Originally created 02/04/03

Mayor's priority is city's economy



Last year, in his 2002 State of the City address, Mayor Bob Young criticized Augusta Commission members for being "race-baiting obstructionists," saying their "constant bickering" was slowing city progress.

One year ago, the mayor championed government reform among his top priorities for the city, saying elected officials were thwarting the legislative process by taking advantage of rules governing abstentions.

Saying 2003 is a "new year, with a new agenda," Mr. Young delivered a kinder, gentler State of the City address Monday afternoon from the eighth-floor commission chamber of the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, where he admitted to having made mistakes and said he had learned much from those mistakes.

"There are things that are much more important to us as a community than the things we get hung up on in this chamber from time to time," Mr. Young said before launching into his 20-minute address before an audience of elected officials, campaign supporters and friends.

He said Saturday morning's space shuttle crash helped him put things in perspective, and he told those in the chamber that "some things that seemed really important Friday night didn't seem nearly as important Saturday morning."

In this year's State of the City address, Mr. Young said the Augusta Commission should be commended for hiring two new professional department directors during the past year: Finance Director David Persaud and Fire Chief Al Gillespie. He also praised a commission committee now studying efficiencies in the city's Department of Public Works.

"As the duly elected mayor of this great city, my goal for the next four years is to use my office to help build consensus, cooperation and conciliation with the commission - the acknowledged, ruling body of this government," he said.

He said his top priority this year will be economic development, explaining that he plans to work not only to increase jobs but also to retain the existing job base, including the thousands created and supported by Fort Gordon.

"Not only must we protect Fort Gordon's assets, we should identify other communities' assets that could better be served on Fort Gordon," Mr. Young said. "We must not let Fort Gordon slip through our fingers."

Instead of focusing on reorganizing government structure this year, the mayor talked of focusing on the state law that requires Augusta to have an equal employment opportunity director. The position's duties are currently being carried out part time by one of the city's deputy administrators.

The same law directs the commission to establish a citizens advisory council for minority employment and small-business opportunities.

"In the seven years of consolidation, this board has never been created," Mr. Young said, adding that he urges the commission to make forming such a committee "a priority this year."

"Working with the best interests of Augusta utmost in our goals, our partnerships for progress can make the affairs of our community even greater," he said.

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.