Originally created 01/13/02

Civic Center chaos



If there's any governing entity more dysfunctional than the Augusta Commission, it would have to be its ugly stepchild, the Augusta Coliseum Authority.

The authority, which oversees operations at the Civic Center-Bell Auditorium complex, has a long history of fouling up and as 2002 gets underway, we're reminded that nothing has changed.

Last spring there were those on-again, off-again negotiations with underperforming SMG, the Philadelphia-based stadium management firm that runs the Civic Center, until finally in June the authority OK'd renewing the contract for one more year - not because members thought it a good idea, but because it was the only way they could keep popular General Manager Reggie Williams, an SMG employee, on the job.

SMG, however, has since had second thoughts. The firm notified the authority shortly before Christmas that it was not interested in another contract next June - a clear signal that SMG, except for carrying out technical legal obligations, was washing its hands of Augusta.

Then last week the firm let it be known it didn't want to wait; it wants out of the contract right away. As for the unfortunate Williams, who's been dealing with health problems, the authority is welcome to keep him.

What a mess. And to point up just how bad it is, when SMG said last month it wouldn't be seeking a new pact, authority Attorney Sam Nicholson and Chairman Bill Maddox didn't even tell the rest of the board when it met. How can any commission function effectively if most members don't know what's going on?

There are apparently legal reasons relating to payrolls, insurance and pensions why the authority, when it meets Monday, may not release SMG from its contract right away. But it doesn't change the fact that the Augusta-SMG relationship is a wreck or that management and oversight of the Civic Center complex has become a theater of the absurd - and not for the first time. Traditionally, chaos is the norm at the authority, not the exception.

In wake of all the contretemps with SMG, it's unlikely another management firm will want to do business in Augusta. The authority seems headed back to the bad old days of a city-run complex with local politicians and cronies manipulating a weak general manager into doing their bidding.

When those conditions prevail, as they have before, the Civic Center can't attract flies, much less entertainment, and winds up swimming in a sea of red ink.

No wonder there's talk among some of the region's movers-and-shakers to build a new arena outside Augusta's city limits - they're just that desperate to rid themselves of this long discredited authority.