Originally created 09/22/00

Business bureau chief leaves



After 14 years as president and chief executive officer of Augusta Better Business Bureau Inc., Jere L. Bennett will officially retire Monday.

"I'm ready to back off a bit and smell the flowers," Mr. Bennett said.

James O. McCormick, former general manager of the Paul S. Knox Conference Center, has been named as his successor.

Before serving as president, Mr. Bennett was a member of the BBB board of directors for 10 years, two of which were spent as chairman.

He said the greatest accomplishment during his service was the development of a computerized phone system allowing 24-hour public access to BBB information. A Web site with similar information was created about five months ago.

"When you contribute to the public, there's nothing like it," Mr. Bennett said. "There has never been a dull moment when you unlock the door every morning. I'm going to miss that, but I'm ready to back off."

One of Mr. Bennett's most memorable moments included a "lengthy confrontation" with a local furniture store owner who continuously advertised "going out of business" sales during the 1980s.

"It went on and on and on," Mr. Bennett recalled. "I went to the county commissioner for a three-year period."

The business owner gave various reasons for closing, including trouble with the Internal Revenue Service and losing its lease. The store eventually closed after Mr. Bennett held a news conference in 1987, warning consumers of the store's practices.

In 1991, the BBB and Mr. Bennett were successful in getting an ordinance passed that required businesses to close within 90 days of advertising a going-out-of-business sale.

"It occupied the most of my time here," he said.

Cooper Cliatt, board chairman, said Mr. Bennett "made sure everyone got a fair shake."

Mr. Bennett, 66, said he plans to travel and then get involved in civic groups on a part-time basis.

"I'm not one to be a couch potato," he said.

Mr. McCormick, the incoming president, said he wasn't looking for a new job but was "pulled in" by what the bureau does for the community.

"The foundation has been laid by Jere, and I hope to continue what he started," Mr. McCormick said. "I felt that with my capabilities and what I have done so far, I would be an asset to the bureau."

Mr. McCormick, a retiree from the Army Signal Corps at Fort Gordon, said his service as a noncommissioned officer in charge of protocol and special projects will help him in his new role.

He said he hopes to better inform the 31 counties the Augusta bureau serves.

"We need better customer-based knowledge of what the BBB is for," he said.

Mr. Cliatt said he is looking forward to Mr. McCormick's term as president and CEO.

"Mr. McCormick is wonderful. He gets out in the community a lot and gets really involved," Mr. Cliatt said.

Reach Jennifer Bishop at (706) 823-3217.