Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Aitken Will Have a Poor Record to Defend

Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Augusta, GA Commentary

Augusta Commissioner Matt Aitken ended weeks of speculation yesterday by issuing a press release that he would indeed seek re-election. The news was not released until after 5pm yesterday on The Augusta Chronicle website, and a formal announcement is expected today at 5pm. Aitken will face challengers Bill FennoyStanley Hawes, Thelonius Jones and Denice Traina. Aitken had previously said that he may not run for a second term because of what he complained as "negativity" from the media. We suppose what Aitken means as "negativity" is people holding him accountable for his record, and this time Aitken will have to defend his record as a commissioner. Let's take a look at it:

The main impetus behind Aitken's first run for the commission was passage of the TEE Center, the same one that has been mired in controversy over delays, cost over-runs and land not being deeded to the city as promised. As a commissioner, Aitken has voted consistently "to just move the project along", despite the mounting evidence showing waste of taxpayer dollars and the commission being mislead about key elements of the project. In fact, When Aitken was first elected, the TEE Center agreement was hurriedly passed just days later. Aitken has repeatedly voted against audits investigating the TEE center and parking deck debacle.

Aitken has taken great interest in trying to get a new ballpark built for Ripken Baseball, despite this ranking very low on the priority list for most District 1 constituents. Aitken even introduced a motion last Summer to commit the city and taxpayers to a partnership with Ripken Baseball to build a new ballpark at The Golf and Gardens site. The Commission rejected Aitken's motion but it was brought back in a different form by Commissioner Joe Jackson for City Administrator Fred Russell to enter into negotiations with Ripken Baseball to develop a "creative financing" package for a new ballpark.

Aitken has a habit of keeping his constituents out of the loop on key issues. One instance is the Opportunity Zone for Harrisburg, a motion that Aitken put on the commission agenda. The problem is he neglected to inform the residents of Harrisburg, which falls in his district. State law requires public hearings before these opportunity zones are put into effect. That was never done and residents were never informed. It was all done under the radar with no public input.

Aitken also ignored concerns from Laney-Walker residents when the Planing and Zoning Department was trying to sneak through an incomplete and fatally flawed overlay zoning application without conducting the required public hearings. When a concerned citizen, Dee Mathis, brought her concerns to the commission, Aitken (who serves as her commissioner) was silent, and ended up voting for the overlay application despite numerous errors. And when public meetings were held in the community, commissioner Aitken did not attend a single one of them.

We have heard repeatedly from downtown business owners that Aitken does not respond to their concerns. When the downtown clock, paid for with SPLOST money, was suddenly removed from downtown without any input from the downtown business community, there was no response or intervention from Aitken. Small business owners also complain that their calls for an enhanced security presence in downtown has gotten no response from their commissioner. In fact, Aitken voted for a budget that cut over $1 million from public safety. Instead of championing the interests of the small business owners, who are the backbone of downtown, Aitken often champions the special interests of the cliquish Downtown Development Authority, an entity that has virtually no representation from the downtown small business community. Aitken consistently favors big spending boondoggles that benefit the cronies of The DDA over basic needs that benefit the average small business owner.

Aitken is consistently absent from committee meetings and he rarely asks questions at regular commission meetings. It is also obvious that Aitken is clueless on many of the items that come before the commission. Does he even bother to research the items on the commission agenda or does he just vote as he is instructed to by his handlers? It appears to be the latter. If there is one glaring example of this it is the budget that was hurriedly passed last fall. Aitken voted for the budget, not realizing it contained over 30 lay-offs. He was even under the impression that it contained raises. Had Mr. Aitken even bothered to read key elements of the budget before voting on it? Apparently not. Isn't that the job of a commissioner.. to know what he is voting on?

In the following video that appeared on WRDW News 12 after the budget vote, reporter Chris Thomas queries Commissioner Aitken about the budget and whether he was aware of the layoffs. It was obvious that  Aitken was clueless... the awkward moments of silence... the deer in the headlights look... it said it all. Aitken can complain about a "negative" media all he wants, but  it's his responsibility to know what he is voting on. Aitken is simply not prepared to be a commissioner. The following video should become an albatross around his neck. Watch the video below. Is this someone who deserves a second term?

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