Originally created 09/17/00

Kent: Memo to two commissioners; Strom & JB

To: Andy Cheek

Marion Williams

Wouldn't you agree that our community is at an important crossroads now that Augusta Administrator Randy Oliver is pulling up stakes and taking a similar, higher-paying job in Greenville? He helped guide us for four years over many rocky shoals after the city and county consolidated. And while no one's perfect, Oliver tried to offer information and choices for the 10-member Augusta Commission before it voted on everything from policy issues to job applicants.

You both took office in January on a "reform" platform. You asked Oliver some good questions and focused a needed spotlight on some problems, including shoddy city building inspections. But you both have gradually changed.

Andy, in an interview last fall, you said you'd be colorblind. Yet you have begun to bloc vote with black commissioners on some race-tinged issues and against the thoughtful job recommendations of Oliver. You actually called for waiving the college requirement for fire chief so a commission majority (with you providing the winning vote) could install unqualified minority applicant Carl Scott in an acting capacity. That's playing the race card - putting the color of one's skin and deal-making over merit and high standards.

Marion, last fall you also pledged to be colorblind when it came to jobs. Yet, just recently, several witnesses confirm you said in a legal meeting that an unfilled city job slot, a Recreation Department golf employee, should be for a black only. Now, as a Christian minister who says he's for equality, wouldn't you agree that view is just as bad as those pre-1964 "whites only" policies?

I'm focusing on both of you in this particular column, as opposed to other commissioners, because you are the newest and I supported and believed in you last fall. You both said on the record that a commissioner should mainly focus on the budget and set policy.

The administrator should be free to oversee day-to-day operations, you assured voters. Yet you have both been trying to micromanage some departments lately. Marion, you even personally insulted the city administrator during a recent meeting for no good reason.

It's not too late to change course. Reflect on your statements from last year's campaign. Then consider your recent actions. Do you remember when you said commissioners should think beyond their district by taking the needs of the whole community into consideration? Remember when you hoped to get more citizens to think beyond their own race or neighborhood and see themselves as interdependent stockholders in a business? Let's get back to what you said you'd do.

A good first step would be to take the lead in helping to assure that the mayor and other commissioners find the best qualified applicant to replace Randy Oliver.

HEAD:The godfathers

The best party in Washington, D.C. last weekend was the marriage reception of 26-year-old Julie Thurmond, daughter of venerable 97-year-old U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. The proud father appeared happy and fit as he walked the bride down the quarter-mile aisle of the sprawling National Cathedral. Afterward, during a swank gala at the Corcoran Art gallery, the senator launched into a brief, animated speech wishing the bride and groom well and reminding the crowd that "if you ever need any help, call my office." Then the senator shouted to the assembled throng that none other than Augusta's James Brown would kick off the musical entertainment. Who would have thought back in 1948, when he ran for president on the States' Rights ticket that, 52 years later, Strom Thurmond would party amid the squeals of the "Godfather of Soul"?

Another godfather in attendance - Julie Thurmond's - was U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. But the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee appeared pale and frail, and used a walker as a result of knee and hip surgery. The talk at the reception is that Helms' health won't allow him to run for re-election.

HEAD:Cherie vs. Jack

Richmond County School Board member Cherie Foster, a Republican, will benefit from the proceeds of a fund-raiser hosted by respected ex-school trustee B.J. Annis. Foster is running for a Georgia House of Representatives seat, the heart of which is in Augusta's Hill district, against House Speaker Pro Tem Jack Connell, D-Augusta. It will be interesting to see the strategy being used against the veteran incumbent.

One issue already discussed by Foster is school reform and, specifically, Connell's vote last spring to pass Gov. Roy Barnes' sweeping education legislation. That affirmative vote was used against Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta, and contributed to his July 18 primary defeat by Sue Burmeister.

Foster, though, isn't expected to take another page from her friend Burmeister's play book - that is, paint a scenario that Connell or "one of his friends" somehow "threatened" her, and then peddle the tale to the media to get sympathy. Both Foster and Connell pledge to take the high road in what could be a very close race.

Phil Kent is senior editorial writer for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3327 or philkent@augustachronicle.com


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