Activists, newcomers seek District 4 Augusta Commission seat

Friday, May 9, 2014 8:31 PM
Last updated Saturday, May 10, 2014 1:06 AM
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It’s a crowded, competitive field in the Hephzibah-area District 4 Augusta Commission race between longtime neighborhood activist Sammie Sias, activist pastor Melvin Ivey and two newcomers, Tomasenia Jackson and Gwen Watts.

“No individual or any group runs this candidate,” said Sias, a retired Army sergeant major who pursued the commission post four years ago. It’s a subtle jab at his likely biggest competitor, Ivey, for whom Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams is actively campaigning.

Sias’ new radio spot says, “our local government is stuck on pause … black and white,” and he plans if elected to “get away from all the petty bickering” on the commission.

Sias said his record is full of neighborhood activism and service, such as the work he did with Sand Ridge Neighborhood Association, against Gold Cross EMS gaining exclusive access to Augusta’s EMS zone and his role, as a plaintiff, in 2012 federal litigation needed to ensure a federal judge redrew commission district lines fairly.

But race isn’t integral to Sias, who grew up in rural Cordele, Ga.

“I’m sick and tired of people saying minorities don’t vote,” one part of the argument made in a current federal case in which Ivey is a plaintiff over the moving of the election date from November to May 20.

Instead of a minority business office, Sias said Augusta needs a small business incubator.

“You don’t have to make it racial to make it work,” he said.

Ivey, who retired from the Navy and the U.S. Postal Service, has a different take. He’s pushing to get a massive water park built near Diamond Lakes Park and says it would revitalize the area and create badly needed revenue.

“District 4 and South Augusta in general has been somewhat stagnant,” Ivey said. “Nothing is happening and people are looking for some change and they want to see some transparency in the government.”

Ivey said he might not shy from “a good debate” with fellow commissioners because “in the process of a good debate, you learn.”

Jackson moved to Hephzibah from Wrens, where she served a city council term, in 2009, to be closer to the doctors and hospitals monitoring her cardiomyopathy.

She’s better now and fighting the negativity she said she has encountered from the men in the race.

“I think people tend to take this race very personally,” she said. “When your ego gets in the way, it tends to distort your race.”

Instead, Jackson said her focus is on collaboration.

“We must come together for the better needs of Augusta, Georgia,” she said.

Watts, retired from Savannah River Site has schooled hundreds of all-ages adults in computer and career skills, including writing and public speaking since leaving SRS, first through her business, Marketing Skills Training Center and now using the same program at her church.

Watts said her extensive background in “bureaucracy” – she’s a military wife – and in time management make issues on the commission evident.

“What I don’t understand is whoever’s in command needs to take command of what’s happening” during the meetings, she said. “When we see it on TV, all we see is dysfunction.”

Instead, she’s of the “make things happen group” and voters should uphold their end and hold elected officials accountable, Watts said.

DISTRICT 4

NAME: Sammie Sias

AGE: 59

BIRTHPLACE: Cordele, Ga.

EDUCATION: Associate’s degree, Georgia Military College; technical degrees from Augusta Tech and Albany Tech

OCCUPATION: Retired Army sergeant major; electrical and HVAC technician

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Ran for commission in 2010; treasurer, Kellie Kenner-McIntyre campaign; former president, Richmond County Neighborhood Associations Alliance; founder and president, Sandridge Community Association; served on Chronic Nuisance Ordinance Task Force, Augusta Personnel Board and Board of Education Construction Oversight Committee

FAMILY: Married with five children, six grandchildren

NAME: Gwendolyn Watts

AGE: 62

BIRTHPLACE: Mobile, Ala.

EDUCATION: Bachelor’s of science in human resources, Southern Wesleyan University; master’s in business administration, Nova Southeastern University

OCCUPATION: Adjunct college instructor; small business owner, Marketable Skills; retired from Savannah River Site

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Obama campaign worker in Georgia and Florida

FAMILY: Married, two children, three grandchildren

NAME: Melvin Ivey

AGE: 59

BIRTHPLACE: Warrenton, Ga.

EDUCATION: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theology, master’s of divinity, doctorate in ministry, Christian Life School of Theology

OCCUPATION: Pastor, Greater St. John Baptist Church; retired U.S. Navy chief petty officer; retired U.S. Postal Service manager

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: President of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Augusta; president, Richmond County Neighborhood Associations Alliance; Augusta Planning Commission; was chairman of Commissioner Marion Williams’ campaign

FAMILY: Married; one daughter, three grandchildren

NAME: Tomasenia Jackson

AGE: 42

BIRTHPLACE: Wrens, Ga.

EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in accounting and business administration, Brenau University

OCCUPATION: Owner, J.C. Empowerment Enterprises

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Former Wrens city councilwoman

FAMILY: Three adult children, two grandsons

ADVANCE VOTING

Some 1,332 have voted early in the May 20 election, including 984 who cast Democratic ballots, 324 voting Republican and 24 selecting a nonpartisan ballot, according to Richmond County Board of Elections.

Advance voting continues Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at four locations: Augusta Municipal Building, 530 Greene St.; Diamond Lakes Regional Park, 4335 Windsor Spring Road; Henry Brigham Community Center, 2463 Golden Camp Road and Warren Road Community Center, 300 Warren Road.

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Sweet son
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Sweet son 05/10/14 - 01:32 pm
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What is it with blacks?

If you are white and work for the community good you don't call yourself an 'activist' so why do the black 'community' workers like to use this term to describe their work?

Why not do like whites and go about your community service and let your deeds speak for themselves and if someone wants to give you a moniker then so be it.

The word 'activist' to me is just offensive.

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