Monday, March 18, 2019
(News 12 First @ 5)
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT)--The four community leaders running for the district 5 seat told us why they are good options, despite the mayor saying they were not. The candidates explained their main priorities for the district five's future, while also revealing missteps in their own pasts too.
Separate emphasis but a singular agreement they've all reached: District 5 has been overlooked and under-served.
If you asked the candidates what the area is missing, the answers range from safe neighborhoods to local business prosperity.
"Community welfare and making our community safe." Retired Richmond County Principal Bobby Williams said his platform is centered on neighborhood services.
Interim Commissioner Johnny Few has a similar focus too. "I'm going to try to bring pride back to the neighborhood."
Kelby Walker echoed, "I want to get people involved, I want the community involved, that's part of my community development."
"As far as business revitalization, economic development, and restaurants---it's a lot of stuff we're lacking out here," said Bernard Harper.
News 12 asked each of the four how they felt about the Mayor Davis' State of the City address, in which Davis said the low-turnout in early voting was a likely indicator that the district 5 candidates were not good options--the mayor later apologized during Tuesday's commission for his comments. Ultimately, each said they accept his apology and would like to simply focus on how they can work with the Mayor to improve Augusta.
The candidates don't dramatically differ on their hopes to improve the community, so here's a breakdown of what they said when we asked about their plans and perspectives on major city issues: Lock and Dam, parks and recreation safety, 911 zone, budgeting and some of their own legal battles.
Few says he's the ideal candidate because he's been working as a commissioner for the past few months so he's already adjusted to the role.
Lock and Dam
When it comes to the Lock and Dam, it should be saved, according to Few. The interim-commissioner explained he knows the CORPS has its own rules to follow but he's hoping the city can convince the CORPS the rock weir is detrimental.
In terms of the 911 zone, the city noted they plan to and will go after the zone--meaning Augusta Fire would control 911 calls instead of Gold Cross.
We asked each commissioner-hopeful about their understanding of it.
"I really don't understand it." Few continued, "but I'm in favor of the fire department." He says it's his understanding the fire crews are often at the scene first so they should be able to control the calls anyway.
Parks and Rec
"Fleming Park is a touchy situation and you know I'm sorry and the family has my condolences because I don't want to see any kid get hurt." Adding, "My children played there." Few doesn't have a formal plan to improve parks but he says he's confident there will be no other tragedies at city-owned centers. He claims "it's going to be better, 100 percent better."
Few described himself as a person who asks a lot of 'crazy questions' suggesting, the crazy questions would get other leaders to question county spending when it comes to raises, salaries, new staff positions, programs, and city events.
"It'll get somebody to think about whether this is the right amount or whether we should give more or maybe we should cut back more."
Speaking of money, interim-commissioner is dealing with his own money troubles...
He currently has an unpaid court judgment for over $60,000 after a bank foreclosed on one of his properties. Few describes it as something he did to protect a family member. Adding, it was a home he put in his name because he didn't "mind losing to protect somebody else." The interim-commissioner said the money problems-- he's in the process of settling-- have no effect on his ability to govern and deal with county issues.
The candidate has more than 30 years of experience in local government. He retired as a high school principal and he says he plans to use the experience in the district 5 seat. Starting with taxes. Williams is interested in a vacancy tax: business properties that sit empty would be charged an extra rate. It'd be additional income for the city and discouragement for business owners in district 5 to have empty storefronts. He would first start with Regency Mall. He says he plans to also tackle blight.
Lock and Dam
Simply put, he's in favor of saving the Lock and Dam. He says without it, water recreational activities would decrease downtown.
Adding, "the dam helps us to control water flow and so many other things."
"I don't know the hard numbers as to how many people the fire department has trained to do that but if I had to say right now, I would stick with the fire department." Williams noted the county needs more of a research plan to come up with an effective way to take over the 911 zone and do a better job than the current provider.
Parks and Rec
"I would walk around and inspect the grounds each and every day--and I would expect each person to inspect his or her classroom
in any of the areas around the school." He used this school analogy for the park inspections-- saying, leaders and inspectors need to do a daily check of park grounds, then double-check those inspections. Adding, there needs to be an annual fund specifically for park repairs at every facility.
"We need to allocate our monies according to our needs, not our wants." Candidate Williams offered one improvement for Augusta spending-- formal program evaluations for each city department that would ultimately affect the total sum of money devoted to its staff and objectives.
Williams offered an explanation to his several traffic tickets which included speeding and running red lights: "I mean, I have speeding tickets." He continued, "I would say that everyone in some shape, form or fashion, has had some problems." He also added it has no effect on his abilities to be in the community and fight issues for his community.
The candidate says he's been in politics, helping on campaigns since the age of seven. Walker had an unsuccessful run against in 2015 when Andrew Jefferson won the District 5 seat. Walker says he's the most qualified because he's the only candidate who's been 'in the weeds,'--knowing the issues of the troubled youth, small business owners, because he's faced them first-hand. His platform focuses on a community project that would involve police and neighbors working together in terms of safe neighborhoods and small business growth.
Lock and Dam
In terms of saving or not saving the Lock and Dam, Walker says he will do what's best for Augusta to maintain the downtown water levels. He says, he's still trying to figure it all out.
If a vote comes soon for Augusta to take over the 911 zone, he says he's voting in favor of having the county be in charge of it all.
"I do believe Augusta-Richmond county would give better direction. I feel confident in the ability to provide the necessary tools they need."
Parks and Rec
"As your next commissioner, I'll make sure all parks are safe. I'll make sure they're up to code because our kids are our future."
Walker did not offer up a specific plan but he says it would be his priority because he has children who play at city-owned parks.
An important issue Walker takes with city-spending is the limited streams of revenue. He told News 12 he's interested in finding new ways for the city to make money, that way budgeting doesn't require taking something for one department, to give to another.
"I don't like to take anything. I feel like if there is something allocated there-- it's actually needed for that particular reason."
Adding, by creating tourism spots in District 5, maybe that could change the budgeting county-wide.
"I've had some legal troubles in the past but I'm not there--that's why I'm here, and that's why I'm running."
Walker experienced jail time in 2007 after not paying child support. At the time, he was behind on payments but he says the cases have since been cleared, for about three years.
Adding, the predicament was the effect of being a small business owner. He explained sometimes it gets rough. Walker told News 12 he wants to show people just because you have problems does not mean you "have to stay in that problem."
As a former commissioner, Harper says district 5 needs someone that can 'hit the ground running.' He's predicting he will win by a landslide because of his previous experience as a commissioner. His platform focuses on making District 5 a tourism destination and more friendly to small businesses.
Lock and Dam
Harper described himself as a progressive when it comes to saving the Lock and Dam. He says he's in favor of keeping it, but he's focused on moving forward with the plans to turn it into a white water park.
"I'm not going to say one is better than the other but the services that are provided and the equipment that is needed-- Gold Cross has that type of equipment."
The former commissioner says while he understands the city wants to be in control of 911 calls, he suggested the city cannot handle it on its own. That's why, he says, there needs to be more 'negotiations' to share the zone with Gold Cross.
Parks and Rec
Harper raised a concern about fencing at all city parks-- he says if elected--he wants to look into possibly replacing all the fencing and wiring at every park. He suggested perhaps wood fencing could be a studied option.
"They may not have a strong voice so much in our budget process but they do matter, I mean this community--they're the biggest stakeholders." Harper argued the public needs to have more access and input on city-spending, in an effort of transparency. He says this way, there’s more accountability with purchases.
He's filed for bankruptcy multiple times but Harper says it has no bearing on his ability to manage city money or district 5 issues.
Saying in part, "those are things that happened to me to try to make me come out stronger." He says he is taking care of his financial dues.