Staff writer John Bankston sat down recently with Ed Tarver in his law office at Hull, Towill, Norman, Barrett & Salley and discussed Mr. Tarver's new leadership position with the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, his priorities as chamber chairman and the role of blacks in the Augusta community.
Q: What are your top priorities as the incoming chamber chairman?
A: The top concern would be to improve the stature of the Augusta Metro Chamber as a resource for promoting Augusta, and specifically the Augusta business community.
... I'm not making any predictions or promises about what we will accomplish. What I would like to see is the chamber working more actively with some of the community organizations and government organizations to promote our city. I don't think any one group or agency can do it alone. We have to come together from a civic side, from the government side, to promote Augusta as a place to do business, as a place to raise a family.
Q: But that's the goal of every chairman - to promote Augusta. You mention `coming together.' How is the area divided and what can be accomplished by uniting it?
A: It's not just west Augusta versus south Augusta. It's Richmond County versus Columbia County. It's Richmond County versus Burke County. Any time a business relocates into this area, whether it be Columbia County or Burke County or Richmond County, that helps this community. It adds to the tax base; it lessens the burden on the people who live here.
It's my hope the chamber will take a more aggressive role on issues both local and statewide that impact our ability to attract new industry and business to the community. We won't always be right; we won't always make the right decisions; we won't always adopt the right positions. But we will be making decisions and taking positions ... We will act.
Q: Have you spoken with chamber members and gotten a feeling for how they will react to your kind of leadership?
A: I have spoken to chamber members. I have spoken to Jim West, president of the chamber, a number of times. I think that a majority of the folks I've talked to are ready to take a more active role here in our community. The chamber provides one vehicle whereby we can work to improve our community. It's not about recognition or getting credit for doing something. It's about doing what's best for Augusta.
In order for us to be prosperous, we're going to have to work with the Development Authority; we'll have to work with the commissioners of Richmond County, Columbia County and Burke County. We'll have to find that common ground that will enable us to attract industry to our area, to address issues that relate to governmental affairs or education.
Q: Has it been a problem in the past - people more concerned with personal advancement than the area itself?
A: I don't know if I'd go that far. People get involved in organizations; they develop one focus and adopt a philosophy that they can only use their organization's resources. It seems to me it would be wiser to form alliances with the board of education, with the county commission, and we come together to accomplish common goals.
All issues addressed by various groups overlap in one way or the other. With the chamber of commerce, in our efforts to promote economic development, to attract industry to the area, when those folks come into town, one of the questions they always ask is, "What kind of eduction system do you have?" And that factors into their decision to relocate here or consider another community.
It's important for us to have people from those organizations as part of the team, and to be a part of their team. To provide, for example, whatever support we can to improve the schools in this region.
Q: Is that your challenge? To get people to see the connections?
A: It's a challenge for everyone - it's certainly a challenge for the chamber.
Q: This chairmanship might be the most visible civic position you've taken. How do you think you'll react to the spotlight?
A: I hadn't really thought of the exposure. My perception is I'll continue to work with the same people I've been working with the last several years. I may make some mistakes; I may say some stupid things, but I won't be out to offend or criticize.
Q: And if you do at least as a lawyer you can defend yourself.
A: Yeah, hopefully so.
Q: With a history of civic involvement as impressive as yours and a background in law, do you see any political office in your future?
A: At this point, no. I have no plans to run for political office. I enjoy practicing law. I enjoy what I'm able to do from a business standpoint for this community.
Q: Do you think in the future you'd like to put yourself in a position where you could do more for the community, perhaps from a legislative standpoint?
A: That would depend on the resources available to me, what my level of satisfaction is with what I'm doing. Right now, I'm very satisfied with what I'm doing.
Q: Do you have a political affiliation?
A: I've been a Democrat all my life, but that doesn't necessarily mean I vote straight Democrat. I've been known to support Republicans who have philosophies that are consistent with my own.
Q: You have a long history of civic involvement. Do you have any concept of where this is going?
A: There is no master plan. The things I do, I do not because of any expectation that they'll take me to the next level. I do them because I enjoy them. There's a sense of satisfaction that I get out of my involvement. I don't expect anything in return - obviously, I don't get paid for it.
Q: Without a monetary compensation it may seem selfless, but there is a payoff. What is it?
A: The satisfaction. It's consistent with how I was raised. My mother and father were church-going people. My mother, my grandparents, we always gave our time to the community through the churches. The only difference is I volunteer my time in a different way, not through the churches so much. But there is that sense of obligation - to give something back was always a part of my upbringing.
Q: You've talked about overcoming obstacles, and that seems to be a common trait among successful people - to act instead of react.
A: I've never looked at myself in terms of being successful ... I don't look at myself as a victim; I don't want to be a victim, or to be seen as one. I want to make things happen. I don't want things to happen to me.
Q: As far as cultural relationships in the community go, do you find as a successful African American that you're called upon to bridge any gaps?
A: The organizations I'm involved in, where there is diversity, it's pretty cohesive. There needs to be improvements. We discussed this at the chamber, which is primarily a white, male organization. I think the organization could be improved by being more diverse in terms of race and gender. Any time an organization is more inclusive, you have more resources from which to draw.
... Now that doesn't mean if there's eight members we have to have two black, two white, two Asian. We have to make sure that the policies and procedures we follow provide the same opportunities across the board.
Q: I see a few names repeated continually when it comes to African Americans and the Augusta community: Ed Tarver, Ed MacIntyre, Shirley Lewis, Walter Hornsby, to name a few. Is one of your challenges to get more people involved so we see some new names, and not just the same ones over and over?
A: I think that would be helpful from the standpoint that there's only so much that one person can do. If you keep calling on the same people, at some point you're going to use those folks up.
Q: Still, you've been thrust into a leadership position with the Augusta chamber and it will be up to you to define the chamber's attitude and outlook for the next year.
A. And if you come away with anything from that, it's that you don't have to be a bank president; you don't have to be a lawyer. If you want to work to improve the community, then the opportunity is there.
Sometimes we get in the habit of choosing the same people over and over again, and that's not always the best way. Obviously, the chamber is a business organization; the one criteria is people be motivated to improve the business community.
I don't think a lawyer or an attorney has ever been chosen as chairman of the chamber. Maybe with my service in that role, in years to come there will be others willing to step forward and volunteer their time for that service.
Company: Hull, Towill, Norman, Barrett & Salley
Offices: Augusta, Aiken
Employees: 20 partners, four associates, one paralegal
Practice: General civil practice with an emphasis on corporate law, securities regulation, taxation, public finance, commercial and residential real estate, employment law, banking law, insurance law and litigation
History: The firm has long been one of the largest in the city. It was established in 1916 by William Barrett and James Hull. Mr. Barrett's grandson, Hale, is the senior partner of the firm today. Firm members have served with the state legislatures of Georgia and South Carolina, and with the Augusta City Council. In 1999, the firm combined with Henderson & Salley of Aiken.