Originally created 09/14/03

Just a start

On the Augusta election ballot Nov. 4 voters will be asked whether they're happy with the way things are going here.

They won't be asked in those exact words, of course. But they'll answer the question nonetheless, by filling five of the 10 Augusta Commission seats.

Two of the seats - the 8th District, represented by Ulmer Bridges, and the super 10th district, represented by Bill Kuhlke Jr. - are wide open due to term limits. The other three districts feature incumbents running for re-election: Marion Williams in the 2nd, Richard Colclough in the 4th and Andy Cheek in the 6th.

Unfortunately, with no one else in their districts having filed by the Friday deadline, both Messrs. Colclough and Cheek will be unopposed. There will be no competition for ideas and vision in their districts - and that much less change will be possible on the commission, sad to say.

You could look at that and conclude that folks think all's well. More likely you can chalk it up to inertia, apathy, cynicism, inattentiveness - or a combination of all of them.

We've got to shake it off, whatever it is, and use what few choices we now have to vote for a better Augusta.

It's time to ask yourself: Are you happy with the status quo?

Clearly, most of us could not be more unhappy with the way things have gone the past few years.

According to figures from the tax assessor's office, property values declined slightly this year - whereas in a healthy environment, they would rise a few percentage points. That means if you own property in Richmond County, chances are the value of it is stagnant or declining.

It's arguable the Augusta Commission has contributed to that stagnation. At the very least, no one seriously believes the current amalgam of commissioners is up to the task of turning things around.

In recent years, commissioners have bickered and pontificated and scapegoated and otherwise ignored the big picture. They've walked out on key votes to prevent the other side from prevailing; they've complained bitterly about a special grand jury investigation of the consolidated city-county government, but have chosen to ignore its recommendations; and they've produced not a shred of evidence to date that they have any idea where to take this community - or that they've got the people skills to get us there.

In our form of representative democracy, we are rewarded only with the caliber of leadership we deserve. This Nov. 4, Augusta voters will get what they deserve.

It's up to them what caliber that is.

We submit that voters here deserve better than they have been getting. They deserve leaders with vision. Leaders who will advance the interests of Augusta as a whole, rather than the narrow interests contained within arbitrary political lines. Leaders able to work together. Leaders who aren't beholden to powerful political interests.

Get out your "mettle" detectors. In the coming weeks, those who seek to represent us must first convince us they have what it takes to move Augusta forward. They have some questions to answer.

Will they not only support, but aggressively pursue, the menu of big-ticket projects - the performing arts center, sports arena, exhibition space and more - now being considered for funding through an extension of the special purpose local option sales tax? Will they ask the local legislative delegation to push for giving the mayor a vote?

Will they finally give the city administrator hiring/firing authority over the department heads he supervises? Will they stay in their seats and vote?

These questions are just a start of what promises to be a pivotal campaign for Augusta.


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