what they want, and we can also assess where they want to shop.”
Blocker-Adams said they should put more dollars in the hands of Development Authority of Richmond County Executive Director Walter Sprouse.
“If they had more money, they could be able to do a lot more,” she said.
She also proposed diversifying the economy to make Augusta an entertainment capital, helping small businesses and creating jobs.
How can local government diversify the economy? And does government actually create jobs? Most every commission and mayoral candidate talk about it, but I can’t think of one they’ve created once they get elected, except for the one then-Commissioner Betty Beard had created for Donald D’Antignac. D’Antignac reported directly to Administrator Fred Russell until Russell got fired. Now, nobody seems to know who D’Antignac reports to.
Cummings, who noted that he’d had a semi-pro football team in 1995, proposed creating semi-pro football and basketball teams.
State Sen. Hardie Davis didn’t attend the mayoral candidate forum because the Legislature is in session.
GOVERNMENT AT WORK: Young has been gone from his job at U.S. Housing and Urban Development in Washington since 2009. After five years, he heard from the agency.
“Maybe they want me back,” he said. “This week they sent me a government credit card. Should I let Gwen use it to contribute to the national debt?”
The letter announcing the arrival of the new tax-exempt government card listed among “an unsurpassed array of services and features” worldwide card acceptance at 34 million merchant locations.
She could do a lot of damage with that.
Maybe the inspector general should take a look at HUD credit cards. The inspector general’s recent sampling of EPA credit cards showed 75 of 80 transactions involved waste, fraud or abuse. In a sample of $152,600 in transactions, $79,254 were prohibited, improper or erroneous.
EVERYBODY RIDES OR GETS TAKEN FOR ONE: Members of the Urban Redevelopment Agency, responsible for issuing a $28.5 million revenue bond to pay for renovations at the Marble Palace, met Friday but weren’t sure Augusta commissioners know that payment on the bonds, about $3 million annually, will have to come from property tax revenues if voters reject the special purpose local option sales tax package. So they took no action on the bonds and scheduled a meeting with commissioners for Tuesday.
Agency appointee Terry Elam, the president of Augusta Technical College, summed up the city’s situation if the tax fails: “To me, that’s just the same as you going to a car dealership, and you do a credit application, and you drive off in a new car. You come back in a week, and they didn’t approve your credit application. And now you’ve got a debt you’ve got to deal with, and the consequences of it.”