Originally created 09/15/99

Approve A-NIC funds



Let there be no mistake. The Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. is a much-needed public-private partnership that is well positioned to do a lot to improve the living conditions and quality of life for our community.

For instance, the non-profitorganization's first task is to help find government and private funding for groups helping to provide low- and middle-income housing in the city's Laney-Walker district.

Eventually A-NIC is expected to oversee up to $8 million for the district and, later -- if voters OK renewing the one cent local option sales tax next year -- up to $50 million in local, state and federal revitalization funds to help clean up even more Garden City blight.

With all that at stake, a key Augusta Commission committee was certainly on the right track Monday to recommend $49,999 for A-NIC start-up costs. We are optimistic the full Commission will go along, notwithstanding some valid reservations.

The concern of Commissioner J.B. Powell that former Mayor Charles DeVaney may be the wrong man to direct A-NIC should be allayed by the fact that DeVaney's money-handling will be overseen by a highly competent 13-member A-NIC board of directors, chaired by respected businessman Bernard Silverstein. Also, DeVaney -- who is a good fund-raiser and has excellent contacts within the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency -- is only serving temporarily.

Some other commissioners' concerns are more valid, especially Bill Kuhlke's. He's troubled that A-NIC's bylaws call for a "self-perpetuating" board, meaning members themselves name replace-ments as openings occur.

That is worrisome. The board must be accountable to someone besides itself, lest it "morph" into another agency consisting of political hacks -- such as has happened to the crony-laden Personnel Board. Mayor Bob Young, who deserves credit for "fathering" A-NIC, appointed the first board members and they were fine choices: nine business and civic leaders (including bankers) and four politicians.

We don't want A-NIC funding hung up over this issue, but perhaps the fair-minded Silverstein could prevail on his colleagues to change the bylaws to limit board members to two terms and to put appointive powers back in the hands of the mayor, who is answerable to voters.

Finally, though we have no objection to the three local members of the General Assembly serving on A-NIC's board, we do agree with City Attorney Jim Wall's contention that Mayor Pro Tem Lee Beard should remove himself. Clearly, serving on a corporate board to which Beard, as a commissioner, will be voting to allocate money is a conflict of interest, both in appearance and reality.