Originally created 07/05/99

Mayor's aide takes care of business



Mark Gibbons is the details guy, not the man who would be king.

In fact, he's not interested in a political career at all. He applied for the job as administrative assistant to Augusta's mayor because he thought it sounded interesting, and it gave him a chance to solve problems.

Lots of problems.

If a citizen calls Mayor Bob Young's office with a complaint, the call will go through Mr. Gibbons -- and often it doesn't have to go any further.

"When somebody calls my office with a problem, more often than not, Mark is the one who brings it to a resolution, whether I get involved or not," says Mr. Young, who took office in January.

Of course, some people you just can't help.

"This guy took 36 minutes of my life one day, talking to him on the telephone," Mr. Gibbons says in bemusement. "He wanted to know why we didn't raise the minimum wage.

"That was my third week here. I was still a nice guy."

And he grins the nice-guy smile that four months of problem-solving hasn't killed.

He is buffer and helper -- the guy who gets things done, arranges schedules, plans road trips and attends meetings and social functions as the mayor's representative.

He made sure the Cokes were served and the hotel rooms were

booked for a recent housing symposium in Augusta. He spent a Saturday morning on a neighborhood walk-through on LaneyWalker Boulevard with four office interns, talking to residents in preparation for the symposium.

"Mark is the right-hand guy," Mr. Young says. "He's the one who takes care of the details. Both of us are kind of feeling our way through this thing -- he's never been involved with politics before, and I've never been involved with politics before -- and we're certainly learning under fire. But Mark's a good student."

The job is not unfamiliar to Mr. Gibbons. A 10-year Army veteran who commanded a unit in the Persian Gulf War, he also spent part of his career as a general's aide. It was his service overseas that instilled his desire to help -- which in turn pushed him to answer an ad in the newspaper and start the application process for his current job with the mayor.

The 35-year-old father of two still speaks intensely and emotionally about his encounters with Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq after the Gulf War, when he remained in the Middle East as part of Operation Provide Comfort, ensuring mail delivery as part of a joint military task force.

"It was so emotionally draining. To see a woman with her child begging you for help, and what can you do? Particularly as the father of a baby girl -- that really made it hard."

Unwilling to take the chance that his military career would stall, the Army captain took advantage of the military's "early out" program during downsizing. Four years ago, he followed his wife from San Antonio to Augusta when she took a job at Savannah River Site.

"She followed me while I was in the military. I figured it was only fair," Mr. Gibbons says with a shrug.

He found his own position at Exploration Resources, a subcontractor with Westinghouse Savannah River Co., pulling together estimates for projects and coordinating their details.

"I really hated to see Mark go. He was very efficient at his work and he did a good job," Exploration Resources manager Horace Bledsoe says. "But it's not unexpected for any employee to change positions. People are always looking for something more challenging."

Co-workers who pointed out the ad in the paper never expected him to apply, Mr. Gibbons says with a laugh. He had never met Mr. Young, had never watched the former TV anchorman on the news -- he got home from work too late to catch newscasts. But the position would let him make a difference.

"I took the job because I thought -- and I still feel -- that I could do some good," he says. "I can make a phone call and make it happen, and that feels good."

Not all of his telephone calls are uplifting -- particularly complaints from citizens who feel they have been given the runaround or been ignored in the past. Politeness is an art that's essential to his position.

"I don't get upset anymore unless people are shooting at me," he says with a grin. "Now, some people, they do push ..."

Alisa DeMao can be reached at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com.