There have been many strange twists, turns and alliances in Augusta politics since the long-gone days of the corrupt "Cracker Party," but the election of inner-city Commissioner Lee Beard as the new mayor pro tem marks the most peculiar (and dismaying) collaboration so far in the consolidated government.
Beard's election heralds an unholy alliance between south Augusta Commissioners Ulmer Bridges and J.B. Powell with the unprogressive Beard crowd. After first voting for Commissioner Bill Kuhlke, Bridges and Powell jumped ship to provide the two-vote victory margin for Beard.
Yet even more ominous is that this vote could mean a return to bitter, sectional politics at the expense of the greater good of the community.
It wasn't just Beard's election that demonstrated this. It was the rejection of Commissioner Bill Kuhlke, who clearly is the most qualified to fill the pro tem post. Commissioner Moses Todd, always the maverick, signaled he was for Kuhlke before Tuesday's vote. But then he stabbed the west Augustan in the back by withholding his winning vote on the first round.
That leads to the next question. Are the two south Augusta commissioners so opposed to a "west Augusta politician" that they'd cut deals to put Beard -- a notorious player of the race card -- in power?
For some odd reason, Bridges and Powell are loyal to a fault to Mayor Larry Sconyers. One of the rationales Powell gave for backing Beard (after he vowed to support Kuhlke) was that with Kuhlke pondering a mayoral run, Beard would be more "neutral." Bridges also indicated the mayor pro tem shouldn't be someone who questions the mayor.
Any mayor is going to have critics on the Commission. Are they all to be denied leadership posts? Is Sconyers so sensitive he can't work with anyone who disagrees with him? Will he not be satisfied until all his critics are rendered politically impotent?
Illustrative of Sconyers' intolerance for dissent was the unseemly haste he and Beard showed in stripping Jerry Brigham -- another west Augusta commissioner and frequent critic of the mayor -- of his Finance Committee chairmanship.
Never mind that by all objective accounts professional accountant Brigham had done a first-rate "watchdog" job in that post and deserved reappointment. He was replaced by Bridges, who's also an accountant. Clearly, the new Finance chairman is qualified, but we fear his tenure will be tainted by all this ugly deal-making.
So here's the big question for Augustans in this election year: Is the city Commission, as presently constituted, going to continue down the road of petty political provincialism at the expense of broader community goals?
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