Development is Fennoy's top priority

John Curry/Staff
Bill Fennoy wants to tackle urban blight around his Laney-Walker neighborhood and create jobs for people in the district.

Ask Bill Fennoy what's wrong with Augusta, and he'd rather show you than tell you, and he doesn't have to go far.

Across the street from his house on Dugas Street, in the Laney-Walker neighborhood, there's a rotting abandoned house with an overgrown yard. The woman who lives in a well-kept home next door is having trouble with rats, he said.

"This shouldn't be," Mr. Fennoy said, "and what's so sad is that we just have so much of it."

He fanned out farther in a cruise of nearby neighborhoods, pointing out rows of boarded-up shotgun houses and weeks-old yard waste piled up on lawns. He questions why the weeds behind the fence in the back of East View Community Center have grown six to eight feet tall, and why there are no sidewalks in front of Hornsby Elementary and East Augusta Middle schools.

"As a commissioner, I could find out who's responsible and try to get the right agency to respond," Mr. Fennoy said. "If they need more funds to operate, then try to get the funds for them to do their jobs."

With the endorsement of outgoing Commissioner Betty Beard, Mr. Fennoy is running for the District 1 seat on a platform of economic development and eliminating urban blight, issues sure to resonate in areas such as Laney-Walker and East Augusta, where many of the district's voters live.

He made a name for himself in recent years as one of the last members of the old Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, which means that while he has experience on the front lines of Augusta politics, he was also part of the infighting that led state legislators to conclude that the board needed an overhaul.

Then there was the brawl with citizen activist Woody Merry in May 2008, which had both men booked for simple battery. Mr. Fennoy was ultimately exonerated -- an investigation led Solicitor Harold Jones to dismiss Mr. Fennoy's charges and dead-docket Mr. Merry's case on the condition that he issue an apology.

Mr. Fennoy said the incident won't hurt him, not in District 1 anyway.

"It may be an albatross in some parts of the community," he said, "but not in the vast majority of the community."

Laid-back and plain-spoken, Mr. Fennoy had no qualms about describing his relationship with convicted former state Sen. Charles Walker, who he says was unfairly targeted for prosecution.

In the 1970s, Mr. Fennoy spent a few years managing Reklaw's Mini Mart on Milledgeville Road for Mr. Walker, and he described him as a tough boss with a heart of gold. He said he visited Mr. Walker in prison last month.

One thing he shares with Mr. Walker is a love for the neighborhood. In 2001, Mr. Fennoy was among the first homebuyers to take the plunge on new houses built by the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp., or ANIC. He had lost his wife of 29 years to lupus earlier that year and wanted a change of scenery, he said.

Downtown is slowly turning around, he said, but the people living there need help.

"I see a lot of people walking the streets in my district, and I see a lot of hopelessness on their faces," Mr. Fennoy said. "If we can't create the jobs for the people that are living in the district, then how can we expect the people that are living in the district to take care of their families and take care of their properties?"

BILL FENNOY

AGE: 61

FAMILY: Widower; sons Trent Hollins, 40, of Charlotte, N.C., Daryl Fennoy, 31, of Augusta; two granddaughters

EDUCATION: Diploma from Carver High School in Spartanburg, S.C., class of 1972; B.A. in history from Paine College

CAREER: Part-time intake officer for the Department of Juvenile Justice; retired health educator for the Richmond County Health Department; worked at Community Mental Health Center in the in-home crisis and day treatment programs; former juvenile corrections officer at the Augusta Youth Development Campus

LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE: Former member, Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, as vice chairman, treasurer and secretary

CAMPAIGN PLATFORM: Bringing economic development to Augusta; addressing abandoned houses and overgrown yards; addressing crime; addressing needed road repairs and torn-up roads; attracting more businesses