HomeOpinionSylvia Cooper Column: City politics asked and answered

Sylvia Cooper Column: City politics asked and answered

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The News in Brief: Questions Asked and Answered.

Q: Who will be the interim Augusta city administrator now that Odie Donald is leaving?

A: Commissioner Ben Hasan and Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Williams haven’t decided yet and told the rest what they will do.

Q: If commissioners do decide to hire a recruiting firm to find an interim administrator, will they hire the same one they used to recruit a fire chief?

A: Commissioner Ben Hasan and Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Williams haven’t decided yet and told the rest what they will do.

Q: What happened to former Mayor Bob Young’s offer to serve as interim administrator without pay?

A: What happened to the Titanic? It hit an iceberg.

Q: Will Donald tell the unvarnished truth about his brief tenure as administrator during his exit interview Wednesday?

A: Only if they put thumb screws on him.

Q: Does Odie still think Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. walks on water?

A: No. And he never did. It’s called butt kissing.

Q: Will Odie say he thinks the commission is a well-oiled machine working together for the benefit of the community?

A: Not if he doesn’t want to be laughed out of town.

Q: What’s going to happen to the GOP redistricting map that passed in the state Legislature this week?

A: The same thing that would have happened if the Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee’s map that split up the Summerville neighborhood had passed in the state Legislature this week. The opposite party will sue, and a U.S. District Court judge will redraw it.

Q: Is it against the law for a sitting elected official to be campaigning and raising money for another office he’s running for while still sitting?

A: That question is obviously aimed at Richmond County Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick and Commissioner Dennis Williams who are running for mayor, and the answer is that it is not against the law as long as they’re not campaigning during office hours.

Q: Former state Sen. Charles Walker was recently quoted as saying that Augusta needs a stronger mayor with more power. What would have happened if Hardie Davis had had more power?

A: The city would have paid $10 million for part of the Regency Mall property and built a $240-million James Brown Arena, and New York developer and mall owner Alan Cardinale would have kept the rest and charged the Coliseum Authority for parking. Also, Davis would be driven around in an Escalade and have an armed security detail 24/7.  And every member of his church would be a city department head or deputy department head.

Q: Augusta Commissioner Catherine McKnight says it’s time to end the mask mandate in government buildings, but the mayor says they should “move beyond the place of Gov. Kemp’s policies and be our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.” And wait for the scientists to tell us we don’t need masks. So how long will it be before Davis wants to lift the mandate?

A: Given the nature of the mayor’s current situation with the state Ethics Commission, he’ll try to hide behind a mask as long as he can.

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Money Falling from Trees

Downtown Development Authority officials gave a glowing report on the renaissance of Augusta’s downtown area Tuesday, citing $81.5 million in new apartment complexes, businesses and expansions.

According to DDA board Chairman Jack Evans, the authority has refocused, has a new logo, created a video project and embarked on a campaign under the heading of “Telling Our Story,” to various groups which is what they did at Tuesday’s Augusta Commission meeting.

The board’s design committee completed an inventory of vacant and blighted buildings and accepted a $314,000 bid on wrought iron arches for the main entrance of Riverwalk.

The DDA has also facilitated 17 loans from the Georgia Cities loan program totaling $2.9 million.  Downtown has seen a net gain of 45 new businesses, three business expansions, and has $83.1 million in new pre-sale investments in the Broad Street corridor.

Already this year, twenty-one new businesses have opened or made announcements, and two have expanded.

And there was more good news for downtown Augusta at Tuesday’s meeting from city Traffic Engineer John Ussery who updated commissioners on the $25 million makeover of Broad Street from Washington Road to East Boundary.

 The Broad Street Concept is in the third and final band of Transportation Improvement Act (TIA) projects being paid for with 1 cent sales tax money. Construction is scheduled to begin after the Master’s Golf Tournament next year and worked on in three sections that will transform Broad Street into a muiti-modal corridor with specific areas dedicated for cars, trucks and buses, parking, separated bike lanes and pedestrian paths, all handicap accessible.

The Fifth Street bridge, currently under construction, will connect to Broad Street and provide multi-modal improvements and more options for the traveling public in downtown Augusta, Ussery said.

Improvements at the James Brown Linear Park include the statue being raised above street level on a concrete pedestal with a fountain and pedestrian terrace below.

“The ultimate goal for all of the projects is to improve the function and esthetic appearance of the downtown area,” Ussery said. “All separate projects are designed with connection in mind. Our objective is to improve the overall multi-faceted quality of life in historic downtown Augusta and draw more of our residents and visitors to this area of our city.”

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From Ruin to Renewal

And with all of that good news about what’s going on now and in the future in downtown Augusta, I thought it was time for another drive down Broad Street to see how it looks now since I wrote about it in 2020.  At that time, downtown was dank and dirty with littered streets and sidewalks, broken fountains, broken windows on buildings. Riverwalk was likewise trashy, with overflowing garbage cans, overgrown bushes and weeds growing everywhere. There was also badly damaged concrete and missing bricks from the upper walkway. 

So, Friday, we drove down Broad Street and the streets were not littered with trash, windows on buildings had been washed and the broken plate glass window had been replaced. Riverwalk was also cleaner, the garbage cans had been emptied recently, and there were no weeds and grass growing out of every available crack, but that might be because we’re in the middle of winter.

Augusta Riverwalk 2022. Photo by Sylvia Cooper

On the negative side, there are five or six places on the upper level of Riverwalk that have two, three, four or more bricks missing. Some were marked with what looked like yellow crime scene tape that had been there so long it had almost worn away. So, consider this a public service announcement for the prevention of lawsuits against the city. I can only imagine a couple out for a stroll down Riverwalk one fine evening stepping into one of the holes and breaking a bone after being distracted like I was one day. While admiring the beautiful houses across the river, I walked off the sidewalk, fell and tore a hole in my new silk slacks.

And speaking of negative, anybody who thinks I’m too negative, I am happy to report the number of vacant store fronts I counted was down to 74 from 75 in 2020.

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Clear Vision from Telfair Street

After our Broad Street drive, we drove on over to C&C Automotive to report that the air conditioning in our van had stopped working and started talking to owner Aaron Clements whose parents, John and Mary Clements had a garage 10th and Broad in 1979 and the 80s. And Aaron has a picture of that building with the words “We Believe in Downtown Augusta” painted on the side.

Aaron toyed with the idea of running for the Augusta Commission a few years back, and he knows a lot about downtown Augusta. So, I asked him whether he thought there was much crime there.

“As far as you consider what’s real crime, it hasn’t been that much,” he said. “But what’s happened is year after year, when downtown starts to flourish, something happens. For instance, the First Friday deal that was beginning to flourish. Then somebody and his girlfriend got hit in the head down on Riverwalk. Then downtown goes down again.  So, then they start to build it up again. Then a person got shot on Broad Street. So, then it goes down again.”

Aaron said he once spoke to a commission committee about how helpful he thought security cameras would be in preventing crime in downtown Augusta, and they almost laughed at him. So, he doesn’t talk about it anymore.

“I told them that you can build everything you want to build,” he said. “You can build the most beautiful building you want, but until somebody feels safe, they’re not going to come. Safety and security is one of your most basic instincts.”

The Telfair Street garage has cameras everywhere, he said, because without them, he’d be a prime target for break-ins and burglaries.

“If somebody comes by and wants to break in, and they see the cameras, they’ll say, ‘Let’s go on down the street,’” he said.

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They Could Start Here

I asked Aaron whether it was the city or business owners who had improved Broad Street’s appearance because city Administrator Odie Donald had committed some of the $82 million of American Rescue Plan dollars to a cleanup and a “Pothole Palooza,” to fill all of the potholes in Augusta.

“No,” he said. “But there are some big ones over there that I’d love to see them grab. But to me, that is like when they say they’re going to have a weekend cleanup. Everybody’s going to clean up. That’s one weekend.  I think the one-time cleanups are good, but there needs to be some continuity.”

(I wrote the following for my Facebook page a year ago and thought I’d include it in this column to give some readers a break from politics.)

Succotash on That!

I was reading a “Southern Living” magazine article the other day about how a designer transformed an ordinary looking house into a showplace. What caught my attention was what the designer said about bookcases and the photo that showed how attractive a bookcase could look. Well, that got me to thinking about the bookcase in my bedroom with all the cookbooks crammed into it.

I love cookbooks and like to read them because many have descriptions and drawings of famous landmarks, hotels and the celebrities of bygone days who dined there. Some even have the menus of the feasts they served on New Years Day or Christmas Day. They were so lavish and so cheap by today’s standards.

Anyway, I decided to thin out the cookbooks and pack up the ones that didn’t pertain to Georgia or South Carolina. So I pulled out a few, but decided to look through them before I put them up. The first one was an unimpressive looking slender book of only 60 pages. The name was “Favorite Recipes from Our Best Cooks Cook Book.”

It was a “Book of Favorite Recipes” compiled by Women’s Missionary Band of The Church of God of Prophecy, 1973-74.

As I said it was unimpressive looking from the outside, but inside it had every household hint, emergency  measures, ways to use leftovers, menus for dieters, illustrations for carving every kind of  meat, from a turkey to a standing rib roast. It is truly a remarkable little book. It even had a page that told you which Bible verses to go to that covered a whole range of human emotions, such as loneliness, depression, fear and so forth.

But the most interesting thing in it to me was the perpetual calendar. Once I figured out how to follow the directions, I began finding the days of the week everybody whose birthday I knew were born on. Ernie and I both were born on Wednesday, which according to the little ditty there meant we are loving and giving.

If you’ll send me the year, month and day you were born, I’ll tell you which day of the week you were born on. It’s just a fun thing to do. And not just for birthdays. You can also find out the day of the week historical events occurred.

Nowhere in the book did it say the town or state the Women’s Missionary Band were in, but the local businesses who bought ads, like Willene’s Beauty Shop, indicated they were in Hamilton, Mississippi. If only I could have spent some time in Willene’s Beauty Shop in the ‘70s, just listening, I could have been another Eudora Welty.

One more thing about the cookbook and I’ll stop because I know some people have no interest in cookbooks. But in looking at the menu suggestions for which side dishes go with which kinds of meat,  poultry or fish, I saw the word “succotash,” and since I’d been thinking and writing about Mama it triggered a memory I’ll tell you about.

When I was growing up, at suppertime one evening, Mama called us to the table. When Daddy came in, he asked what we were having, and Mama told him chicken or something and said “succotash.” Daddy just grunted. Then my youngest sister Jan came in and asked the same thing. When she heard Mama say, “succotash,” she made a face and said, “Ugg!’; whereupon Mama grabbed the succotash pot and went and threw it out the door into the back yard.

Sylvia Cooper is a columnist with The Augusta Press. Reach her at [email protected]  

Opinions expressed in columns and other opinion pieces published in The Augusta Press do not necessarily reflect the newspaper’s stance.

11 COMMENTS

  1. So we got the number on business openings..what was the number of closings..that’s important to really get an idea..Hopefully Hardie will get to be cell President soon..that’s about as much power as he deserves..

  2. Sylvia, here’s a new cookbook for your collection, written by Princess Augusta’s cook and
    seamstress in 1747. It’s still in print: First Catch A Hate…The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, by Hannah Glasse.

  3. My visits to Downtown Augusta: After Dark: NEVER. Before 2:00 PM: Sports Center (once per month). Art on Broad (once or twice per month). Casella Eye Care (twice per year). Also, why doesn’t the city place some simple, efficient cigarette disposals along the sidewalks? Cigarette butts are visible everywhere. In general, Downtown is unkempt and in need of a major overhaul.

  4. A joy to reconnect with Sylvia’s column again. What a way she has with words. Would love to see her analysis of the Catholic priest in Phoenix who has Baptized for years using the “incorrect” verbage “we” rather than “I”. Word is all those Baptisms are “”invalid” and the recipients must be located and rebaptized. I personally think God knows what he meant and He understands. There are so many things God has to deal with right now( Russia, Pelosi, Canada , the Southern border and so many other issues).Awaiting your columnn Sylvia. Your trip to CC Automotive turned into an interesting read.

  5. DOES THIS $25 MILLION DOLLAR MAKEOVER OF BROAD STREET INCLUDE TEARING DOWN THE CONFEDERATE MONUMENT ?
    IT IS NO SECRET THAT THE COMMISSIONERS HAVE DELAYED VOTING ON TEARING DOWN OR REMOVING THE CONFEDERATE MONUMENT UNTIL AFTER THE SPRING / SUMMER ELECTIONS —-
    for obvious political reasons !
    WILL THE AUGUSTA PRESS QUESTION THE CANDIDATES FOR MAYOR AND COMMISSIONER ON THIS ISSUE ?

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