February 1, 2007
AUGUSTA, Ga.---Today, Augusta commissioners got help from an out-of-town expert as they looked for common ground.
The group spent seven hours at the Old Government House for a retreat.
It's not often you get the Commission together like this, raising their hands and raising concerns with no one raising their voices. But today, that's what happened.
It was a time to laugh and a time to disagree, in a professional way.
The mood at the Old Government House was a stark contrast to the rumbling often coming from the marble palace.
City leaders agree their personal agendas are blocking progress.
"The perception by the community (is) that we are a bunch of bumbling idiots because we put politics ahead of the community and residents," said Commissioner Bernard Harper.
The retreat, organized by Mayor Deke Copenhaver, was a chance to vent frustrations while getting help from an out-of-town expert moderator.
"We as a commission do not need to be driven by people's personal agendas, or by a small group of folks," Mayor Copenhaver said.
City leaders spent seven hours identifying problems and working towards a solution.
The group did the same thing last year, but at the very next meeting, they were back to their old tricks.
Commissioners say this time they've moved forward. Commissioner Don Grantham touts the recent election of Betty Beard as mayor pro-tem as proof that fewer votes are going along racial lines.
"That's part of our goal, to make sure we do bring the racial issues to the front and make sure it works smoothly," he said.
Commissioner Marion Williams says he will follow rules of conduct--but don't expect him to quiet down.
"I'm a Baptist preacher," he said. "I can't change that. That was in my genes from the time I was conceived. Just comes out of me. I use it the way I need to use it, and I plan to do that."
And with things often easier said than done, we'll see if they'll put what's on paper into practice.
"Are we going to take action on the retreat results that we get? I think we will," Grantham said.
The Commission came up with several new rules during today's retreat, and they've all agreed to follow them.
Once an issue has been voted on, they won't spend time debating it any further.
They've agreed to table controversial items before they get out of hand.
They'll hold press conferences to announce big initiatives.
And finally, they will conduct themselves as adults, because the public is watching.