Priorities of politics discussed in mayor's race

Davis, Gilyard to campaign for change in community

Augusta's mayor, Deke Copenhaver, wants to keep on the path he's on for the next four years, while his challengers want to take different routes.

Copenhaver said he'll continue focusing on three major objectives if he reclaims the city's top job in November's election.

Challenger Lori Davis said she'll work to make city government more welcoming, to get residents more involved and to pass a Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance.

Challenger Gil Gilyard said he'll work to prepare Augusta's work force for new jobs by strengthening vocational educational opportunities, improving infrastructure in neighborhoods and equalizing where public money is spent.

Copenhaver said that since he first ran for mayor in 2005 he has focused on three main objectives and will continue to do so.

"I've long said we need to provide opportunity to all citizens and make every effort to keep our best and brightest young people in Augusta," he said. "After taking office, I convened regular meetings of our local economic development professionals to share information on ongoing initiatives in order to more effectively recruit and retain businesses."

That initiative has paid off in spades, he said, attracting new industry to Augusta, such as Automatic Data Processing, a Fortune 300 company that ultimately will bring 1,000 jobs to Augusta; T-Mobile, which brought 750 jobs; and, most recently, ERS Convergent, which has promised to bring 400 jobs to the city.

"The team effort has been so successful that the Brookings Institute recently ranked Augusta as having the seventh-fastest recovering economy in the nation, along with our local economy receiving accolades from business publications, including Forbes and Business Week ," he wrote in an e-mail.

The mayor said his second objective -- improving government efficiency -- has resulted in shorter Augusta Commission meetings and more communication and consensus-building among commissioners. That has paid off in getting stalled projects moving, such as the downtown Trade, Exhibit and Event Center. He attributes the commission's new spirit of cooperation with keeping the tax rate the same for three years in a row and allowing the board to roll back taxes this year.

His third objective has been to heal the city's racial divide and bringing residents together, sharing one vision. To that end, he has held monthly prayer breakfasts where relationships and friendships have been forged, he said.

Contrary to the mayor's rosy view of the state of affairs in Augusta, challenger Davis said she was prompted to run because of the obstacles and bureaucracy that she encountered while trying to do something about the criminal activity in her Harrisburg neighborhood.

One of her objectives as mayor would be to get Georgia law changed to allow cities to pass Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinances that would hold landlords accountable for their tenants' bad behavior.

She did not prevail in getting an ordinance passed in Augusta. Instead, a subcommittee passed a resolution calling for a three-member task force to deal with neighborhood issues.

"I think it's a good step in the wrong direction, even though I voted for it," she said. "At least it was a step. And we had to have something, but when did you ever see a government job go away?"

A main plank in her platform is to make the government more resident-friendly and welcoming.

"I noticed the first time I went to the full commission to speak about a CNPO, nobody was welcoming," she said. "People from Harrisburg packed the room. I think they should have been recognized. It was almost as if the citizens didn't exist. I would like to see that changed."

Davis said that if she is elected, she will greet people who go to the meetings at the door.

She also would bridge the gap between the city and the school system through community projects involving students.

"I just think a mayor needs to get out in the community and work with people on a regular basis," she said. "I'm running on the part of the consolidation law that says the duties of the mayor are to be the chief executive officer of Augusta-Richmond County and have the ordinances and laws governing Augusta-Richmond County put in full force.

"I'm running on this. It's on my card because this has not been happening in this city."

Gilyard, meanwhile, said he's focusing on: "Things we can do to get Augusta moving and things that we need to do to get Augusta moving. Things are missing off the scene. We can do better."

His primary goal is to bring the leadership to "transform Augusta into a city of growth and progressiveness."

The city needs jobs, he said.

"What is it we can do to attract people to Augusta and keep our children here. My children can't find jobs here. I'm not saying they would live here, but they would have a choice," he said.

Gilyard also said he would focus on Augusta's crime rate and seek to reduce it through educating constituents. He also would focus on quality-of-life issues, especially in south Augusta.

"What happens on one side of town, when amenities are added, I want those amenities for everyone. I'm not sure that's the way it is right now," he said.

Sometimes people look elsewhere for the success that might be right here in Augusta, he said.

"We have a lot of talented people, and I'm not sure it's being utilized," he said. "We seem to be exporting our talent."

Gilyard said he would work to make the government work for everyone, "not just for a certain percentage of people."

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