Last -- and certainly least

The Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority now has the glaring dishonor of being perhaps the last remaining dysfunctional unit of Augusta government.

That says a lot about how far Augusta has come, and how little the Coliseum Authority has come.

The Augusta Commission, the Aviation Commission, the Richmond County Board of Education, the Augusta Judicial Circuit -- all have made incredible improvements in the past year or two.

But down at the Coliseum Authority, it's gotten so bad -- with the impulsive firing of longtime key employees, to rancorous meetings, to walkouts and no-shows, to an entertainment complex that's too often idle and is losing $190,000 a month -- that the area's legislative delegation is drafting bills to fix the board in the state General Assembly.

That's a bit like patching the holes in the Titanic -- after it hits bottom. It's difficult to see how the Coliseum Authority can be fixed, absent a wholesale change of members and how they're chosen.

Legislators have responded to this creeping crisis with unusually swift action, thanks to the time and attention given by delegation leader Rep. Quincy Murphy.

We fear, however, they will be tinkering at the edges by merely allowing, as is being proposed, under-performing authority members to be removed by the Augusta Commission, and by running their terms concurrent with the terms of those who appointed them to the authority.

It's much better than the status quo, certainly. But we agree with the sentiments of Augusta Commissioner Don Grantham, who suggested at a recent meeting that the entire Coliseum Authority be removed and reappointed. Barbara Sims, a former commissioner and now a state representative put it succinctly: "I'm for starting over."

So are we.

We also agree with suggestions of shrinking the authority from 14 members. Let's be honest: There are 14 Coliseum Authority members in order to throw a bone to the four legislators and 10 commissioners who appoint them. The tender political ego, in other words, is at the bottom of this problem.

And with all due respect to our state legislators, why in the world should they get involved in running the local civic arena?

"I do not believe that the state representatives ought to have the authority to appoint to any (local) board," says Augusta Commissioner J.R. Hatney.

Agreed.

At bottom, we've got a board that's the product of political patronage trying to run a complicated entertainment complex. Why on Earth, then, are we surprised that politics is getting in the way?

It's instructive that our well-meaning legislators are looking into getting the Coliseum Authority some board training from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. That's well-meaning, but isn't it a bit late to be orienting this group? And what does that say about the situation -- that the board members responsible for millions of dollars of taxpayer funds need remedial education? If they don't know how to function as board members, they don't need training -- they need to find the exits and hand the keys over to some grown-ups who can concentrate on getting some more lease-paying, concession-selling events into the facility.

The Coliseum Authority is craning its neck to look up at "good enough." But in this competitive entertainment climate -- including a new facility at the University of Aiken-South Carolina just down the road -- good enough isn't good enough anymore. It never was.

We can't settle for merely settling the Coliseum Authority down and achieving adequate yearly progress, or some other plodding government notion of making headway.

This thing needs an extreme makeover. Now.

The best thing the politicians can do is create a better structure and get out of the way.

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