There are several important local elections coming up at a critical time in Augusta's history. The "virtual reality" is that Augusta is on the verge of great things that can be accomplished only by us, as individuals. We must elect our very best candidates to represent us and our beloved city.
Having never recommended candidates for elected office before, and with the possibility of never recommending political candidates again, CSRAhelp has formed a Committee for Better Government to determine, in our estimation, who would make the best Augusta commissioners.
That committee recently had the opportunity to listen to all of the candidates at a forum held by the Augusta/Richmond County Committee for Good Government. Members of our committee also have observed candidates in other settings, including personal interviews such as those conducted in print and on talk-show radio programs.
Our committee members could not recall a better slate of candidates for every district. Every one would make a good commissioner. Almost all of the candidates expressed their desire to serve; to strive to get along with the other commissioners to move our city forward; and to further efforts set forth by Mayor Deke Copenhaver that have moved all of us past our petty differences and beyond.
All of the candidates were intelligent and articulate, and had the imagination and determination to conduct themselves as successful commissioners. However, there was one additional attribute that distinguished several above the others: Each had a plan.
THESE CANDIDATES said they were qualified to do the job, willing to do the job and would not stop fighting for their district and the city of Augusta until they had completed their jobs. But - decidedly different from other candidates - they told our committee members what they were going to do, and how they were going to do it. More importantly, these candidates will be able to devote the necessary time it takes not only to conduct the day-to-day operations of Augusta's government, but to successfully accomplish their individual plans.
These candidates had the political foresight to set beneficial, reasonable goals not just for their districts, but for all of Augusta. They presented no pie-in-the-sky promises, but supplied and explained their thoughts while showing how to implement their plans.
That God-given quality, with many others, is what has been sorely missing from some of our Augusta commissioners. We need leadership. Electing candidates in every district with this quality not only is essential for the constituents of each district, but will, in turn, logically provide leadership for all of Augusta's citizens.
It is our committee's firm belief that our mayor and all of the current commissioners not up for re-election are, at the very least, proven leaders. One may not always agree with them, but that is the price a leader must pay for making critical decisions to move our city forward. Only time will tell who was right or wrong. But we have a unique opportunity - no, a constitutional right and duty - to elect quality leaders to our commission.
CSRAHELP CONTINUALLY has pointed out the importance of economic development in Augusta, because economic development leads directly to other issues that our elected officials need to address - from better jobs, infrastructure and quality housing for our citizens to education and the arts, just to name a few.
But we can have none of those things without security and law enforcement. Our security and enforcement of our laws are, and always shall be, the first and most fragile dominos with respect to achieving our ultimate goal of increasing economic development in Augusta. No one will choose to live in a lawless society. Thus, priority No. 1 for our elected officials: Sheriff Ronnie Strength needs 50-75 new deputies, and he needs the money to hire them now!
Without belaboring the recent awareness of gang activity and the increase of home invasions, as soon as Augusta Commissioner Don Grantham made known at the aforementioned forum sponsored by the Committee for Good Government that our safety and security has become paramount, there were two other candidates who immediately came forward, could not agree more with the critical need for new deputies and actually told our committee members exactly what they were going to do about it.
Tony Lewis said the first thing he was going to do as a commissioner was to join Mr. Grantham to demand the funds to add as many new deputies as possible while offering competitive salaries. How? Mr. Lewis stated that he would get the money allocated for the new deputies - if not within the budgetary process, then within any process that he could possibly find, including but not limited to state and federal money. He would keep looking until he could find a way to make "our streets safe and our citizens secure." Now that's a plan with initiative!
Charlie Hannah went further than demanding new deputies. Mr. Hannah has a specific plan for his district to provide added security that will eventually pay for itself. Mr. Hannah wants to build "gated communities" within his district. This not only will provide additional security for his constituents, but new construction will provide new, well-paying jobs in his district, and new housing for displaced residents of Gilbert Manor and, if they choose to move, Hyde Park. Mr. Hannah is talking about hitting "three or four birds with one shot."
CRITICS OF Mr. Hannah's plan say that they don't want to live behind fences. Criminals live behind fences in prisons. Gated communities are designed to keep criminals out, not in. There is no statistical doubt that gated communities combined with Neighborhood Watch programs greatly reduces crime rates within gated communities, in addition to reducing crime in the surrounding areas.
And what happens with more security? The first dominos within the domino effect are firmly established, unable to be moved. By building new gated communities with added security, Mr. Hannah's district will experience secure residential neighborhoods, which equal secure local businesses springing up around those secure neighborhoods, which will increase the tax base, which equals more money for city government, which will pay for the new deputies, which will help all of Augusta because the commission will not have to raise our taxes to pay for new deputies. Wow! Now that's a leader.
Mr. Hannah has the necessary knowledge, experience and time to execute his plan. Mr. Hannah has been the project manager for many new developments such as the one just described in his plan for his district's revitalization, resulting in benefits to all Augusta citizens and taxpayers.
Augusta Commissioner Don Grantham consistently has exhibited the type of proven leadership that our committee members may possibly have seen a glimpse of within Mr. Lewis and Mr. Hannah. Only time will tell. But our committee believes that these candidates are the types of leaders whom each one of us need to elect to project Augusta from the "virtual reality" of great things, and into the actual reality of greater things for the common benefit of everyone in Augusta.
(The writers represent the citizen activist group CSRAhelp.)