Retired businessman Charles Cummings is running for Augusta mayor on a three-pronged platform of lowering taxes, improving public transit and helping young people become entrepreneurs.
In an interview with The Augusta Chronicle, Cummings spoke about his background in Army intelligence and detailed his plans to improve Augusta Public Transit, and he spoke frankly about a killing at his longtime south Augusta nightclub, Super C’s.
Q: Tell me why you think you’re the best candidate for mayor as far as being the face of Augusta.
A: Being an ambassador for the city of Augusta is certainly a role that I am cut out to do. As a former Army military intelligence captain, I have been involved in many different kinds of meetings; I’ve traveled far and abroad to interact with various kinds of people.
To be able to take forth the message of Augusta, that the Garden City is a beautiful place to live, being able to influence and encourage folks to move here, live here, I am the guy.
Q: Specifically, how would you improve our mass transit? What are some of your ideas or concepts?
A: Let’s just take the hotels in Augusta, for instance. We’ve got 7,000 rooms available for rent a day. We generally rent about 5,000 rooms. Those 5,000 rooms generate $1.2 million daily. If we take the $1.2 million and mobilize it throughout the community by way of transit, those folks will go out and buy up our services and goods.
Here’s what I propose. I think the hotels we have, the fine hotels – the Marriott, the new Holiday Inn that just opened up (on Broad Street) – if a kiosk would have an information center that you could go to and it would tell you if you want to go dining ... Also, that kiosk would provide you the new and improved bus schedule route. You just press on that and that bus will be coming out front in the next five minutes.
Q: Is it OK for the transit system to operate at a deficit or should it pay for itself to be viable?
A: That bus system is simply a vehicle employed by the city to get folks from Point A to Point B. Making a profit would be just a nice thing, but the transit system in itself is already paid for. If the bus goes and picks up the little old lady on the corner and takes her to get her prescription and brings her back, that’s what the buses pay for to do.
Folks who have a car should not be so hard on the folks who don’t have a car and just determine that, “Well, you’re a disabled vet, you’re an old person or you’re a young person just getting out of jail and we’re not concerned about your transportation issue.”
Q: You don’t think most motel guests in Augusta arrive in a vehicle?
A: No, I don’t think so. And even if they did, they’d probably want to park their vehicle and not get lost in the city, just ride the bus … I think they would use the transit system if it was clean and presentable, as more of a treat than anything else.
Q: As a small business person, you know that cutting costs is paramount. Where would you do that with the city, or do you think that’s necessary? Do you know what the city’s total budget is?
A: No I don’t. The first thing I would do is do audits on the (special purpose local options sales tax). The SPLOST is supposed to have an annual audit so that we can maintain accountability on the cash flow …
As your mayor I will require a financial report on a daily or weekly basis so we can trace those dollars down the line. If we can trace those dollars, we can close up and trim up a lot of the cash flow right there.
Q: You’re not in favor of this particular (tax package)?
A: First of all, let me commend (Mayor) Deke Copenhaver. I think he’s trying to do the best job he can possibly do. Not a bad fellow. You’ve got commissioners who wasn’t present. I don’t know why they wasn’t present ...
SPLOST 6 is still in effect. You can’t have two … going at the same time and by SPLOST 7 being introduced right now, that means if it got approved it would be in effect at the same time, then we’d be in violation.
Q: So it’s a technical issue with you? It’s not necessarily the amount or what’s being funded or not being funded, it’s because it’s technically not legal to do so?
A: Technically not legal, first and foremost. I think that the commissioners need to be at the table. I don’t know what the issues are; I’m not proud of the way that they conduct themselves back and forth. Deke has never lost his composure; I’ll give him credit for that. I don’t blame him for the things that the (next tax package) has listed there.
But we’ve got things that need to get taken care of. We’ve got Marion Homes with those 50-year-old pipes in the ground. Those pipes have been there in the ground corroded and funding for those pipes has come and gone, but the pipes are still there.
Q: You said earlier you didn’t know why some of the commissioners didn’t show up for that meeting when the (tax package) was voted on. Should they have made some sort of special effort to be there?
A: I think if it was within their physical ability to be there, you’ve got to be there to represent the people under any circumstances. You cannot help the city move forward by not attending a meeting, whether you like it or not.
Q: You no longer have an interest in your former business, the dance hall Super C’s.
A: No. I ran it for 20 years ... I met a lot of people, met a lot of friends, did a lot of good. I taught free aerobics there. A lot of folks came from far and near to take my class. I had one lady that lost 80 pounds just taking aerobics right there at my business. The first voter registration that ever took place in south Augusta took place right in front of my business.
Q: Super C’s had some issues in the mid-2000s when a young man was killed there and you lost your liquor license. Is that something you think voters will be concerned about?
A: Across the state, across the county, throughout the city, crimes are being committed. If you run a business for 20 years, chances are you’re going to have a crime committed somewhere in your business or around your business.
What I will challenge the public to do is to grade the individual and not the individuals who committed the crime. Because crime is going to happen. It’s going to happen in this building, at the courthouse, church, anywhere.
Q: Is the government of Augusta dysfunctional, or is it just a perception?
A: Dysfunctional. We’ve got the money, but we don’t know where it is. That’s the perfect example of dysfunctionality.
Q: Is there any way that you could combat that divisiveness, maybe improve the image of the commission?
A: I think what has to happen, and this is what I’m going to do when I become mayor of Augusta, is I’m going to establish a report card and each commissioner would be graded and also myself as mayor, by the citizens. First by their district, then by the body at large.
If they make a decision that’s unpopular, they’ll know about it. If they make a decision that’s unpopular, they’ll know about it. If they walk out of a meeting and abstain as a rule – I feel like no commissioner should abstain on a particular thing because that’s just the way they feel – the government would fail if someone would come in with that attitude.
I’m going to have professional development for my commissioners. And we’re going to talk about the various things that affect each individual district.
Q: You mentioned you would start a report card. How would you grade the mayor now and the commission?
A: I give Deke a 75. I’ll give him a passing mark. That’s a C, a straight up C.
Q: Why only a C?
A: I think Deke could be a little more aggressive. I think he does work behind the scenes to get things done and he has been involved with things that’s good for the city. He hasn’t embarrassed us or done anything to make us say, “I wish he hadn’t done that,” in terms of his actions.
The commissioners, I’ve got to give them a failing grade. All of them, as a group, because I look at the commission as an entity.
Q: D or F?
A: I’ll give them a D because we haven’t collapsed as a city. We’re not bragging about anything that they’ve done lately.
Q: What in your opinion is the government doing right?
A: They are managing not to collapse. That’s it. I wish I could say something else.