Augusta leaders reflect on a controversial year in local politics

Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 6:34 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - 2021 has not been a kind year for local politics in Augusta. The fire chief hiring, the mayor’s credit card spending, a commissioner federally indicted. Now we’re learning about two state ethics investigation into Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. With all of these controversies, is public trust in local government still intact?

“It doesn’t look good, I know it doesn’t look good,” said Augusta Commissioner Catherine Smith McKnight, District 3.

A couple of billboards, an email, and another tough spot for Mayor Davis.

“We have a responsibility to make sure that we do follow all the rules. Which is difficult sometimes,” said Commissioner Dennis Williams, District 2.

Despite the email subpoenaed from Lamar advertising by the state ethics commission showing replied to an email thread named “Regency Mall Billboard.” The mayor denied any involvement in the project.

Commissioners say things might not always be as simple as they seem.

“OK’ing the design is not necessarily authorizing the placement,” said Williams.

“When the facts hit the table, and we look at what’s going on, then we work from there,” said McKnight.

But this isn’t the first big question mark concerning an Augusta leader this year. First it was a closed door fire chief selection. Then the mayor’s credit card spending. Calls for a forensic audit of the city. And a commissioner removed from his seat facing federal charges.

“Word on the street is people say they don’t trust our local government, that’s a disappointment. ... I believe in transparency,” said McKnight.

So how does a government body clear the smoke after several controversies?

“Now that it’s out, for the overall public good it should be cleared up with some type of explanation,” said Williams.

Instead of an explanation the mayor called a news conference with no questions allowed. So, others say the road to transparency may require an audit.

“The only way we’re gonna be able to bring back transparency at this point, is we might have to make that step, but it takes six votes,” said McKnight.

Both commissioners we spoke with agreed the results of the ethics investigation will determine the next steps. But they say if the state finds any wrongdoing on any elected leader’s part they should be held accountable.

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