The May 24 election is just around the corner and many Augustans have no idea how much their vote could drastically change the city’s future.
One particular local race that is attracting a lot of attention is the election for the Augusta Commission’s District 1 seat currently held by Commissioner Bill Fennoy.
Let’s face it, District 1 is the heart of the city.
It includes the downtown area, the Laney-Walker neighborhood, Harrisburg, Bethlehem and much of east Augusta.
District 1 is vitally important for the economic future of all Augusta.
While many in the community believe Commissioner Fennoy has done a good job in his position, others think the district desperately needs someone who is economically driven and understands the importance of promoting the downtown area.
Many voters want someone with a business background and political newcomer Michael Thurman is already receiving a great deal of praise.
While Thurman is new to politics, he’s a local businessman from Augusta that has invested throughout the city.
He is the president of McGillicuddy Rental Properties in Augusta and currently owns more than 100 properties in central Augusta and the Summerville area.
In fact, one look at the company’s website will clearly show the wide variety of rental properties that Thurman manages, including the beautifully renovated Victorian home on Hickman Street, once known as Johnnyville.
“I am committed to the growth and vitality of this county and its communities,” Thurman recently posted on his campaign’s Facebook page. “I am dedicated to and fully believe that we must all work to build the economic underpinnings of the community downtown and industrial structure.”
Just this month, the Police Benevolent Association formally endorsed Michael Thurman for commissioner in the District 1 race.
On his campaign’s website, Thurman vows to improve what is damaged, repair what is broken and perpetuate the growth and vitality of Augusta’s communities.
He is also a member of the Richmond County Exchange Club and a former member of the Sheriff’s Advisory Board, in which he attended a 40-hour police training course and met monthly for a year with the sheriff to discuss issues pertaining to Augusta law enforcement.
And the fact that Thurman and his family reside in one of the older homes he has completely transformed speaks volumes.
People are saying, he walks the talk.
But it’s not just a two-person race for District 1.
Fennoy is also facing competition from community activist Denice Traina.
Some Augustans might recall that Traina has run for the District 1 seat before and lost. Let’s just say, Traina is definitely a candidate that is hard to forget.
While she has served on both the Richmond County Planning Commission and the Transit Advisory Panel, she is probably best known as the highly enthusiastic “certified beekeeper” who has been a resident of the Harrisburg neighborhood for more than 20 years.
We’ll see who wins come May 24, but some of Fennoy’s long-time supporters insist that he deserves to be re-elected.
After all, Fennoy has worked to revitalize streets throughout the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods.
Every since Fennoy was elected, he has concentrated on the community, mostly senior citizens, who’ve been committed to living in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhood for years.
People who find themselves sometimes afraid to walk outside their front doors.
“I don’t think it is fair for senior citizens to be prisoners in their own neighborhoods,” Fennoy once told The Metro Spirit. “They should be able to walk and feel safe about walking in the neighborhood and not have to worry about anybody snatching their purse or hitting them upside the head.”
Fennoy also understands the major concerns facing many District 1 residents.
“Almost 40 percent of the people living in District 1 is below the poverty line,” Fennoy told the Metro Spirit. “The average yearly income is less than $15,500 a year. The average educational level is sixth grade.”
Fennoy wants to change all that, but he realizes he is facing an uphill battle.
He has also been criticized for supporting a vote earlier this year to provide four local nonprofits with $20,000 each.
Those nonprofits who received the money were the Bethlehem Community Center, Meals on Wheels, the Shiloh Community Center and Serenity Mental Health Center.
While all of these organizations provide a valuable service to this community, many citizens didn’t like the manner in which they received the funding.
The request for this additional funding was mysteriously lumped together with a motion in March to give $20,000 to the Augusta Animal Services Department for educational purposes and the implementation of programs relating to its new animal ordinances.
Along with Fennoy, commissioners Bill Lockett, Marion Williams, Sammie Sias, Dennis Williams and Ben Hasan voted to take the $80,000 for these nonprofits from the city’s contingency fund, otherwise known as the city’s “rainy day” fund.
Commissioners Mary Davis, Sean Frantom and Grady Smith voted against the motion, while Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle was absent from the meeting.
Augusta Commissioner Mary Davis told her colleagues that she had major concerns about the sudden request to fund these nonprofits.
“As much as I like all of these organizations, I’ve had phone calls from so many other nonprofits in Augusta saying, ‘We would like some money too. So what is the process?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know the process,’” Davis said on March 2. “I really don’t, Mr. Mayor. I’m confused. Could I figure it out so I can email these nonprofits back? What do they need to do to get the taxpayer dollars?”
During the meeting, Fennoy actually began chuckling right next to Davis and shaking his head.
“I’m being serious,” Davis told Fennoy. “Who do I direct the process to because I haven’t seen any budget on any of these organizations to why they need the funds and where they will spend them and that concerns me.”
City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson said that, typically, nonprofits will submit a request for funding during the commission’s regular budgetary process.
Jackson said the Shiloh Community Center and Serenity Mental Health Center did submit a funding request during last year’s budget hearings.
“So two of the four nonprofits have sent in and followed the process,” Davis said. “So, with the other two, we are not even sure exactly what the budget is or their expenses or their needs.”
Jackson agreed that was true.
“I have not seen any detail on those organizations,” Jackson replied. “That’s correct.”
Davis was shocked by the administrator’s answer.
“I have grave concern with this,” Davis said. “That’s my opinion. And nothing against these organizations. I know they do wonderful things for our community.”
In the end, the six black commissioners on the commission voted to fund these nonprofits $20,000 each from the contingency fund, while the three white commissioners in the chamber simply shook their heads.
Since that vote, Fennoy insists he would do it all over again and give the nonprofits the $80,000, despite the criticism he has received.
While the vote regarding the nonprofits fell down racial lines, Fennoy definitely isn’t a follower.
In fact, he has made some controversial votes that have upset some of the black leadership on the commission.
For example, Fennoy decided to abstain from the vote to terminate Augusta’s Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson.
Earlier this year, Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams had targeted Johnson for termination based on some pay raises he and a handful of other employees in the environmental services department had received.
Williams insists that Johnson circumvented the proper channels and the raises weren’t officially approved by City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson.
“He got this 15 percent raise since July of last year and we didn’t know anything about it,” Williams told the Metro Spirit. “My point is, he didn’t get nobody’s approval. He just sent in the paperwork. He had this whole thing orchestrated.”
However, Johnson insisted the pay increases were properly approved by the Augusta Commission in conjunction with the city’s new building demolition program.
But in February, a motion to terminate Johnson failed with a vote of 5-4-1 with commissioners Dennis Williams, Ben Hasan, Sammie Sias, Marion Williams and Bill Lockett voting for the motion. Commissioners Davis, Frantom, Guilfoyle and Smith voted against the motion.
Only because Augusta Commissioner Bill Fennoy abstained and refused to vote to terminate Johnson was his job spared.
So, next month’s election might be interesting.
Do voters want the incumbent, a local businessman or a bee keeper?
Only you can decide.