When Goshen residents were ambushed last year by city plans to seek federal stimulus funds to restart a defunct development in that neighborhood, they were utterly stonewalled by the city bureaucracy. Activist Becky Shealy finally got a copy of the city's federal funds application after two weeks of trying -- even though the law required it be tendered to her within three days -- and only after her appeal to a full Augusta Commission meeting.
Now, Lori Davis and other Harrisburg activists are seeking the drafting of a public nuisance ordinance to help battle problem properties in the area. The city went so far as to form a committee, and to include Davis on it, and draw up an ordinance -- but appears unwilling to go any further than that.
From what Davis can reckon, the fix was in pretty much from the start. Despite her best efforts to bring in a national expert on such ordinances, and despite her providing the city legal department with examples from other parts of the country, lawyers for the Augusta government claim such an ordinance would be unconstitutional. The committee appeared to quickly agree and pat Davis on the head and wonder aloud what else they could do for her.
How patronizing and condescending.
The city is about to give up without really trying. The bureaucrats -- who appear to see citizens as nuisances anyway -- want this to go away as quickly as possible. They seem convinced there's nothing they can learn from other cities. How myopic. How dismissive.
Their alternative seems to be, well, let's get another committee together and talk about maybe someday, if the mood grabs us, we can enforce existing codes. Forgive the rest of us for being skeptical. Not that long ago, a then-Augusta commissioner was found to have properties unfit for habitation and in violation of city codes.
Shame on the mayor, city administrator and commission for allowing this public-be-damned tone to live on at City Hall, even after the sacking of its worst purveyor, former city attorney Chiquita Johnson. Mayor Deke Copenhaver is a sterling ambassador for the city to the outside world -- not so much of an advocate inside City Hall for residents. City administrator Fred Russell considers the 10 commissioners and the mayor to be his bosses, not you.
People like Lori Davis are tired of the city's patronizing attitude and its knee-jerk stance that nothing can be done. We don't blame her.
Local government is supposed to be the most responsive to citizens.
John H. Campbell, the chronic nuisance ordinance consultant that Davis helped bring to Augusta, has a firm in Portland, Ore., that has been recognized for "outstanding commitment to supporting community involvement."
Sadly enough, Mr. Campbell will get little competition for such awards from here.