Augusta Commissioners considered several wide-ranging issues at their June 21 meeting, including the ongoing discussion of a permanent contract between the city and Gold Cross EMS, the failure to keep local outdoor pools open and the fate of the city’s Confederate monument.
For several years, the city has operated under a memorandum of understanding with Gold Cross EMS, and both parties say it is time for a formal contract to be negotiated. However, the issue has been who should be at the negotiating table with the EMS provider.
Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Williams has made it abundantly clear that he wants the negotiating body to include commissioners and has very publicly called for subsidies paid to Gold Cross be billed quarterly by the company instead of paid up front.
District 4 Commissioner Alvin Mason disagreed stating, “No one on this body is qualified to negotiate this type of contract.”
After lengthy debate, the commission agreed to allow the city attorney and interim administrator to negotiate the terms of a contract with Gold Cross EMS and to return to the commission for a vote. No timeline was given as to when a finished agreement should be submitted.
District 3 Commissioner Catherine McKnight placed an item on the agenda to discuss why, during the sweltering summer heat, some city operated swimming pools and splash pads are not open full time. The indoor pools at the Henry Brigham Center and the Augusta Aquatics Center are fully operational, but the city’s outdoor pools operate on a limited basis.
According to Parks and Recreation Director Maurice McDowell, Fleming pool is open Wednesday through Sunday from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m, Jones pool is open Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Dyess pool has been closed since 2018.
McDowell said that staffing lifeguards has been an issue even though the city pays lifeguards $15 an hour, a rate higher than the national average.
Another issue for the Parks and Rec Department, according to McDowell, is the fact that many of the pools and splash pads are old and require constant maintenance that takes them temporarily off-line. McDowell noted that Dyess pool is over 50 years old and said that he needed more funding to care properly for the aging structure.
McDowell’s mention of Dyess pool opened the door for District 10 Commissioner John Clarke to inquire as to why the Dyess pool has not been drained if it is not going to be used. Currently, the pool is filled with green algae, and the absence of chemicals in the water makes the pool a perfect mosquito breeding habitat.
According to McDowell, the pool cannot be drained due to “hydrostatic pressure.”
“There’s a term called hydrostatic pressure, and that’s basically your underground water table and the pressure that it creates. So, it is recommended that you leave the water level instead of having a spring you didn’t ask for,” McDowell said.
In a related matter, the commission voted by consent to approve $8.354 million for a long overdue overhaul of the Henry Brigham Center, including its pool facility. The original bid came in at around $1.6 million more than was allocated, and the commission agreed to use SPLOST 7 funding as well as funding from the American Recovery Plan to make up the difference.
Two separate delegations, accompanied by a large group of supporters, came before the commission at the Tuesday meeting to talk about the Confederate monument on Broad street. Michael Gallucci and Mallory Millender both advocated for the monument’s removal.
Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. empaneled a task force in 2020 to examine what to do with the monument, and the panel’s final conclusion was that the 76 foot tall spire, erected 154 years ago, should be moved to Magnolia Cemetery.
District 1 Commissioner Jordan Johnson, who has long advocated the monument’s removal, said he finds the monument offensive.
“We have the opportunity to make a statement, that hate is not welcome in the city, bigotry is not welcome in this city. It may be a fight to get it down, but we should commit one way or the other to do so or to not do so,” Johnson said.
The commission took no official action on the monumental matter.