Originally created 02/08/02

Augusta groups meet at Capitol



ATLANTA - Georgia Sen. Don Cheeks can describe Augusta Day at the state Capitol in five words: "It's just too many meetings," he said.

Thirty-five minutes after Augusta-area lawmakers were supposed to meet Thursday afternoon to discuss the possibility of a new performing arts center, Mr. Cheeks found himself alone with the project's presenters, wondering where his colleagues were.

"I've told them before that (Augusta Day) is not the day to schedule other meetings," said Mr. Cheeks, D-Augusta.

Each legislative session, most Georgia cities plan a single day on which a concentration of lobbyists, business and civic leaders descend on the Capitol to meet with legislators and other government officials.

"It keeps us informed of what people's local priorities are," said Rep. George DeLoach, R-Hephzibah, who had about 10 different meetings Thursday.

The goal of the day, besides the obligatory dinner reception at the old Atlanta Freight Depot, is for legislators to hear the concerns of the folks back home, be it a business or a civic matter.

But with so many meetings, the lawmakers and lobbyists can't help getting off schedule.

The day included meetings with the Richmond County Board of Education, along with officials from the departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Corrections, and Industry, Trade and Tourism.

Richmond County schools Superintendent Charles G. Larke told the members of the Augusta delegation who were able to make the meeting that he was very concerned about the number of teachers in Augusta-area public schools.

"I just want to tell y'all the teacher shortage is real," Dr. Larke said to the lawmakers.

Rep. Ben Allen, D-Augusta, assured Dr. Larke and the other members of the board of education that Gov. Roy Barnes' legislative agenda calls for increasing teacher pay and reducing class size throughout the state.

"We are 110 percent with you," Mr. Allen told the board.

Still, the legislators were unable to address all the board's concerns with optimism.

When board member John Seitz asked about the likelihood of additional state funding for teacher assistants throughout Augusta elementary schools, Mr. Allen said a significant increase was unlikely in this year's recession-strapped budget.

"I don't think that's what (Mr. Barnes) is going to be pushing," Mr. Allen said.

Despite the hours of face-to-face interaction, Augusta Day usually does little more than get the wheels turning on local projects, said Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta.

"We didn't reach any conclusions, but at least we're talking," he said.

Mr. Cheeks, Mr. Allen and Rep. Henry Howard, D-Augusta, were the only members able to attend the presentation on the proposed performing arts center.

While all three were intrigued by the idea of building a large public venue in downtown Augusta, questions hung in the air after the meeting.

"What I am troubled with right now are the finances of it and how the players - hotels and motels - fit into what we're doing," Mr. Allen said.

Reach Brian Basinger at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.



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