As consolidation project manager Bill Carstarphen wrapped up his year-long business with the Augusta Commission this month, taxpayers may wonder if they got their money's worth for the nearly $117,000 spent on his tenure.
Some commissioners believe Carstarphen's $87,000 salary and other expenses, including research, books and charts, was mostly wasted.
The real waste was the good advice Carstarphen gave commissioners which they often ignored - and in some cases got angry at him for offering.
A few commissioners didn't even understand why they hired the former Greensboro, N.C., city manager. They thought he came to manage the new government, not to recommend how it should be structured and organized. When Carstarphen's assignment was properly understood, several commissioners downplayed its importance.
"I feel like we could have put this government together by ourselves," says Commissioner Ulmer Bridges, "if we had just sat down and down and done it" - a nonsensical sentiment echoed by Mayor Pro Tem Freddie Handy.
Putting a new government together is enormously difficult and complex. No one in Augusta or Richmond County had any experience dealing with a task of such magnitude.
Without Carstarphen's compass to guide them, commissioners would have been totally at sea. Even though many of his best ideas were rejected, he always provided a frame-of-reference by which decisions could be made.
To be sure, his criticisms often stung - particularly his observation last March that commissioners lacked vision and spent too much time meddling in the minutiae of government instead of on important strategic planning and economic development. He got their attention, though, and the public welcomed such honesty from a public official.
Carstarphen lost Mayor Larry Sconyers' support when he urged a strong manager form of government instead of a strong-mayor government. Commissioners eschewed both recommendations and opted for a strong-council government (probably the worst of the three options).
Overall, Carstarphen's work was necessary, helpful and commendable. The $116,936 was well spent and should more than pay for itself down the road in savings, merged departments and other efficiencies. What's sad is that Augusta could have gotten even more benefits from the project manager's contributions if city leaders had taken more of his advice.
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