We know Hardie Davis as a friend. He and his wife Evett, founders of Abundant Life Worship Center in Hephzibah, are good, godly people.
Which makes Mayor Davis’ prickly relationship with this community all the more perplexing.
In his dealings with the Augusta Commission, the Coliseum Authority, with the media and more, the mayor comes off detached, aloof, imperious – even autocratic, which is strange for a mayor with less actual power than a traffic cop.
Right after taking office in 2015, Mayor Davis baffled most observers by proposing a change in the form of government – to strengthen the mayor’s hand – apparently without cluing in members of the Augusta Commission ahead of time. That got things off to a rocky start.
Later that year, a Chronicle op-ed on staging successful group retreats, purportedly written by the mayor, was found to have contained some eight paragraphs – nearly two-thirds of the article – of words and phrases lifted nearly verbatim from a Seattle consultant’s blog.
That was bad enough. But the aftermath was worse: Davis doggedly refused to say how the plagiarized material got into the article, or who ghost-wrote it for him.
That information was on a need-to-know basis, and apparently the peasants didn’t need to know it.
When Davis more recently engineered a milestone decision for this community – where to put the proposed new James Brown Arena – he did so completely behind the scenes. So much so that several members of the Coliseum Authority, which is tasked with such decisions, didn’t know it was coming or what it would be.
The authority’s 4-2 vote to build the new arena at the site of Regency Mall, miles from the current location downtown, came without much discussion and without so much as a single document being distributed to authority members.
More profoundly, the mayor made no effort to bring the community along or to persuade folks to his point of view. He had the votes on the authority, and that’s all he wanted or needed apparently.
Most recently, a Chronicle story last Sunday revealed that the mayor’s much-trumpeted pet project, My Brother’s Keeper – an Obama initiative that encourages mentorship of young men of color – used $4,500 for public relations, not mentorship functions. It’s reportedly the largest single expense from the mayor’s $38,700 My Brother’s Keeper budget, funded by taxpayers.
It’s not illegal, maybe not even unethical, and it certainly doesn’t rise to the level of a scandal. Moreover, at least one other My Brother’s Keeper organization, in Birmingham, Ala., has used monies for public relations, though others report functioning quite well without doing so.
Still, the incident again highlights Mayor Davis’ oddly distant style of leadership. Members of Davis’ own My Brother’s Keeper advisory board say they’ve had little to do with either the mayor’s PR consultant or with the program’s budgeting.
When asked if any of the work by the communications consultant who was paid out of the charitable fund was political, Davis chose not to respond.
Augusta commissioners also lament that this latest chapter indicates a troubling lack of accountability with tax dollars.
“I just assumed when we approved the funds for My Brother’s Keeper, that they would be spent on that program,” Mayor Pro Tem Mary Davis told The Chronicle’s Susan McCord.
“This is one of the problems with our budgeting process – we don’t provide details from an accountability standpoint,” added Commissioner Sean Frantom.
Perhaps if the mayor had been more forthcoming – in all of these situations, and more – the large disbursement of charitable funds for PR expenses might have been shrugged off by most observers. But in this context, when the mayor seems not to care what the community knows or thinks, it’s just really bad optics.
It’s instructive, too, that since the My Brother’s Keeper story broke last Sunday, we haven’t heard “boo” out of the mayor, even on the eve of Halloween.
We would respectfully suggest Mayor Hardie Davis has so much damage control and relationship building to do that he should consider a complete reboot of his mayorship.
We encourage him to reach out to community stakeholders, Augusta commissioners, the media and others to usher in a new era of openness and collegiality – on the arena and on other pressing issues we all face as a community.
We know him. And we know it’s in him.