The Augusta Commission is looking for ways to axe some members from the Coliseum Authority. Apparently the targeted Authority members are being less than cooperative while the untargeted ones try to move on and build a new Arena at the current JBA site.
Insiders believe this lack of cooperation is due in large part to a long-festering dissatisfaction with last year’s straw poll vote.
Our story begins in late 2017 with the Augusta Commission’s search for a location to build a new Arena. The city narrowed down its search to two potential sites: the current JBA site and Regency Mall site on Gordon Highway.
After a ton of drama, the Commission decided to leave the decision to Augusta voters. After forcefully championing the Regency Mall site for some time, Mayor Hardie Davis proclaimed that if Augusta voters said they wanted the current JBA site, he would “hold his hand up and carry that flag across our city.”
The May 22nd vote appeared to be a victory for the current JBA site. 57% of voters voted “yes” to that location.
However, immediately after the vote, the Mayor, as well as some Commissioners and Coliseum Authority members called the legitimacy of the vote into question. The design of the ballot questions didn’t produce the definitive answers the Commission was looking and hoping for.
The Ballot gave two options:
- Should the Richmond County Commission approve a site location for the new James Brown Arena at the current location downtown? Yes or No
2. Should the Richmond County Commission approve a site location for the new James Brown Arena at the Regency Mall location on Gordon Hwy? Yes or No
The issue? Now-deceased Commissioner Andrew Jefferson—whose District includes the Regency Mall site—put it succinctly to WJBF: “some people put ‘yes’ on both questions some people put ‘no’ on both questions. It wasn’t clear exactly what the people were voting for. I just think it was really misunderstood.”
The situation Commissioner Andrew Jefferson describes could very well have led to some “misunderstanding.”
Some probably voted “yes” or “no” to both of them because they didn’t understand the two questions were really binary in nature. After all, the purpose of the vote was to decide between the two sites—and only these two sites. Of these, some probably voted “yes” because they had no preference and wanted the Commission to have the ability to “approve” either of them.
For her part, Sylvia Cooper didn’t care about any of this stuff. She wrote, “of course, some of the same voters [who voted “yes” to the current JBA site] also checked “yes” for the Regency Mall site, but whose fault is that?”
The problem with Cooper’s thinking is that the Commission was interested in using the ballot question was to arrive at a definitive choice between the two sites with the 2018 vote—not laying blame afterwards for the effects of a poorly-worded ballot question.
Still others probably voted “no” to both sites because they didn’t care for either option.
Coliseum Authority Vice Chairman Brad Usry was cool with that. “If I vote ‘no, no,’” Usry told the Chronicle, “I don’t want an arena.”
The problem with Usry’s thinking is that the Augusta Commission actually considered having a third question that would allow voters to cast a vote for “I don’t want an arena.”
And they decided against it.
After Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle floated the “third question” idea at the January 16, 2018 Commission Meeting, the conversation instead went back in the direction of the original motion for the straw poll: That motion came from Commissioner Sias:
“Move that we provide a non-binding resolution on the 22 May 2018 general election ballot to approve a site location for a new arena from the following locations: current location downtown or Regency Mall location Gordon Highway.”
Commissioner Frantom wanted clarity. He asked “And no site? Commissioner Guilfoyle said no site, no arena at all, so you’re going to put no arena?”
Mayor Hardie Davis let him know this was not the case. He told Frantom “we started this conversation about putting the sites and letting the people decide and all of us, all of us at that point walk away from it and say this is what the people have said, they’ve spoken we’re going to live with it.”
But the devil’s always in the details. In our story, Board of Elections Assistant Director Travis Doss plays the devil.
When Commissioner Sias offered his motion for a ballot question that would choose between the two sites, Doss stepped forward to tell Commissioners that wouldn’t work.
“For a straw, for an opinion poll question,” he told Commissioners, “it has to be posed in such a way that the only answers are yes or no.” He went on to tell them, “you can have more than one question, you can say if you want it to be at the Regency Mall yes/no or if you want it at downtown yes/no.”
So Doss also plays the wizard in our story: he conjured this issue from thin air (state law). But the weird part came when he read the Commission’s fortune.
While the crazy “yes/no, yes/no” spell he had cast would solve the state law issue, he told Commissioners, with it “you run the possibility of getting two positive or two negative answers” and for example “if they answer yes to both of them you haven’t really gotten much of an answer.”
Doss is no doubt getting great kicks from the terrible completeness of his triumph. More than a year on from the straw poll, the sorry effects of his sorcery are spilling onto news sites once again.
The ballot questions did not provide the definitive mandate Augusta desperately hoped it would. Bad blood still pours from festering old wounds. Coliseum Authority members are being less than cooperative. The Mayor’s not “carrying the flag.” Good sites other than Regency Mall and the JBA location are still solidly in the running. Questions linger over whose job it actually is to make some of these decisions (the Commission or the Coliseum Authority?). Commissioners are fed up.
Maybe making some heads roll over at the Coliseum Authority will break the spell. Who knows?
Insiders indicate we will soon find out.