Originally created 04/18/99

Young makes impression as mayor



Bob Young is having the time of his life as mayor of Georgia's second-largest city.

"It's like I've begun my life all over again," he said last week.

And after his first 100 days in office, the 51-year-old television news anchorman turned politician is receiving high marks from the public and his colleagues at city hall.

He is upbeat, up-front, positive, confident and visible, they say. Some say the television persona that served him well during his years as a broadcaster seems to be working well for him in government.

On top of that, he looks, acts, dresses and sounds the part.

For example, at last week's commission committee meetings he wore a bold, gold and green Bernini tie -- he has dozens of ties -- and a green and brown checked jacket. His gracefully graying hair still has that blow-dried look.

He sat studying the day's agenda through his rectangular tortoise shell glasses, later asking pointed, informed questions about issues, but mostly just listening.

Someone who didn't know would never guess that since his election he has gone through two of life's most stressful events -- the death of his father and moving.

Mr. Young's father, Fergus Young, died April 1. And earlier this year, Mr. Young and his wife, Gwen Fulcher Young, moved from their townhouse at the foot of The Hill to a 5,000-square-foot Mediterrane an-stylehouse on Lake Forest Drive at the top of The Hill.

"We moved because we thought with the entertaining the mayor does we needed a larger house," Mr. Young said.

The day his father died, he put in a full day at the municipal building, appointed an interim Emergency Management Agency director, attended a reception and spoke at a church that night.

But so far he hasn't faced any government crises like last summer's water shortage, which former Mayor Larry Sconyers said was his biggest trial as mayor. His first may be the Georgia Games hosted by the city next month.

It will be important for Augusta and Mr. Young to shine.

He predicts they will.

"They're going to be first class," Mr. Young said. "We have too many people working too hard for the Games to be anything other than a success."

Former Mayor Charles A. DeVaney said Augusta has much catching up to do in cleaning up the city and improving inner-city housing, areas Mr. Young has targeted.

"I think people need to be supportive and give the person holding that office the benefit of the doubt," Mr. DeVaney said. "From what I've seen, Bob's doing a very good job with what the charter gave him."

The law creating the consolidated government does not give the mayor a vote, something Mr. Sconyers said tied his hands.

One of Mr. Young's supporters said Mr. Young is trying to be "everything to everybody right now.

"Nobody does everything to please everybody, but I'd give him an A-plus or a 9 1/2 out of 10," said Curt Strickland, a recently retired mortgage banker who plans to volunteer for some of the mayor's committees.

"My wife, Patty, and I are real proud to be from Augusta and have a mayor that we're proud of -- that when he goes to Atlanta or goes to Washington I don't have any doubt that he will represent Augusta and Richmond County well."

Mr. Strickland especially appreciates Mr. Young's speaking out against Augusta being included in Gov. Roy Barnes' state transportation authority.

The authority will have the power to direct road and mass-transit projects in areas that don't meet federal air pollution standards.

Mr. Young said he didn't want Augusta to be a part of the authority because it is tailored to address metro Atlanta's problems, not Augusta's. The authority has the right to tax Georgians $2 billion, which Mr. Young said he opposes.

"I didn't understand the transportation issue," Mr. Strickland said. "He was against it because it didn't benefit Augusta, but I was proud of him for standing up for what he thought was good for Augusta and Richmond County."

MANY PEOPLE PRAISE Mr. Young for his visibility, communication skills and hard work. Some privately criticize him for being too media conscious and joke about his penchant for photo opportunities and press releases.

Former Augusta Commissioner Rob Zetterberg, who wanted to run for mayor himself but bowed out when Mr. Young announced his candidacy, said Mr. Young is working on programs that will make a big difference in Augusta.

For example, Mr. Young is working with Leadership Augusta to get the city named an AllAmerica City and with Mr. Zetterberg on a Character First program designed to promote character throughout the community, the former commissioner said.

"I think the city is looking better," Mr. Zetterberg said.

One of the first things Mr. Young did was organize a task force of agencies responsible for keeping the community clean.

"I understand the meetings are a lot shorter than they used to be," Mr. Zetterberg said. About three hours shorter when Mr. Young has the gavel.

Like the news director he was, he gives the cues and keeps things moving, calling a halt to discussions when commissioners or visitors start repeating themselves.

"He's up-front. He's visible. He's very positive. What else would you want from a mayor?" Mr. Zetterberg asked. "I think he's doing everything a mayor should do."

Mr. Young has been to Washington, New Orleans and Chattanooga, Tenn., since January promoting Augusta. He went to Chattanooga to see what that city has done with downtown development and housing and to see a mall similar to Augusta's failed Regency Mall that the city revitalized.

DURING THE LEGISLATIVE session, he personally attended most of the weekly Richmond County legislative delegation meetings and met with environmental officials concerning the city's wastewater and air quality problems.

Augusta commissioners praise Mr. Young for his communication skills.

"He just ain't no politician," Commissioner Freddie Handy said. "One thing's for sure, he's communicating with everybody."

When asked what kind of job he thinks he's doing, he laughed and said, "I think I've been doing a wonderful job."

Commissioner Jerry Brigham said Mr. Young is still a little "green politically." Commissioner J.B. Powell said he's still going through a learning period.

When asked in which ways Augusta was better because of his being in office 100 days, Mr. Young said other people would have to answer that question.

"I can't sit here and tell you that Augusta is any better because I became mayor on Jan. 4," he said. "I can tell you that I've been working very hard on behalf of this city and the people who live here, and I feel that we have made a lot of progress."

He lists as achievements:

-- Setting the tone for improving the appearance of the city through cleanup programs.

-- Getting the ball rolling on a program to rehabilitate housing in the inner city.

"In fact, our initiative has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, of which we'll be putting on a symposium in Augusta next month to use our Laney-Walker project as a national model," Mr. Young said.

There are some things about government he doesn't like, however.

"THE FRUSTRATION OF this thing is that you start things and government is so slow you wonder when things will ever get finished," he said. "The business I was in, I was used to getting information quickly and getting it out, deadlines, and things happening. Well, they don't happen that fast in government. That's very frustrating.

"Even as the mayor, you can't make things happen when you snap your fingers. Things happen in due course."

In the area of race relations, Mr. Young said he's well received in the minority community.

"I have a number of African-Americans who are involved in ongoing projects within this office," he said. "I've tried to be the person who practiced what he preached when he ran for office."

He has also reached out to people in south Augusta with projects being coordinated through the mayor's office, he said.

"If you look at the makeup of our complete count committee for the census, look at the people involved in the steering committee on the Mayor's Committee for Military and Veterans Affairs.

"Look at the people who come together when we have our Housing Task Force meeting. Look at the people involved in our cleanup effort in the community. Look at the areas being targeted. Just everything that we've done; we've tried to be a government that looks at one Augusta and not different pieces of a puzzle."

As for his relationship with commissioners, Mr. Young said they agree more than they disagree.

"We haven't had any big battles that we had to fight," he said.

When reminded that commissioners threatened to raid his contingency fund while he was out of town, he said, "That was not a battle. I was simply out of town."

The long hours he puts in as mayor are often tiring, but the work is renewing, he said.

"I'm reinvigorated by the work I do," he said. "It's like I've begun my life all over again. I come into this office; I do challenges every day. I meet new people every day.

"I just don't know why in the world anybody would ever be bored being the mayor of a city. Someone told me a couple of weeks ago, I have found my niche being mayor."

Sylvia Cooper covers Richmond County government for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.