Originally created 01/08/01

Cline: Columbus is good act to follow



My 2001 New Year's wish for Augusta is that it will start acting more like Columbus.

That's right, Columbus.

You know, that city on the other end of the state where community leaders can actually get things accomplished.

That city whose consolidated government actually works with, and even (Gasp!) encourages public sector involvement in community affairs.

That border city whose civic leaders really are leaders, not petty politicians whose myopic view is focused solely on their own interests and those of special interest groups.

That riverfront city that has seen more than $100 million worth of revitalization and economic development projects materialize in just the past five years.

2001 could be the year Augusta follows the Columbus model. Rhetoric could give way to communication. Parochialism could give way to cooperation.

Don't laugh. It could happen.

Columbus wasn't always so progressive. It used to be like Augusta.

James Blanchard, a Columbus resident and president of banking conglomerate Synovus Financial Corp., spoke to an assembly of Augusta leaders last month. He pointed out how internal political, racial and geographic strife kept the city "mediocre" until it was able to move on in the 1970s.

"When we speak, we speak with one voice," he said.

Most civic leaders I know say Augusta still hasn't been able to "move on." They say the city's leadership is too entrenched with good ol' boys intent on keeping the strife alive to avoid tackling the more difficult task of improving the city's quality of life.

I tend to agree with them. I've attended a few Augusta Commission meetings. Can't say I'm impressed.

Nearly every order of business seems to erupt into some sort of petty squabble that makes me embarrassed to live here but seems to delight the media and the brotherhood of government employees.

I would describe the meetings as a fistfight-free Jerry Springer episode. And that's just not the type of leadership I want to have.

Most business and civic leaders I know would secretly love to replace half the elected officials in town with some folks who have some foresight. Folks who can see the big picture.

It wasn't easy getting people to see the big picture in Columbus. It took time and a lot of work by a handful of individuals before the city as a whole could realize its potential.

I recall a conversation I had recently with a Columbus native who moved away but came back and now works at the Columbus Museum. She recalled when the city's mayor spoke to her high school class during the 1970s about how Columbus would someday be a destination city.

And there she sat, along with her classmates, wondering how a city that (at the time) didn't have a four-lane road to Atlanta was going to be a place outsiders would want to visit.

But here the city is now home to the $67 million RiverCenter complex, the Coca-Cola Science Center, the State Theater of Georgia and a fully developed riverfront.

Like Columbus, Augusta will have to confront and heal its divisions in order to make its dreams reality.

Assuming that can happen, Augusta's future looks a lot brighter than Columbus'. Augusta has much more it can build on than Columbus did - the prestige of the Medical College of Georgia and the allure of the Augusta National Golf Club for starters.

Who knows? Someday Augusta may be the poster child for community leadership.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486.