Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

City Ink: Mayoral candidates missed the bus on financial talks at forum

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The Summerville folks who attended Tuesday’s mayoral forum heard more about transit than they ever hoped to hear, as most of them have never been on a city bus.

It was the topic of discussion at Beulah Grove Baptist Church, so much so that when the Summerville forum was over, former Augusta Mayor Bob Young said, “They talked about transit all night but missed the bus by not addressing the city’s financial crisis.”

That’s not surprising because it’s typical for Augusta politicians to talk the most about something that affects the least number of people. Say, less than 5 percent of the population.

THE WHEELS ON THE BUS GO ’ROUND AND ’ROUND: The candidates favor expanding the bus service, but none more so than Charles Cummings, who thinks he’s found that pot of gold I mentioned in last week’s column.

He says a fully developed system could generate $3.5 million a week for Augusta’s economy. His idea is to put kiosks in hotel lobbies with bus schedules that visitors would use and spend money “to come get a taste of Augusta.” His motto is, “If you keep doing what you did, you’ll keep getting what you got.”

Other forum topics included government transparency, south Augusta, Broad Street, Laney-Walker and the special purpose local option sales tax.

YOU’LL HAVE INPUT WHEN IT COUNTS THE MOST – MAY 20: Only state Sen. Hardie Davis and Lori Myles like the $194 million sales-tax package going before voters.

Myles voiced her support for the tax at the Summer­ville forum but was absent from the Augusta NAACP forum at Beulah Grove and therefore didn’t get to give her “Augusta Can’t Wait” speech, which is just as well since that’s what President Obama said, and look where we are now.

Helen Blocker-Adams likes Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes in general, just not the proposed package, which she said lacked public input and transparency. Cummings said he opposes the package because the money that’s to be used for one project is used for something else or just disappears.

Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason likes the penny tax levied on sales if the money is used “appropriately,” but he’s opposed to the new package. He says Mayor Deke Copenhaver rushed it up to get projects he wanted in it before he leaves office, and that there was no public input.

Well, it was rushed, but the mayor did hold six workshops, none of which Mason attended, and that gave Davis ammunition for their Beulah Grove shootout.

“It’s vital for us, when elected, to share the table instead of being on the table,” Davis said. “When given the opportunity, for the citizens that elected you, you have to be there. You have to engage in debate. Not being on the table. Being at the table because they matter, because the issues that matter are important to all of us.”

On the table or at the table. Whichever. It’s what goes on under the table you need to worry about, in my opinion.

Mason and Davis also sparred over whether the $50 million in infrastructure projects in the tax package had been identified when commissioners approved it. Mason said the relevant document stated they were to be determined and that a list was made only after he requested it. That boast gave Davis an opportunity to hit Mason where it hurt the most.

“The last thing this community needs is a bully,” he said. “What this community needs is a statesman.”

YES, YOU MOST CERTAINLY DO: Cummings, a former nightclub owner, quite a likeable fellow, provided the forums with a little comic relief. He said he was talking to a banker friend who told him, “When you’re elected mayor, Charles, you’ll be the only one who’s ever made a payroll.” The banker was referring to current candidates.

And when a forum emcee posed the question, “If people couldn’t hear you talk, what in your résumé would qualify you to be mayor?” Cummings said, “Well, if you couldn’t listen to me talk, you wouldn’t know. The job of the CEO is to talk. You just make sure the contracts are issued out to the folks it’s supposed to be issued out to. They talk about the mayor at the meetings and the commissioners not getting along. It has a lot to do with how the mayor sets the meeting up and how he interacts with the community and how that community respects that mayor. Make no mistake about it. You gotta talk to be a mayor.”

IF YOU HAVE TO HUMILIATE OTHERS TO FEEL IMPORTANT, YOU MIGHT BE A JERK: As I’ve been telling you, some commissioners are inexcusably rude and verbally abusive to city staff members, frequently dressing them down in public. Commissioner Marion Williams is the worst. Commissioner Donnie Smith went on a tirade about the budget deficit a few weeks ago, banged his fist and demanded someone tell him what they were going to do about it.

“This city has 2,700 employees, and nobody can answer that question,” he shouted. Mason has been extremely critical of department heads in the past, questioning their qualifications and education, but has toned it down somewhat the past year. I’m not saying it’s because he’s running for mayor.

Commissioner Bill Lockett used to take folks to task publicly, but about a year ago he promised not to do it again, and he has not.

Commissioner Mary Davis has been so upset with some of the antics that she sent the following e-mail to the mayor and a dozen department heads and copies to commissioners.

“Subject: Thank you to our employees!

Mr. Mayor, city employees and fellow commissioners … I don’t know if I am the only one that had a sleepless night last night, but I can sure attest that I did. And it’s because of extreme disappointment and embarrassment that I felt from yesterday’s meeting. I came home to my family, and my 13-year-old son said, ‘Mom, I’m so sorry you had to sit through another one of those disrespectful meetings. I just saw how angry some commissioners were in the news. I’m sorry.’

And I told him thank you but that I’m OK. I told him we should feel bad for the city employees and other citizens who are talked down to, embarrassed and criticized at our meetings on a weekly basis. Guys. I can only hope that the kind of outbursts and disrespect that happened last night don’t continue, but I have a feeling that just may be impossible.

So I would be remiss if I didn’t say THANK YOU to the staff that are continually beat down by this commission, and I apologize to them. I also want to thank each department head and city employee for your service, hard work and concern for Augusta-Richmond County. Sincerely, Mary Davis.”

Davis said the response has been positive. “We’re supposed to be held more accountable for being respectful,” she said. “But I don’t see that.”

Comments (19) Add comment
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Butterman
3680
Points
Butterman 03/30/14 - 04:16 pm
8
2
Augusta
Unpublished

where mediocrity and incompetence is coddled instead of criticized

Gage Creed
17276
Points
Gage Creed 03/29/14 - 08:23 pm
9
0
Amazing....

"former Augusta Mayor Bob Young said, “They talked about transit all night but missed the bus by not addressing the city’s financial crisis.”"

Is that fiddle music I hear? Or are the wannabe politicos just fiddling around?

story1
802
Points
story1 03/29/14 - 09:45 pm
11
2
Momentum

Hopefully, the "Vote No" campaign on Splost is gaining momentum. Really doesn't matter whether a commissioner attended a workshop or not, the current Splost package the Mayor pulled out of his hat is bad for Augusta. Just vote No and spread the word.

Riverman1
84152
Points
Riverman1 03/29/14 - 09:50 pm
10
1
The Macabre

What a morbid, dark picture Sylvia paints of the Commission. There is a creepiness about the Commissioners that makes you want to wash your hands after shaking hands with one of them. The work of the Commission is difficult, but damaging the self-esteem of employees creates a sick spell for all the county.

Little Lamb
46068
Points
Little Lamb 03/29/14 - 10:00 pm
11
1
Consultants

It's the consultants who are corrupting the commissioners. Commissioners are scared to make a decision on their own, so they hide behind a consultant they have paid to give the answer they desire.

Graymare
3210
Points
Graymare 03/30/14 - 08:17 am
3
0
They didn't miss the bus.

They're too busy trying to "one up" each other than to listen to what is going on! And, the folks downtown who are running the show (or should I say ruining the show) don't know how to make an informed decision. That is why they hide behind the consultants. We need educated and proven businessmen and women as commissioners and the next mayor. We must demand people who can get this county off the old way, old school, dirt road, where they are mentally stuck, and back on the highway to prosperity. We must have people who actually have a strategy for success instead of just running their mouths. When it comes to running this county, the "bandaid" mentality has got to go. All these candidates want to do is "spray and pray". Augusta could be on the brink of something wonderful, but not with the narrow minded, closed minded, racially biased folks downtown. And they are all guilty and they know it. For crying out loud, commissioners and candidates, pull your heads out and look around! We have real problems and you are "arranging deck chairs on the Titanic". They might as well hand out hip waders and a shovel to the voters. It's getting mighty deep around here. How disappointing....again!

dichotomy
33059
Points
dichotomy 03/30/14 - 12:11 am
10
0
"the mayor did hold six

"the mayor did hold six workshops, none of which Mason attended,"

E_X_A_C_T_L_Y !!! What kind of mayor would he make if he didn't care enough to even show up and TRY to get a good package on the ballot. Or was it to his political advantage to do the all too familiar boycott thing to pander to his audience.

I oppose the SPLOST too but I am sure it is for totally different reasons than Mason. I just want them to take out ALL private organizations and the mills project. We have NO idea what Mason wants because HE DID NOT SHOW UP.

sand gnat
517
Points
sand gnat 03/30/14 - 12:13 am
3
2
City Bus

I would think having the opportunity to ride a city bus with ATA would
be a compelling reason to spend a week long vacation in Augusta. Should really promote tourism. Will tokens be offered at the hotel kiosks?

Conservative Man
5568
Points
Conservative Man 03/30/14 - 01:04 am
5
1
River and LL are correct…..

…. in their general assessment of the Commission..

But only partially correct..

Remember Commissioners are "part-time"…They have day jobs.

The MAYOR"S job is FULL TIME to the tune of nearly 90 grand a year….his stated duty is "Chief Executive Officer of Augusta- Richmond County"..

If we had the benefit of a someone other than "Mayor Milquetoast", then we would probably NOT be in the fix we are in as it concerns the Commission..
An effective Chief Executive would be able to harness the resources we have within the Commission and set the tone and the agenda for progress…

As it stands right now…two of the five candidates for CEO of ARC are totally out of the running. Of the three left, two are fighting for the same voters, and only one seems to be the "type A" that might be able to actually step into the breach and be effective...

Young Fred
17467
Points
Young Fred 03/30/14 - 02:15 am
5
0
“That’s not surprising

“That’s not surprising because it’s typical for Augusta politicians to talk the most about something that affects the least number of people”

And so it goes, over and over again. Or does it? Every now and again the right “buttons” are touched, and certain incompatents suddenly become “compatent” in some eyes.

“...His idea is to put kiosks in hotel lobbies with bus schedules that visitors would use and spend money “to come get a taste of Augusta.”

Ya boy, I'm sure visitors to this town can't wait to share “seat space” with some of Augusta's finest!

Mason makes an excellent point most times!

corgimom
32616
Points
corgimom 03/30/14 - 07:05 am
4
0
Hey, maybe the tourists could

Hey, maybe the tourists could get a taste of Augusta by going to the Peach Orchard Rd Waffle House and watch a 9 person brawl.

That would give them a memorable vacation.

Graymare
3210
Points
Graymare 03/30/14 - 08:25 am
1
0
Who the heck flagged my post

Who the heck flagged my post for review? What did I post to warrant that? There was nothing posted against the guidelines. Guess the truth hurts.

Brad Owens
4455
Points
Brad Owens 03/30/14 - 10:05 am
2
3
Interesting...

No offense meant, but if commissioners are pressured to not express themselves about the city employees performance (it's NOT ok to comment on the failures of the city employees) because the have tender feeling then I say we need new department heads and employees.

Grow up please, this is business not a public school playground.

Since when did protecting their egos become the primary concern?

Since when does pointing out shortcomings become "bullying?"

I myself got some "feedback" that some of the folks didn't like the fact I stood before the commission and said that I had requested simple documents related to the URA bond issuance and didn't get them from staff, you know, like the actual fund balance and contract payment schedule. I wanted to see these things due to the fact we were being told that we were running out of money and would have to shut down the Municipal Building renovations if the URA didn't issue the bonds immediately.

I take my fiduciary duties serious and I don't make a move under threat without proof.

All I asked was to be shown where the worst case scenario (for government employees nothing is worse than to stop spending tax dollars) was the only path forward without the URA bonds before the SPLOST vote. I got NADA.

Somehow when I asked for the actual cash balance in the account at the workshop with the commission, they magically appeared within minutes. But the payment schedule on the construction apparently is a document that doesn't exist, at least that was what Heery's man told the commission.

When I pointed out that without knowing WHEN payments were due and how much cash was on hand that no one could say for sure when the project would run out of money, the silence from the staff was amazing. It was like no one had ever asked them a detailed question before about how they came to such conclusions without actual DATA.

I have no problem heaping praise and thanks on folks that earn it, but only when it is EARNED. Simply working for the city doesn't make you a saint or a sinner, your performance does.

Brad

P.S. Commissioner Donnie Smith was 100% on the money with his criticisms and I, for one, am glad he let his obvious frustration at not being able to get answers from the 2700 saints working for us down there show. Thank you Donnie, I wish more would pound the desk and demand answers.

slowrider
179
Points
slowrider 03/30/14 - 10:18 am
2
0
bus service

Could someone please give me (or show me) Mr. Cumming's rationale at how a comprehensive bus service is going to help our local economy? I want to understand his perspective before disagreeing with it... but I just don't get it.

itsanotherday1
43330
Points
itsanotherday1 03/30/14 - 10:39 am
3
1
Brad, I disagree. People

Brad, I disagree. People absolutely should be held accountable; but you do that with performance appraisals, not public humiliation. The way people like Williams make mountains of molehills, the criticism may or may not be valid and deserved; and someone may get publicly embarrassed for no good reason.

Rate them on performance and if they get two negative reviews in a row, fire them. If it is bad enough, put them on notice and fire them if they don't improve in 90 days.

itsanotherday1
43330
Points
itsanotherday1 03/30/14 - 10:40 am
2
0
Ask countyman.......

"Could someone please give me (or show me) Mr. Cumming's rationale at how a comprehensive bus service is going to help our local economy?"

dichotomy
33059
Points
dichotomy 03/30/14 - 12:01 pm
1
0
"maybe the tourists could get

"maybe the tourists could get a taste of Augusta by going to the Peach Orchard Rd Waffle House and watch a 9 person brawl."

corgimom.....we are not on the "tourist" route so they don't get to see the real "if you live here this is what you get" Augusta. I'm starting to think we are also not on the storm debris cleanup route either.

The "city" has used Section 8 to reduce the number of undesirables and try to attract tourists downtown and contractors to clean up the storm debris from the Masters tourist route, but South Augusta is on the "sucking hind teat" end of both of those programs. Believe me, the "city" WILL NEVER encourage a tourist to "see South Augusta". We are NOT on the tour....or the bike race courses. There's a reason for that.

Butterman
3680
Points
Butterman 03/30/14 - 03:16 pm
1
0
Deke's Folly
Unpublished

The Splost should have never been put on the May 20 ballot, period! 4 commissioners made that very clear at the very beginning, so why show up simply to rubber stamp a Splost package the mayor was purposefully trying to ram thru? His special called meeting to put the Splost on the may 20 ballot gave less than 24 hours notice, and was held during working hours on a Friday. Believe it or not, just like the public, commissioners have full time jobs too. Also Deke made sure that the public was shut out of the Splost process. Not one public hearing was held. Not one citizen's review board formed. The sham commission workshops were all held on weekdays during working hours and also during the week of one of the worst ice storms Augusta has ever seen. This was all done to ram a Splost package onto the May 20th ballot with all of Deke's favorite cronies and pet projects included. The current Splost does not expire until 2016. The new mayor, commission and public should be involved in the next Splost package.. not this one cobbled together at the last minute by a mayor on the way out of office a year before the current Splost expires. Vote No! http://www.facebook.com/notosplost

rebellious
20780
Points
rebellious 03/30/14 - 01:20 pm
2
0
Tourists?

I received a copy of the Augusta guidebook handed out by the CVB a few weeks back. To my astonishment, the City of Hephzibah and many homes south of Tobacco Road were not shown on the centerfold map. Now mind you, the city of North Augusta made the cut. And they wonder why we harbor a teeny bit of bitterness. Cinderella is waiting for her "Pransome Hince"

Butterman
3680
Points
Butterman 03/30/14 - 01:59 pm
1
0
No respect
Unpublished

That does not surprise me in the least rebellious. Hephzibah has a very nice public golf course with reasonable greens fees. There are many historical points of interest on the southside that the CVB never even highlights to visitors. It is though the only thing that exists on the Southside is the airport. I will never forget when a city leader once referred to South Augusta as "The Jerry Springer side of town" a few years back

Pops
8578
Points
Pops 03/30/14 - 06:45 pm
1
0
Oh where oh where

are you Buddy Carr?.......I know if you were still with us, you would be having a field day with the goings on around this town........by the way, folks....I know what happened to Buddy.......just being facetious.....

AutumnLeaves
7806
Points
AutumnLeaves 03/31/14 - 03:03 pm
0
0
It really angers me how the

It really angers me how the south side of Augusta is treated, but I have to say our debris pick up has been wonderful where we live and used to live in 30906. Thank you whomever is responsible for that. I know many people who raised their children here who have gone on to national and international success in a variety of fields, graduated from Ivy League schools, started businesses and thrived, a few of their parents are still here, but more of the parents have been forced to leave by the negligence and crime of people that moved in since the 80's and 90's. It seems the only people that grew up here, and are moving back, have been hit hard by the economy and are down-sizing their budgets and homes. There are no simple answers to get Augusta back on its feet. I don't know who I'm going to vote for, for Mayor yet, but I'm most hopeful at this point in Helen Blocker-Adams.

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