Augusta's mayoral candidates made their best sales pitches to the Augusta Kiwanis Club on Monday and answered questions ranging from the government's structure to gangs.
All four candidates running for the Augusta mayoral seat Nov. 7 attended. The candidates are the incumbent, Deke Copenhaver, former Fire Chief Ronnie Few, retired Savannah River Site employee Gil Gilyard and businessman Steven Kendrick.
In response to whether he is satisfied with the structure of the local government, Mr. Gilyard said the city needs to get past gridlock.
"I would say our government needs some revision in terms of improvement as to how we move forward because right now we need to be concentrating on how we can make this community better, and we're getting bogged down on issues that are not relevant to the progression of Augusta," Mr. Gilyard said.
Mr. Kendrick said he thinks the government structure is fine.
Because the consolidated government is only 10 years old, it hasn't had long enough "to thoroughly go through all the issues and powers that it has," he said.
"I don't think we at this point look to change the structure of it," Mr. Kendrick said. "We look to change the people who are involved. We look to elect leaders who are the types of folks that can make decisions for the community at large and represent their constituency in the right way and build consensus."
Mr. Copenhaver said the government structure absolutely needs work.
"Much has been made about the power of the mayor," the incumbent said. "There's a lot that a mayor can do, and we've seen this with some of the economic development success I've had recently.
"The key to me is the administrator getting hiring and firing power. What we need is some centralized authority within the government."
Mr. Copenhaver said what he's seen on the inside is department heads with 11 bosses, which often leads to chaos.
Because the issue has become a divisive one, however, he proposed putting it to a vote of the people.
Mr. Few said that he has worked in governments with various structures and that the problems seem to be the same everywhere.
"And I don't think changing the government structure is going to prohibit you from doing anything you can't currently do in a government," he said.
"This government is actually broken, and nobody seems to want to repair it."
What are needed, Mr. Few said, are standards and policies.
"And you deal not under the table, you deal fairer," he said.
"And you put people in place in hiring and you promote people according to their abilities, not because of friendship. That is a problem. Structure is not a problem."
Responding to a question about his perception of a gang problem and how he would solve it, Mr. Copenhaver said he has met with Augusta State University Athletic Director Clint Bryant, Sheriff Ronnie Strength, Sen. Ed Tarver and Rep. Quincy Murphy to come up with comprehensive strategies to address gangs.
"Ultimately, it's going to take a community effort," the mayor said.
Mr. Few said the key to stopping gangs was to have good community policing programs.
"We are not using best practices in our city police services, and I'm not afraid to say it," he said.
"And until we do, we're going to have a crime problem here in our city."
Mr. Gilyard said there are several factors to consider, such as lack of parenting, minimum-wage jobs that force parents to work two or three jobs that take them away from their children, and a lack of church influence on children that could affect their judgments of right and wrong.
Mr. Kendrick said leaders should participate with neighborhood organizations and make sure they make them aware of what to look for with gang violence, so they can warn our neighbors what to look for to address the issue before it starts.
Bolstering the education system and providing good jobs for young people when they graduate are essential, he said.
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.