Editorial: A place of combat

Mayor has turned arena debate into a private duel

The fight over where to locate a new sports and entertainment venue here has just entered a new arena.

 

The courageous civic leadership of private citizen Clay Boardman, in publicly questioning the proposal to put a new arena at the site of the failed Regency Mall, has now begun to clash with the autocratic, take-it-personal style of Mayor Hardie Davis and his oddly intimate attachment to the mall site.

After Boardman recently released a polite, plaintive missive to the mayor laying out the case against the mall site, the mayor responded – with a rambling, unnecessarily personal, even accusatory email.

There aren’t too many bunkers in arenas, but the mayor is digging himself a fine one.

As recounted in Sylvia Cooper’s Chronicle column on Sunday, Davis wondered if Boardman had “bothered to speak with anyone outside of the Augusta Country Club ‘Breakfast Club,’ or the very exclusive, membership only, Augusta Tomorrow group.

The mayor’s snide broadside misses the mark badly on several of points. First: Boardman isn’t even a member of the country club. In addition, it reveals a jaundiced view of Augusta Tomorrow, a group of civic-minded leaders who try to contribute some vision to the community, for the community’s sake.

More importantly, the comments reveal a substantial classist streak – an anti-elitism that is all-the-more strange and regrettable coming from a mayor whose unifying campaign slogan was “One Augusta.”

Mayor Davis goes on to impugn Boardman for his “brash manner in which you use pawns like (radio talk show host) Austin Rhodes and Sylvia Cooper in an attempt to drown out the perspective of the average folks in the community.”

We know Mr. Rhodes and Ms. Cooper quite well. We can assure the mayor they’ve never been anyone’s pawns. Few in this community have so boldly hewed to the old journalistic dictum to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Moreover, we doubt either of them are clueless as to what the “average folks in the community” are thinking: they both hear it a good bit every day.

Mr. Davis has exhibited imperious streaks before, but never more so than when he chides Mr. Boardman for being a “self-anointed advocate for Augusta.” In a free republic, that’s what we call an engaged citizen – something elitists absolutely abhor. And under our Constitution, they need not be “anointed” by anyone.

Rather than attempt to belittle Mr. Boardman, the mayor might have considered a valuable asset.

Apparently the folks of Wilmington, N.C., did when they drafted him to develop a baseball stadium and entertainment complex there.

We suggested a few weeks ago that, after a string of PR stumbles – including quietly pushing the arena proposal behind the scenes – the mayor ought to push the reset button on his approach to the public and media (“Relationship reboot,” Oct. 29). He’s done just the opposite.

The root of the word arena means “place of combat.” It need not be that way.

Nor can such a monumental decision for this community – gambling $110 million or more on a viable site for the new James Brown Arena – devolve into a childish back-and-forth duel.

The mayor should acknowledge he doesn’t have all the answers – and should welcome the input of those who might supply some of their own.

 

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