Editorial: We are all commissioners now

Decision to ask voters on arena site puts onus on the public

They’d decided the matter twice before. In the end, they couldn’t decide it at all.

 

Rather than demonstrate the leadership they were elected to exhibit, Augusta Commission members Tuesday voted 9-0 to punt on the issue of where to locate a new sports and entertainment arena – and leave it up to voters to decide May 22.

Sort of. Whatever voters’ stated preference is – whether it be a downtown location or at the site of the former Regency Mall on Gordon Highway – it won’t be binding. It’s basically a glorified survey that Republicans and Democrats will be asked to place on their respective May 22 ballots.

Good grief. Why have elections and pay commissioners to hold sway over the public’s business if they’re just flat not going to do it?

It might look nice for a corporation to just turn over major decision-making to its employees – but that’s what high-salary executives and boards of directors are paid to do.

And don’t fool yourself: The decision on where to put a new arena is a business decision.

Instead, commissioners, and Mayor Hardie Davis, are passing along a multimillion-dollar business decision to voters.

This is not only why we elect people to conduct the community’s business, but it’s also why the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority hired expert consultants to study possible arena locations.

The experts’ recommendation, that of a downtown location, has been duly ignored by not only the Coliseum Authority’s 4-2 majority, but now by a unanimous Augusta Commission.

Now they’re just abandoning all efforts to make a decision and asking us to make the decision for them.

Again, this is a business decision that cries out for expert analysis and study.

It may look good politically for the mayor and others to push the Regency Mall site – as a way, they claim, to revitalize the Gordon Highway corridor and south Augusta. But is it a wise location financially and practically? The experts didn’t think so, anyway, and neither do we.

But the choice to ask voters to weigh in May 22 carries another potential political benefit: With the mayor’s and four commissioners’ seats also on the ballot, they can try to gin up support for the Regency site and hope to benefit in their own races as well.

Nice.

It’s incumbent upon us, then, to do the due diligence this commission did not. In the coming weeks and months, it’s up to us to educate ourselves on the pros and cons of each site. The Chronicle will be digging deep into the facts here, and the experiences of arena-building elsewhere, so we can make the best decision possible.

That does not mean accepting flimsy and unsubstantiated prospects and promises for what an arena can do. It means going with the facts. Period.

It’s also incumbent on the Regency site’s proponents to prove their case. And, mindful of the fact that the experts have already recommended the downtown site, the mall site’s proponents better come back with considerably more detail on the proposal than they have thus far produced.

We are all Augusta commissioners now.

 

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