Originally created 07/25/99

The first seven months

Bob Young has completed nearly seven months as Augusta's mayor -- time enough to make some early assessments.

First, his leadership style is much more energetic than his predecessor. That's good, because most of his power as mayor comes from the bully pulpit. It's the 10 city commissioners who have the practical power of making decisions, approving budgets and spending the public's money.

The mayor can't even vote on these issues unless there's a tie -- and commissioners, especially on important issues, will almost always conspire to ensure Young won't get a chance to vote. This is why the government would be improved if the mayor, whoever it is, is given full voting power. As the city's top elected leader it would strengthen his (or her) ability to make alliances and influence events.

In light of the mayor's limited authority, it's surprising how many Augustans tend to blame Young for the second consecutive summer of painful water crisis. They say he promised in last year's campaign to fix any water crisis -- and now he's doing no better than the man he beat.

They're wrong on two counts. First, Young is doing better than his predecessor. Second, he never vowed he could end the water shortage. That's historical revisionism.

What he did promise -- and has delivered in a big way -- is to provide leadership during the crisis and, where possible, help his constituents to deal with it. That's all within his power to do and he's doing it.

At the height of the water shortage a few weeks ago, Young didn't insensitively deny there was a crisis. He was all over the city -- commenting, prodding, reassuring and even providing water trucks to help Augustans sprinkle their lawns and gardens. That's leadership -- the kind of leadership that was missing last summer.

The articulate Young is also doing a fine job in "selling" Augusta to prospective businesses. And he has proved effective as a mediator, such as when he asked the Augusta-Richmond County Museum board to be a "good neighbor" and pass through a grant to the city for a proposed cotton museum.

This isn't to say Young hasn't made mistakes. Hitting taxpayers to send his wife off to an Atlanta business confab which he couldn't attend himself was a blooper. She, of course, is an accomplished businesswoman who served as a good representative. But he first didn't offer the junket to other elected commissioners, not even the irked mayor pro tem.

The mayor also didn't cover himself with glory in a pointless public debate with the city administrator about how to deal with extra revenues coming into city coffers as a consequence of inflated reassessment values.

Young pushed for a "tax rollback," but it would have only come to a few dollars a year for most property owners. Randy Oliver seems right to insist the money would be better spent on under-funded capital projects. The mayor finally said to call it "a tax increase." It could also be called making a mountain out of a molehill.

But despite a few stumbles along the way, the former newsman has acquitted himself admirably in the early months of his mayoral tenure. Politics, at its noblest, isn't about wielding power or boosting egos. It's about helping people. And, so far, helping people is Bob Young's top priority.


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