District 1 candidates spar in debate

Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 11:26 PM
Last updated Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 9:59 PM
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Small businesses, crime, unity, blight and even a greenway for low-speed vehicles were debated Wednesday by four candidates for the District 1 Augusta Commission seat.

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A debate forum for District 1 candidates was held at the Augusta-Richmond County Library on Wednesday. The candidates are Bill Fennoy (from left), Matt Aitken, Denice Traina and Stanley Hawes.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
A debate forum for District 1 candidates was held at the Augusta-Richmond County Library on Wednesday. The candidates are Bill Fennoy (from left), Matt Aitken, Denice Traina and Stanley Hawes.

For an hour, moderators from the Downtown Augusta Alliance and CSRA Business League posed questions to incumbent Matt Aitken and challengers Bill Fennoy, Denice Traina and Stanley Hawes at the debate, held at the Augusta-Richmond County Library.

Asked how the city might measure up as being “pro-growth and progressive,” Fennoy, a retired health educator who lost to Aitken in a runoff three years ago, said despite downtown’s additions – he named the library, courthouse, dental school and convention center, all of which have opened or will during Aitken’s term – the benefits aren’t felt by all.

“There’s a lot of improvement being made that hasn’t had an impact on improvement of people in the district,” Fennoy said.

Among those improvements, “since the TEE Center is here, as a commissioner I would do whatever I can to promote (it),” he said, but added: “If you look at TEE Centers across the country, they are a total failure” and Augusta “put all our marbles in one hat.”

Considered the candidate to beat by some political observers and the one who would restore Augusta’s balance of five white and five black commissioners since consolidation 16 years ago, Fennoy also has the support of former District 1 Commissioner Betty Beard. She attended the debate and said it was Fennoy’s recognition “of the needs of the entire First District” and his willingness to “shift funds where they are most needed” that gained her support.

The next question, written by former Commissioner Bernard Harper, was how to foster better relationships with small businesses downtown.

Aitken said he’s been “engaging in these kinds of conversations” with small businesses outside “our own little groups” that many tend to stay within. “When we can come together like we’re doing now,” he said, “we’re going to be a city to be reckoned with.”

The Augusta Convention Center, with 13 conventions booked in 2013, means “12,000 people that weren’t coming last year,” Aitken said. “That’s something we need to celebrate.”

Repeating a campaign mantra of improving Augusta Public Transit to connect people with jobs and other necessities, Traina said it is foot traffic that downtown businesses crave most.

Asked how to cope with abandoned houses and junk cars that plague District 1, Traina said, as former Harrisburg Neighborhood Association president, she is well-acquainted with the issue and the problems it drives including prostitution, drug dealing and other illicit activities.

“The city tells us we only have so much money” to demolish blight and haul it away, she said, suggesting contracting with a demolition company and salvage yard to deal with it regularly. Even with 188 houses recently slated for demolition citywide, there are likely four times that many in District 1, Traina said.

Hawes, the longtime president of the Laney-Walker Neighborhood Association, a title now held by Fennoy, said dilapidated properties ought to be the top priority and absentee landlords should be pursued more vigorously.

Asked about spending Augusta’s discretionary share of transportation sales tax funds on a greenway for low-speed vehicles, the candidates agreed they would have to evaluate whether the expenditure was permitted. Voters approved a list of projects to fund through the special purpose local option sales tax that did not include a greenway, but a portion of the money is considered “discretionary” and may be used for other transportation projects selected by city leaders.

“I would be opposed to it until we really modernize mass transit,” said Traina, the co-founder of the Augusta Green Party.

Asked if he would shift more funding to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Fennoy said it might require “creative funding” and perhaps incentives to get deputies to live in District 1. Aitken said economic development is the key that will raise “the dollars to deal with the social issues in this city.” Traina said making neighborhood watch programs a priority in all neighborhoods would help, while Hawes said he would find the money.

“If the sheriff needs some money to do his job, my job is to find it,” Hawes said.

Responding to a question about mothballed properties, Aitken encouraged reporting problems to authorities, “whether it’s code enforcement, drugs or whatever it is.” Hawes said he has reported many issues over the years and only sometimes seen results.

Traina suggested arts groups be allowed to paint boarded up houses.

Fennoy said the mothballing system didn’t seem to work when mothballed houses stand with grass 7 feet tall around them, housing vermin that plague neighbors’ homes.

A final question about privatization of city departments drew no positive comments except from Aitken, who called it “the culture of the land right now” to increase efficiency in government.

“Are we going to close the library because the library did not make money?” Fennoy asked. “Newman Tennis Center? The pools?

About 60 people attended the debate. Among them, former commission candidate Juanita Burney, who was raised in District 1 but no longer lives there, said she was impressed with all the candidates except the incumbent.

“I think it was a good debate,” Burney said. “Right now I think I could live with anyone but Matt Aitken. I think he’s made some things happen, but not for the taxpayers of this city.”

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crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 10/10/12 - 11:52 pm
4
1
As racially divided as
Unpublished

As racially divided as Augusta is, it's easy to see how this election will pan out. Three black commissioners, even in a predominantly black district, will dilute the black vote. Aitken will win by a narrow margin.

No one even cares about the issues, Juanita Burney said, "I could live with any of the (black) candidates but not Aitken. He's made some 'things' happen but not for the taxpayers." I doubt Burney could name any one specific thing Aitken has done or not done other than be white. lol

countyman
19507
Points
countyman 10/11/12 - 12:44 am
3
3
Crackertroy... Denice Traina

Crackertroy... Denice Traina = non black

Augusta is really no worse compared to our peers, and the mayor being white proves that. Some people are confusing the race issue used during local politics with everyday life in Augusta.

F4therTime
4656
Points
F4therTime 10/11/12 - 07:50 am
5
2
Augusta voters...
Unpublished

Also voted for a sales tax on themselves that will wind up going to other communities. I'm not understanding what the confusion is with the race issue? I don't think I have ever seen a black republican in Augusta and it's very doubtful you will see many blacks vote republican. If Roundtree is elected you will see more white flight. Especially with his promises not to lock criminals up. His refusal to debate should show the voters all they need to know.

Riverman1
81287
Points
Riverman1 10/11/12 - 09:11 am
4
2
Fennoy Said

Among those improvements, “since the TEE Center is here, as a commissioner I would do whatever I can to promote (it),” he said, but added: “If you look at TEE Centers across the country, they are a total failure” and Augusta “put all our marbles in one hat.”

That sums it up.

Conservative Man
5353
Points
Conservative Man 10/11/12 - 11:00 am
3
1
The TEE Center and the Laney

The TEE Center and the Laney Walker investment cost the tax payers 100 million dollars. The Tee Center will create 11 new jobs...straight from the mouth of Mr. Simon..... The Tee Center will lose money. Who ever thought this was a good idea? Imagine what 100 million could have done for District One.

countyman
19507
Points
countyman 10/11/12 - 02:13 pm
1
4
While The TEE Center may not

While The TEE Center may not turn a profit in the first couple of years... The building will bring a estimated 10k-12k people downtown in 2013... Those people have to shop, eat, dine, etc somewhere in Augusta.. The developer of the $1.2 million renovation at 901 Broad(9 apts; 4k sq. ft. of retail space) specifically mentioned the TEE Center construction around the corner. I'm positive the renovation of the Regency Inn(Holiday Inn Express) is also related towards the new convention center...

I can't understand how spending only $38 million is considered putting all your eggs into one basket.. Is Augusta that small were $38 million is considered mega projects? Do people not realize we can still go after the large urban park downtown, performing arts center, water park, amusement park, aquarium, or zoo?

Concervative man... The thousands of Richmond County voters who approved the center thought it was a good idea. It's the same reason every successful city across the US built a convention center. The TEE Center and Laney Walker/Behtlehem don't equal $100 million.. That's another made up figure started by somebody who doesn't live in Richmond County...

All you have to do is ride through the Laney Walker neighborhood, and see the revitalization(lower crime, additional residential with disposable income, new businesses) is one of the best projects ever right here in Augusta.. The developments have already increased the local tax base(millions). There's a reason why the development has attracted some much national & statewide recognition.

Riverman1
81287
Points
Riverman1 10/11/12 - 03:53 pm
2
2
Countyman said, "The TEE

Countyman said, "The TEE Center and Laney Walker/Behtlehem don't equal $100 million.."

I'm curious...how much do you think they cost? Really, how much? I get my info from the Chronicle. I'm not even talking about management fees and all these other things being added on.

From the Chronicle: "Plans were delayed for years as analysis revealed $20 million in initial funding put in place through a SPLOST program was not nearly enough to fund the true costs of construction of the facility. Added costs included a dramatic increase in expected construction costs, a parking facility and funding for an inner-city revitalization program designed to boost support for the Augusta Convention Center drove the price tag to nearly $100 million."
http://chronicle.augusta.com/topics/urban-renewal/tee-center

Riverman1
81287
Points
Riverman1 10/11/12 - 03:58 pm
2
2
What I like about Fennoy

What I like about Fennoy is that he sees beyond the views of mid-level clerical people in the promotion business.

I'm curious, who are you supporting for the Commission seat, Countyman?

Riverman1
81287
Points
Riverman1 10/11/12 - 04:10 pm
2
2
Another Point

The warning by the BOE attorney to the BOE to stay out of political questions such as the Charter School Question has me thinking. I'd also think it follows employees of any agency being paid with taxpayer money should NOT enter into political debates with views critical to certain candidates, such as Commission candidates.

countyman
19507
Points
countyman 10/11/12 - 04:22 pm
1
3
Simple math.... ''Added costs

Simple math.... ''Added costs included a dramatic increase in expected construction costs, a parking facility and funding for an inner-city revitalization program designed to boost support for the Augusta Convention Center drove the price tag to nearly $100 million."

According to the quote above the convention center, parking deck, and Laney Walker/Bethlehem projects combined together don't equal $100 million..

How is the TEE Center & Laney Walker/Bethlehem going to equal $100 million by itself then?

$38 million, $37.5 million, & $12 million= nearly $88 million

Tee center + Laney Walker/Bethlehem = nearly $76 million

Riverman1
81287
Points
Riverman1 10/11/12 - 04:21 pm
2
2
Countyman, have you written

Countyman, have you written the Chronicle with your concerns about their assertions that it will all cost "nearly $100 million?"

countyman
19507
Points
countyman 10/11/12 - 04:27 pm
1
3
The Chronicle made sure to

The Chronicle made sure to put nearly $100 million.. They also listed the TEE Center, Laney Walker/Bethlehem, and parking deck..

That's much different from the comments telling us the TEE center is $100 million by itself, or the TEE Center/Laney Walker together equal $100 million.

Riverman1
81287
Points
Riverman1 10/11/12 - 04:31 pm
2
2
That's one way of saying

That's one way of saying you're wrong.

Riverman1
81287
Points
Riverman1 10/11/12 - 04:33 pm
2
2
Is the Chronicle trying to

Is the Chronicle trying to distort costs of the TEE? Now THAT would be news. Heh, heh, heh.

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