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

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.”

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