Tuesday, March 20, 2012
It seems that the city of Augusta is addicted to studies, retreats, and consultants with their results and recommendations often ignored. Commissioners may think that they give citizens the impression that they are seriously trying to tackle important problems, but all they generally end up doing is just generate new "Buzz" words and bureaucrat-speak with a fat bill attached for the taxpayers. Add to the list a "Goal-Setting" meeting that was held on Sunday at... yeah you guessed it... The Marriot Hotel and Suites downtown.
The session was scheduled at the commission retreat held at the same location back in February. Malik Watkins from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at The University of Georgia was the facilitator of the workshop. He also filled the same role for the February retreat. We're not sure at this point how many commissioners were even able to attend. Jerry Brigham said before hand that he would likely be busy that day working on tax returns for clients and Bill Lockett said that he would be out of town.
According to The Augusta Chronicle's Susan McCord, District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken was the only person to submit a "goal" ahead of Sunday's 4pm scheduled meeting. Aitken suggested "improving gateway corridors" into Augusta as his goal. Now it seems like to us that this goal has been put out there before. In fact the city paid $500,000 to Shields Design out of Boston, Mass. for a master plan study that made improving "gateway corridors" a key element. Not that Aitken's suggestion doesn't still have some resonance, but with all of the issues facing Augusta, particularly in District 1 , we frankly would have expected something a little more than that from the commissioner.
Harrisburg residents are still dealing with many of the same crime and nuisance issues they have been fighting for years. Wouldn't perhaps addressing that with a substantive proposal be a worthy goal to set?
The Sheriff's Department still suffers from a shortage of deputies, shouldn't filling that deficit be a goal worthy to set?
Downtown business owners are still struggling with persistent panhandling and vandalism that is driving away customers. Wouldn't perhaps addressing that problem with a solution be a worthy goal to set?
Poor and elderly residents in District 1 are often separated from jobs, medical appointments, and access to basic necessities like groceries because of the lack of reliable public transit. Wouldn't perhaps addressing that problem with a solution be a worthy goal to set?
If this "goal-setting" meeting provided any value at all it was in exposing the disconnect of the Mayor and commissioners from the citizens they are supposed to represent. If these politicians bothered to listen to their constituents, then they would have had no problem in compiling a laundry list of "goals" to tackle. But instead we get a rehash of old ideas from a study that is now 2 and half years old.
Commissioners don't need to hire any more consultants or spend tens of thousands of dollars on more studies to tell them what goals they need to be setting. By this point they should be long past identifying the goals and instead be working to implement them. If commissioners need a facilitator or another study to accomplish one of the most basic aspects of their job (setting goals and priorities for the city) then we have a big problem here in Augusta.
We think there is a better approach that would yield better results and cost less money. Lori Davis, a candidate for District 1 commission seat has suggested scheduling Town Hall meetings once a month rotating from district to district where commissioners, the Mayor, and the city administrator can hear directly from the citizens in an effort to better set priorities and achieve the goals that are most important to the citizens.
As Davis explains it... "I first suggested this when I ran for mayor back in 2010. I would have hoped the Mayor and commissioners would have implemented it by now. As I see it, the answers are right in front of us and they are inside the people who live here. But our elected leaders continue to ignore the citizens in favor of spending more money on studies and opinions from outsiders which they will also in the end just ignore. All a town hall would cost is a a few extra hours of time from our elected officials a month, but it would provide them with a wealth of understanding of what matters most to the people. If I am elected I will conduct these monthly town halls whether other elected officials choose to participate or not. It's simply the right thing to do."
Indeed it is the right thing to do, but then we are talking about a government which was reluctant to even reschedule its commission meetings at 5pm when most working people could attend. This is a government which routinely conducts business in secret behind closed doors. The Mayor even recently suggested that commissioners should not speak directly with members of the press, instead having all information filtered through some bureaucrat.
It's this mind set that is stifling creative thinking and the ability for our government to not just set goals, but also achieve them. A government that leaves its citizens out of the decision making process will always be handicapped by tunnel vision. We don't need more retreats, studies to nowhere, and out-of-town consultants to tell us what we already know. We need a commitment from our elected leaders to start listening to the people they are supposed to serve. If commissioners want to start setting some goals, that one should be at the top of the list.***
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