Copenhaver is optimistic

What began as a speech Thursday by Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver on the importance of health care to the city's economy turned into a wider-ranging discussion about the Augusta Commission and his optimism for the future.

Mr. Copenhaver, in one of his first public remarks since two commission seats were decided in a runoff election Tuesday, said he hopes some of the distracting antics that plagued the body are now behind it.

He spoke to about 120 people from 60 local medical practices at a gathering held by Physician Sales and Service, a medical supply company catering to physician offices.

"One of the absolute keys to selling the city is we've got the finest medical community, I firmly believe, in the Southeast," said Mr. Copenhaver, who considers himself the "lead salesman" for Augusta.

That abundance of health care resources is luring both retirees and new industry, with 3,000 new jobs announced just within the past year, he said. There also is tremendous growth in Augusta's hospitals.

"University Hospital is expanding, Doctors Hospital is expanding, Medical College of Georgia is expanding here in Augusta," Mr. Copenhaver said. "Our medical community is an economic driving engine for all of Augusta and really, all of the CSRA."

But when he took questions from the audience, much of the interest was in the commission. Although Mr. Copenhaver had endorsed the opponent of one of the two new commissioners elected, he still thought that all three new commissioners coming on board would bring a new attitude to the governing body.

"I couldn't be more excited about 2008 from a commission perspective," Mr. Copenhaver said. "I've spoken to all three of the newly elected commissioners. They're all good guys."

In addition to being younger, the men have families and jobs that ground them, he said.

"And it's not like they're going to have the time to be down there trying to manage the day-to-day operations of the city," he said, something current and former commissioners have been accused of doing.

The commission spent more than a month this year on what Mr. Copenhaver called "Computergate," the battle by some commissioners to examine Administrator Fred Russell's office computer to see whether he had been using it for personal business, an accusation that proved groundless.

"I thought, if we had taken that month and a half of time and energy and put it into looking at the big picture, planning for the future of the city, how much further along the line would we be?" Mr. Copenhaver said. "I do believe that we have the commission that will really be focused on doing that next year."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.