(Disclaimer: This is an opinion post)
Augusta has seen marginal growth the last two decades; however, crime, corruption and failing schools are putting the community’s future growth prospects in jeopardy.
Last month the CEO of McDonald’s Corp informed the mayor of Chicago that the city was in danger of losing the company’s corporate headquarters and $2 billion a year in economic impact. Unsurprisingly, the mayor ignored the warning and instead attacked the CEO. Since the letter Tyson Food Inc. announced it was leaving the city. Over the past year Citadel and Boeing have all moved corporate headquarters from Chicago.
This column is meant to serve as a warning that if Augusta’s leadership does not take immediate corrective action Augusta will face the same plague of business departures that have troubled Chicago.
Despite some positive revitalization Augusta faces multiple challenges in the days to come. Homelessness, crime, rising taxes, housing shortages, a failing school system, government corruption and an anti-growth attitude all put Augusta’s future at risk.
Admittedly, I am optimistic about next year when a new mayor and commission will take the helm, especially with two commissioners who have eight years each of previous experience. It would be naïve though to think that a few new faces are going to solve all of the problems caused by the previous administration.
Chief of my concerns is crime. Augusta’s sheriff is absent and disengaged with the community. Sheriff Richard Roundtree has taken the department to a dangerous crossroads. Tons of positions are unfilled because nobody wants to work under his leadership or lack thereof. Crime is up, and morale is down. Deputies are no longer responding to alarm calls, a move that the sheriff’s office publicized not thinking of how that decision would be received. Criminals now know that they can break in a building after hours, and nobody is going to show up to stop them. Shootings are almost a daily occurrence, and parents can’t even go to high school football games out of fear.
The number one variable affecting property values and population growth is the quality of the school system. Everybody knows that Richmond County schools are failing even if those in leadership deny it publicly. Transparency does not exist in the Richmond County school system. The public information office’s goal is to hide as much information as possible and avoid the media at all costs. People don’t move to Richmond County solely because of the quality of the schools.
Augusta government has no leadership. Its mayor gallivants all over the world in search of his next job while dodging lawsuits and ethics investigations while secretly telling those close to him he plans to run for governor in the next cycle after Kemp’s second term.
Truth be told Augusta has not had a mayor for a few years now. Hardie Davis Jr. may show up to the occasional commission meeting and sign a few papers here and there, but his mind has never been on helping the community or its citizens. Davis’ objective was always to get what he could for himself off of the backs of those he is supposed to be serving. He may have run on a platform of transparency, instead, he shepherded in an era of fear and intimidation where department heads constantly fear for their jobs and are pressured into avoiding media and transparency. Davis has overseen what I believe to be the most corrupt government in Augusta’s history, and time will prove that to be true.
A giant leadership void exists in Augusta. I know a few county commissioners are aware of this and are starting to step up and fill the gap. To put things in perspective the votes to fire the director of Parks and Recreation are not there on the county commission. The department is clearly the worst run in the city. Things are so bad that the city had to hire an outside consultant to effectively do the director’s job. But the commission doesn’t have the spine to call for his resignation. The same department director, Maurice McDowell, was fired from his job in Statesboro for having an inappropriate relationship with a county employee, according to a 2008 article in the Statesboro Herald. Shortly after that incident, Augusta officials thought it was a great idea to hire him. Our chickens have come home to roost.
Homelessness has always been a problem in the area and always will. Both the sheriff’s office and county commission know that homeless people are being bussed in from other communities but have not taken any tangible steps to correct the problem. Instead, business owners bear the brunt of cleaning up behind the homeless people and dealing with the crime that comes with their presence. I truly have empathy for those who are homeless and as a city we should try and reduce the number living on the streets but that requires engaged leaders who are willing to engage.
Part of the homelessness problem is due to a shortage of housing. The county commission constantly votes down good development projects that would increase the number of housing units while complaining that there is a housing shortage and increasing rents. They miss the fact that if you as a city are not growing you are shrinking. The anti-growth attitude has to change, or the housing crisis is only going to get worse.
Many in leadership across the city will dismiss this warning I am making, but they do so to the peril of the city. If city leadership does not take immediate steps to rectify these issues Augusta will continue to denigrate to the quality of cities like Chicago.
The businesses that have elected to locate their facilitates within the boundaries of Augusta-Richmond County can relocate. Many already have moved to Columbia and Aiken counties. Residents deserve a safe community to live in where their tax dollars are spent appropriately. Employees deserve to have a safe place to go to work. Customers deserve a safe place to go shop. Children deserve a safe place to go to school. If Augusta can’t fix turn the tide, more businesses and citizens will continue to leave the community to never return.
Joe Edge is the publisher of The Augusta Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
You are a prophet, in this one sentence, the next-to-last paragraph, “Many in leadership across the city will dismiss this warning I am making, but they do so to the peril of the city.”
Richmond County elected officials will start to dread seeing you at a public meeting, as they do in seeing Sylvia Cooper. You tell The Truth! Thank you!
You have told the truth. Now get ready for the Everything Downtown Group to go on the attack against you.
wow….finally someone telling it like it is …. not only leadership being a problem but other things we cannot talk about…like “this and that and this and that” …. thanks Joe for your boldness … it renews my interest in TAP.
Last time a true article about Augusta was posted, a certain well liked columnist had her column edited and her job disappeared. I sure am glad you own this paper! Thank you for having Augustas best interest at heart.
Yes, thank you TAP for putting Augusta’s best interests first.
Make Augusta Great Again!
I like the way that sounds.
Your observation that many democrat run cities are suffering the same woe’s. Could there be a reason?
The voters in Richmond County don’t read this and most don’t care anyway. Therein lies the real problem.
For those who Love Augusta – the truth hurts. A new MAyor and some new blood on the Commission will not help if they are corrrupted before being sworn in. Independent Commissioners are made fun of by other Commissioners during meetings. The problems are not all in the streets.
Look at the majority of what’s causing most of the crime, also the majority of the so called leadership that won’t do anything about it. It’s the same in Chicago, SanFrancisco, New York, Atlanta and now Augusta. These so called leader’s don’t have the intelligence for these positions yet people like minded as they are keep electing them. They are only in there for the big bucks. Facts are facts, but unfortunately some of the leaders are afraid to bring it up.
Teetering? This opinion would have held just as much truth had it been written 30 years ago. These elected officials were all duly elected by the voters. The problems are all self inflicted which is why Augusta-Richmond county is the sacrificial lamb. Anyone can drive through the area and plainly see good county (Columbia and Aiken) and bad county (Richmond).
Truer words could not be spoken except you forgot the cronyism, too. However, I will say that other local school districts are just as bad at concealment. Only this year it seems the tables turned over. The reasons our schools are failing in Richmond County are the reasons stated in this article. It’s not for lack of trying by the teachers and school administrators. There is no leadership downtown with common sense. Throwing more and more “assessment” tests and changing technologies every year make it hard for teachers to focus on the students. The teachers spend half their time trying to figure out the latest “new thing” being tossed at them from downtown… Meanwhile, nothing gets removed to make room for these new assessments. It’s just piled on top of everything else. Good teachers are tired of it and seek employment elsewhere. Mediocre teachers don’t care because there are no disciplinary actions taken to correct their problems. And then downtown can’t afford to get rid of those bad ones because they have no one better options available to replace them. They have no teachers to replace them because of the crime and political environment in the entire city.
The hired School System Superintendent, Assistant Superintendents, Principals, and Government Sector Teachers Union members- Government School Teachers shouldn’t be let off the the hook. They are in there with the rest of the incompetent and corrupt government workers.
Hooray for Lillard!
Post this on FB without the paywall. A lot more Augustans will see it.
Copy & paste it as I did.
actually the paywall was not on this story from the beginning. thanks and please share.
Mr. Edge, thanks for publishing this editorial. It’s sad that a city with so much potential has to suffer at the hands of careless leaders. I hope our new mayor is willing to use his common-sense business skills in persuading others to follow his lead. However, there aren’t many TIES TO BREAK among our city commissioners.
Which companies have left Richmond and gone to Columbia/Aiken counties? Not that I am disagreeing with your letter, I would just like to know.
Let’s begin alphabetically. Automobile Dealerships, Building Suppliers,……
I am in complete agreement with your statements, Joe. Right this minute, we have a guy that is trying to clean up on the “Hell Holes” in ARC, and his security building is being “visited” by Code Enforcement. When businesses leave, their commercial property is most of the time, harder to re-sell, than in other areas. You know that better than anyone else. The new Mayor is vested in his City, but like you stated, he will not be able to turn things around without help from the Commissioners. They all need to be put on notice to that effect. We have a new Mayor coming into office. Maybe it is time for a new Sheriff — one that shows up in a uniform, and not a $500 suit. We’ve lost eight years with Hardie. We have ground to make up.
“one of the…”
Augusta is burning; the leaders are fiddling; the sheep are flocking to the abyss.
Maybe a few well placed billboards stating, “Welcome to Augusta, GA, Chicago of the South.” would get voters’ attention. Never mind, most would not get it and some would take it as a compliment. Augusta is the perfect storm of poor parenting, poorer schools, a stale economy, limited housing, absent law enforcement and prosecution, and arrogant, ignorant, racially biased, self-serving government. If AU, SRS, Vogtle, and Fort Gordon (sorry Ike) disappeared, Augusta would dry up and blow away in the wind. Augusta cannot be preserved until voters start to care and get engaged; competent, ethical people run for office and are elected; and businesses and investors see Augusta as a profitable market.