Originally created 07/31/05

Absent commissioners frustrate Freds



Too many no-shows on the Augusta Commission botched up everything for two Freds last week.

One of them was city Administrator Fred Russell, who kept pacing around trying to come up with six votes to keep the tax rate the same as last year so he can have that $2.7 million from increased property assessments to run the city. But there were only seven commissioners there, and one of them is running for mayor. Two others are running for re-election.

You do the math.

The other Fred, former Commissioner Freddie Handy, sat patiently in his good blue suit, waiting and sweating along with everybody else, including the remarkably well-behaved kids from Camp Fix at Dyess Park. Why, they hardly squirmed at all during the half-hour wait for the meeting to start.

He, too, was one vote shy of the six he needed to be appointed to fill interim Mayor Willie Mays' vacant District 9 seat.

Maybe they'll have better luck next week.

THE KISS OF DEATH: Mayor Pro Tem Marion Williams and Commissioners Bobby Hankerson, Betty Beard and Richard Colclough were stung by criticism for traveling to Hawaii for the National Association of Counties conference, and Mr. Hankerson was particularly sensitive to it.

At a committee meeting last week, he and Mr. Williams spent about 45 minutes talking about what they learned at the conference. Everybody was enthralled. It was like listening to a book report. They said they learned so much in Hawaii to bring back to Augusta, such as a prescription drug card program that gives discounts to the uninsured and a debt collection program. The city already has one of those but could use another, we suppose.

Mr. Hankerson wanted the conference lessons added to Tuesday's commission meeting agenda.

Before leaving for Hawaii, the city's public safety committee, led by Mr. Williams, sent the Downtown Advisory Panel's proposed ordinance to cut down on false fire alarms to the full commission with a recommendation for approval.

A few days later, an editorial in The Augusta Chronicle lauded the panel, a group of stakeholders authorized by commissioners to advise them on matters affecting downtown, for their efforts, making the point that one doesn't have to go to Hawaii to do good things for Augusta.

Then Tuesday, when the ordinance came before the board, Mr. Hankerson came down on it like a ton of bricks, saying it was "too tough" and voted against it. Mr. Williams and Mrs. Beard abstained, although they had voted for it in the committee. Commissioners Tommy Boyles, Jimmy Smith and Andy Cheek, the commission's representative to the Downtown Development Authority and a proponent of the ordinance, voted for it.

ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY: After the ordinance failed, Mr. Cheek abruptly announced he would not vote to add Mr. Hankerson's Hawaiian conference items to the agenda, which prompted Mr. Hankerson to voice displeasure at his "premature, childish acts."

Mr. Cheek said he wouldn't dignify the exchange with further comments except to say that everyone present knew the "intellectual depth of the questions and how the Downtown Advisory Panel was shot down."

"It was uncalled for," he said, adding that he had taken enough shots from Mr. Hankerson's end of the dais.

Mr. Mays called time on the "unofficial discussion."

"We had our say within the family, and we still all have to live together," he said. "So we're through with that."

Maybe. Maybe not.

Doing God's Work: Mr. Cheek is taking his membership on the Downtown Development Authority quite seriously. After getting downtown businesswoman Bonnie Ruben on the warpath by calling her Augusta's worst slumlord, he says he's fed up with agencies that are being paid to promote economic development not doing their jobs.

Anyway, Mr. Cheek wanted the development board to appoint Hale Tiki owner Brad Owens interim director of Main Street Augusta.

After a meeting during which the development board did not hire Mr. Owens and voted to find out more about a developer's request for a state grant to renovate the old Woolworth building before agreeing to serve as a pass-through agency for the money, Mr. Cheek vented his spleen in a mass e-mail, a copy of which fell from cyberspace into City Ink's hands.

In his first missive, Mr. Cheek said the authority had chosen to stall the grant and allow the secretary to run the agency the next three months.

Board member and downtown developer Paul King responded, also by e-mail.

"Andy, as I recall, you voted along with the rest of the DDA to further study the Woolworth's application. What happened since then? Is this the support the DDA can expect from you because the Authority would not accept your candidate as interim director?"

That did it.

Dear Paul:

"Understand my lack of support when I hold in my hand the promises and plans from DDA from last year only which was mostly smoke screen. You have your committee. I have 80% of Ellis Street vacant and buildings rotting on Broad. DDA which is supposed to be the leader in this has advocated that responsibility to a secretary. If you think Athens, or Columbus would have done the same you are mistaken. DDA, of which I am a member, has delivered a non working clock and almost killed the farmers market."

Mr. Cheek then invited Mr. King to an after-midnight tour of Ellis Street but warned him not to wear a tie because they would be taking a tour on foot of several downtown areas that are in need of economic development. He raged on for several more paragraphs, taking the authority to task for not hiring an interim director and not producing.

Then he wrote something we find borderline strange.

"I am not elected, appointed, or selected to serve as a DDA member. I am sent by the Augusta Commission to determine if funding levels dedicated to DDA are well spent. DDA's performance level is consistent to that of the Coliseum Authority. ... Some of us have been granted by God to serve above committees such as this in an oversight capacity."

Granted by God? To serve as oversight for the Downtown Development Authority?

Well, the Lord does work in mysterious ways.

POX POPULI: At last week's special purpose local option sales tax meeting, Mr. Boyles asked whether the city could use the leaky law enforcement center four more years, which would free up about $54 million for other badly needed sales-tax projects. Mr. Cheek reminded him the engineering services committee had already met and decided the best thing to do is move out of the center. Anyway, according to Mr. Russell, it will take four years to do that, prompting Commissioner Don Grantham to say, "We're in a Catch-22 situation."

"I'm very familiar with that position, yes sir," Mr. Russell said.

He's also familiar with being the bearer of bad news.

He had to tell the Coliseum Authority last week his tax package would not include $30 million to renovate the civic center.

Member Joe Scott said Mr. Russell made it sound like the Coliseum Authority had a "contagious disease."

Mr. Russell responded that if not being on the list is a contagious disease, then, "It's running rampant throughout the community."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.