Originally created 07/03/05

Defining 'prodigal'

"You've got to leave home in order to find out something. The Bible talks about the prodigal son. He left and went off. He came back, and he was a different person."

- Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams, on plans for four commissioners and the city clerk to go to Hawaii for a conference this month.

"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything ...

- The Gospel according to Luke

prodigal \\adj\\ 1 : recklessly extravagant 2 : characterized by wasteful expenditure : lavish \

\\ one who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly

- Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

Augusta's elected leaders are failing Augusta.

And unless they're dispensing miracles in the convention packets at the National Association of Counties conference in Hawaii July 15-19, Augusta taxpayers will be throwing $14,000 good dollars after bad by rewarding ineffective officials with all-expense-paid trips to the Aloha State.

Commissioner Marion Williams was more accurate than he knew in invoking the prodigal son parable: It, along with the trip to Hawaii, is about extravagance and waste.

The difference is, the prodigal son's wealthy father didn't mind absorbing his son's wastefulness; it's certain Augusta taxpayers won't be as forgiving.

Perhaps the serfs wouldn't squawk if their leaders were doing their jobs. Alas, such is not the case in Augusta.

Whereas private-sector volunteers and business leaders here have labored mightily to form a vision for improving Augusta - grass-roots group Destination 2020 comes to mind - the city's public sector has yet to even come to the table in any meaningful way.

The public sector is letting down the private sector, plain and simple.

Consider: When a blue-ribbon citizens group, formed by the Augusta Commission itself, met for the better part of a year in 2003 to prioritize which projects could be funded with an extended sales tax, the commission largely ignored the recommendations. The result: a bloated, chaotic, pork-laden ballot question, and a disastrous sales tax defeat last November that scuttled, for now, the very worthy projects on it - new library, exhibition space, performing arts center, sports arena and more.

Then, when it was decided to try again - and voters were asked June 21 to approve bonds for a new courthouse and sports and entertainment complex - our leaders failed us again. Not only did they not get out and sell the bond issues to the voters, but several commissioners actually publicly opposed the referendum.

A third item on the June 21 ballot was most telling: Augusta voters were asked to give local governments the authority to issue bonds for blighted areas and use the resulting increases in property tax revenues to pay off the bonds. A no-brainer, really, and a potential shot in the arm for Augusta. Again, voters overwhelmingly said no.

That indicates voters weren't just against specific projects; they were against anything the Augusta Commission put on the ballot.

It was a vote of no confidence.

And now, as if nothing at all were amiss, four of those commissioners will be jetting off to Hawaii on us.

They just don't get it.

Do you think they will get it after their prodigal, wasteful, extravagant trip to Hawaii?

How long will the private sector put up with this? We've got an elected government that is incapable of agreeing to a vision, a game plan for the community - despite being handed one by citizens on more than one occasion. There's no strategy, and no one in our government to sell it to voters.

Having a 10-member commission, and a mayor with no vote or veto, doesn't help. That structure could be changed by the state legislature, but even the local legislative delegation can't get its act together enough to do it.

We applaud the unbridled optimism and boundless energy of our private sector. But we have to ask:

How can a community have so many leaders and so little leadership?


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