Originally created 09/30/00

Young urges city to solve problems



Augusta Mayor Bob Young is urging the city commission to work together and try to solve all the problems - not just the racial ones - troubling this city.

"I think there are racial differences in this city," Mr. Young said Friday, two days after Mayor Pro Tem Willie Mays told a council judiciary board in Washington that some Augustans think the Civil War hasn't ended yet.

"It's not simply a racial division: We've got political differences, geographical differences ... We need to get over it and not talk about it. Well, we need to talk about it, but we also need to act."

Mr. Mays, along with commissioners Lee Beard and Marion Williams, traveled to Washington earlier this week to speak on behalf of former Augusta Fire Chief Ronnie Few.

The three returned to Augusta on Friday. None of the three returned phone calls seeking comments about their trip.

Chief Few, now acting fire chief of Washington, needs to be confirmed by three of the five members of the board to get the interim label removed.

Washington City Council members are concerned about the ongoing special grand jury investigation of Chief Few's former department. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation recently raided the fire department's record offices, and the grand jury is investigating alleged mismanagement of a media awards bank account and outstanding bills from a fire chief's conference.

Chief Few's supporters cast the blame not on the fire chief but on prejudiced attitudes of the media and city government.

"We are in 2000, but Augusta, we're still thinking in the 1960s," Mr. Williams told the board Wednesday. "Blacks and whites."

Mr. Young also showed his support of Chief Few in a letter he sent to members of the judiciary panel. In the letter, he credited Chief Few with bringing about major improvement in the fire department, which he said probably ruffled a lot of feathers.

"Often times, leaders must effect change to manage a department to its highest level," Mr. Young stated in the letter. "Change is often met with resistance and always with the burden of having to make hard decisions. ... His detractors used general disagreement, race and other non-issues to discredit the chief. In fact, the Grand Jury investigation serves as a prime example."

Asked if he was surprised that Mr. Mays and the others chose to voice their concerns about local racial problems in Washington and not in Augusta, Mr. Young said "No.

"We all have the same rights," he said. "Mr. Mays can exercise his right to free speech wherever he wants."

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.