Barbara Sims, who was appointed to the Augusta Commission just a little more than six months ago, finds herself being challenged by another longtime Augusta resident and a relative newcomer who says the city needs "new blood."
Mrs. Sims, appointed to fill the seat of Stephen Shepard after he resigned in January to become city attorney, is facing Lorraine Barlett, a recently retired Army lawyer, and Augusta Realtor David Moretz.
Mr. Shepard's term expires Dec. 31, 2005. The seat will be on the ballot again next year.
Mrs. Sims, who co-owned Periwinkle Cottage in Surrey Center for 24 years, never imagined she would take to politics the way she has since her appointment.
The hours are long, and commissioners often bog down with issues that probably shouldn't be coming to them or that could be solved by staff, but that's just part of the job, she said.
"I'm willing to stay 24 hours a day if that's what's necessary to get the job done," she said. "Because I'm retired, I can do that. I love it. I did not think I would."
Mrs. Sims believes she brings a sense of serenity to the commission and is establishing relationships with her colleagues and other city officials.
"I'm working with all the commissioners, and I'm also listening and learning everything that I can," she said. "I have some things I want to accomplish for the betterment of Augusta. And I feel I'm the most qualified person to do them."
She has nothing but praise for her opponents.
"I think they're probably in the same boat I was in before I became a commissioner," she said. "They have not seen the whole picture. And once you see the whole picture, you have a better understanding of what this government has to do and is all about.
"I think maybe the main difference is I am immersed in what is going on. I care. Of course, I'm sure they care also. I care about this city. And I think this is the time for me to give back what I've gotten out of Augusta."
Ms. Barlett said her strong suit is the perspective she will bring that comes from her 18 years in the Army.
"I've been moving around a lot because I was on active duty in the Army until 1999," she said.
She was recalled to active duty in 2001 and came to Fort Gordon in 2002, where she spent 27 months, mustering out in May just in time to qualify for the commission race. Currently, she is working for Augusta lawyer Chuck Pardue.
"I've seen a lot of towns," she said. "I've seen what works and what doesn't work. I've been in lots of environments that have given me a lot of good ideas I can bring to the table for Augusta.
"There's nothing to be said against old families and old values, but I also think it's good to have an infusion of new blood, new ideas and new perspectives."
Even if she doesn't win, she said, she still will work to make Augusta a better place because she loves the city, which she said reminds her of her hometown, Memphis, Tenn., 30 years ago, "before (revitalization of) Beale Street, before the Peabody Hotel opened back up, ... before they re-energized downtown."
Candidate David Moretz said that when he qualified for the race he wasn't qualifying to run against anyone.
"I was running for county commissioner to achieve goals for Augusta," he said. "As a longtime Augustan, I'm very frustrated by how I see it, how many times it seems very dysfunctional."
As he has campaigned throughout the 3rd District, the reaction from almost everyone has been negative toward the current governing body, he said.
"My goal is to change the mind-set, bring more favorable attitudes towards our city and change the mind-set of our citizenry," he said. "And I just believe with my background and my love for Augusta it will make a big difference in how this government is perceived and how Augusta will grow in the future."
He also praises the other candidates.
"I congratulate them for running," he said. "I just believe I'd be more effective with our existing county commission. And I believe my enthusiasm and my past experiences will be put to good use in promoting Augusta and painting a very bright future for Augusta."
He said his positive approach to resolving issues and conflicts and working to reach a consensus will override the current splintering on the board.
"That's very important," he said. "You have to take it one step at a time, one conversation at a time. I love Augusta too much just to sit back and not do anything."
Donna L. Barlett
Education: Bachelor's degree from Rhodes College, Memphis, Tenn.; law degree from Memphis State University Law School; master's degree in law from the Army's Judge Advocate General's School
Political experience: NoneCivic involvement: Army active duty, 1985-99 and 2002-2004
Family: Divorced, no children; large extended family in Davidson County, Tenn., and immediate family in West Palm Beach, Fla.
David L. Moretz
Education: Bachelor's of Business Administration in finance and economics from Augusta College
Political experience: District coordinator and director of special projects, 1981-89, for former U.S. Rep. Doug Barnard; ran for state Senate in 1992.
Civic involvement: Involved with the Children's Medical Center at the Medical College of Georgia; former member of the Georgia Transplant Foundation; involved with Doctors Who Cook
Family: Wife, Julie Ginn Moretz; three children, David L. Jr., 18; Morgan, 16; and Daniel, 13.
Barbara Sims (incumbent)
Education: Bachelor's degree in education from the University of Georgia
Political experience: District 3 Augusta Commissioner since January
Occupation: Retired owner of a children's shop
Civic involvement: Member of the Women's Board of University Hospital; former member of administrative board, historian and head of evangelism at Aldersgate United Methodist Church
Family: Husband, Fred Sims Sr.; sons Fred Jr., 41, and Craig, 38; daughters-in-law Patricia and Monica; four grandchildren
1. What would you recommend to get the city out of its budget crunch?
Ms. Barlett: "First of all, I would suggest that they take a long, hard look at the recommendations that were made by the grand jury a year or so ago where they talked about benefits of consolidation. There are still a lot of costs that could be cut by cutting out duplicated services that have not been cut since the consolidation took place."
Mr. Moretz: " I would do a combination of using our reserves, and then in the interim, short-term I would look at our fee structures for services within the city. I would also look at our levels of employment to see if they are what they should be or are we too fat in some areas. I think a combination of those things could get us through the short-term crunch. Millage rate increases are a last resort."
Mrs. Sims: "Right now, we have a reserve. But I know we have problems, and we're going to address those problems because we have to."
2. Besides the finances, what is Augusta's biggest problem and what recommendations would you make to solve it.
Ms. Barlett: "In my opinion, the city has somewhat of an image problem. They don't realize we could have additional international tourist appeal if we would just get out of the mind-set, 'We've got the Masters' and rest on those laurels. It's great to have the Masters. We need to focus on new events and draws to bring people here for tourism and business."
Mr. Moretz: "We're lacking leadership. Our No. 1 priority is to have a manager with the tools to be effective. Secondly, what is good for Augusta is for all commissioners to redirect their efforts for one Augusta. There isn't leadership there now that has painted a picture for our future, whether it's growth and jobs or as a convention center. No one has come forward to give any leadership."
Mrs. Sims: "Unfortunately, I think part of Augusta's problem is a perception that's incorrect. I think people look at Augusta and have said , 'Ya'll aren't doing what you're supposed to be doing.' And we are. We need new businesses. We need jobs. We need growth in this community."
3. What specific area would you focus on as a commissioner?
Ms. Barlett: "Because of my military background, I would focus on issues related to Fort Gordon, saving Fort Gordon from BRAC (the 2005 round of base closures) and promoting the partnerships between the municipal authorities and the base and on emergency response. But also looking long and hard at all of the planned budget-heavy activities."
Mr. Moretz: "I believe there needs to be a multi-pronged attack for Augusta. First, we need to grow Augusta. With the negative growth rate in our population, that's going to affect us negatively. So we need to counter that by aggressively promoting new industry and promoting our existing industry so they'll grow new jobs, more jobs for Augusta."
Mrs. Sims: "Job growth and promoting Augusta. I'm all about promoting Augusta. We've got great resources. We've have activities here that I never even knew we had. We're a great city. We're historic. We've been given the historic preservation distinction. I'm proud of that. I think we need to promote ourselves. There's too much here. We just don't need to let that go by, and people need to know about us. We need to be a destination city.
4. What is your stand on a sports arena at Regency Mall?
Ms. Barlett: "I personally, think - and I'm not necessarily inclined to do it to bail out the owners of Regency Mall - but the fact is it's a big albatross. Something needs to be done with it, and if the city can benefit by utilizing that site and that location, and if there will be cost savings attached by using some of the infrastructure that's already there, then I think that would be a great idea."
Mr. Moretz: "My personal opinion, which is endorsed by a lot of the constituents out in the third district, is not to have the sports arena at Regency Mall. That would be a better location for an industrial park. And all that I've talked to agree with me that our current civic center can be enlarged and be brought up to state-of-the-art technical aspects by spending $31 million. So I'm not for the new one. I'm for promoting our existing one, which helps strengthen our downtown area."
Mrs. Sims: "I think right now the sports arena would be a wonderful plus for Augusta. I think we're going to have to really study everything about the sports arena. But I think the bases are there for us to really make a tremendous contribution to the whole city of Augusta. I think we will have to look at how in the world we will fund it."
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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