Saturday, September 6, 2014

Augusta Mayor “Poor" Legacy

AUGUSTA, GA (Anibal Ibarra) - A survey revealed recently is not very uplifting about the legacy of Copenhaver after 9 years in office. Actually his "report card" is according to the responders of the survey “poor.” Only 659 people from 200 thousand residents responded the online survey, nevertheless probably it represents the sentiment of most who don’t have access to the Internet.

In January of this year in his final “State of the City” address, Mayor Deke Copenhaver outlined a legacy of a victorious warrior, as an “Ironman” who made Augusta a vibrant city, with surplus on jobs, financial stability and unity. He has being the smily face of Augusta even in the worst of times. 

Copenhaver convinced six Augusta commissioners to approve a $194 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) package, ultimately rejected by Richmond County voters in May of this year.

As part of the failed SPLOST VII Copenhaver managed to bring together six commissioners to agree to match $8 million for Georgia Regents University’s cancer center and approve about $5 million for his Augusta Regional Collaboration Project, and $6 million for Paine College.

Copenhaver helped unite commissioners to almost unanimously agree (the vote was 9-0 with Commissioner Mary Davis -his former campaign treasurer- absent from the chambers) to move forward with addressing some of the issues revealed in a 2009 disparity study that stated the city was discriminating against minority- and women-owned businesses. The study has been on a shelf for the past five years.

Commissioners approved a nearly $8 million property tax increase during the most debated issue in 7 years by the public and city officials. The vote was 5-5, forcing Mayor Deke Copenhaver to break the tie in favor of the tax hike of 1.75, still a lower rate in the state.

Poor or Trail of Controversies

It is hard to convey if the legacy of Augusta Mayor Copenhaver would be of poor services provided to the residents or for the controversies occurred under his watch as the head of the local Executive branch of government. The latest could have impacted the first. Cause-consequence?

The turmoil during the Mayor’s administration is impressive, therefore I will mention only those that came to memory. If I remember more in the future I would probably being adding: 

} Parking deck 
} Municipal Golf Court 
} Gay Parade declaration
} Mayor's Prayer Breakfast cancellation (Karen Nixon, Executive Assistant was organizing)
} Redistricting
} Renovating the Municipal building without securing funds first
} Slum declaration of downtown in order to secure funds for renovations
} Expediting URA appointees with wrong appointees to secure funds for renovations
} Expediting URA formation in weeks while other boards still remain in limbo after years 
} Laney Walker/Bethlehem Development 
} Two private companies hired in a year to operate Augusta Public Transit with not much changes
} Transit Director still vacant 
} Fred Russell (Emergency Manager Style) and abrupt firing
} Failed to hire new Administrator
} Firing of the Recreation Director
} Trash collection cut from twice per week to once per week
} SPLOST VII failure
} James Brown Movie Premier tickets 
} Chiquita Johnson (2007-2010) fired as General Counsel. Before was fired counselor Eugene Jessup.
} Three Commissioners censured for doing business with the city
} Censured Commissioner Joe Jackson resignation
} Transit study of 2009 not implemented
} Disparity study of 2009 not implemented 
} Ice Storm response and FEMA reimbursement 
} Settlement costs for lawsuits that could have being prevented. At least the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast suit was avoided. Other lawsuit was prevented but at a very expensive cost for taxpayers, such as the severance packages giving to personnel (Chiquita Johnson and Fred Russell among several) - Some might see it as a bribe for not suing the city.
} Commissioner Donnie Smith investigations as Georgia State Patrol and his resignation 
} Too many closed doors sessions 

“Silicon Valley of the South”

The first ever survey to put by the city results are pretty much what for a long time during the tenure of Copenhaver many residents felt like. It was not a surprise. The shock came from the level of participants, mostly from white rich men districts. Richmond County is composed by a majority black and women population with about 8 thousand Hispanics and less percentage of Asians origins. 

It could be perfectly reasonable to call Augusta “The Silicon Valley of the South” with the Cyber Command Center situated this year at Fort Gordon, which brings hight tech companies to the area and after winning in the past the “Digital City” award at a national level. Also, free access to Wi-Fi is provided in the downtown area.

Unfortunately 659 responders from 200.000 residents to the online survey opens to so many questions that the authorities might not want to ask: why?

Deke Copenhaver was first elected mayor in 2005 in a runoff against former Augusta Commissioner Willie Mays to fill the unexpired term of Bob Young. He had no real political experience, but he was well known throughout the affluent sections of Augusta. He received 56 percent of the votes cast in a runoff against veteran candidate Mays.

He has being subsequently re-elected in 2006 and 2010. Copenhaver was born in Montreal, Canada and raised in Columbia County, Georgia.

Senator and Pastor Hardie Davis will replace Copenhaver, as the Chief Executive Officer of Augusta Richmond County, starting January 2015.

I have to give credit to Mayor Copenhaver and the personnel in charge for providing the survey though.

Next time hired me. You might have a few more responses to your survey.

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