For the past few months, Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith seems to be having a hard time keeping it together.
Almost every other meeting Smith has been getting teary-eyed over issues coming before the commission.
It appeared to have all started in early June, when commissioners began discussing the extremely high kill rate at Augusta Animal Services, especially after the shelter lost its part-time veterinarian in May.
When Animal Services Director Sharon Broady informed commissioners that an estimated 70 percent of the animals at the shelter are euthanized and that more than 6,500 animals were put to death last year, Smith was not only shocked, but he was emotional.
“We have to find a solution today about how to proceed to keep from killing 6,000 animals in our community,” said Commissioner Donnie Smith, as his voice began to tremble.
The killing of any animal is an emotional subject for a lot of people, so it’s understandable that Smith took the news hard.
The fact that he also declared in the chambers that folks in Augusta can’t find a bigger pet lover than him, made the public even more sympathetic towards him.
While Smith might very well be the next poster boy for PETA, he also appeared to be somewhat performing for the audience full of animal lovers.
It was also interesting that Smith was getting so emotional considering the fact that, about 10 years ago, Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams actually had two of his own beloved German Shepherds mistakenly euthanized by the former staff at Augusta Animal Service.
The loss of those dogs truly devastated Williams, but somehow he was able to hold it together during the commission’s recent discussions about animal services, while Smith’s eyes were welling up with tears.
However, the killing of beautiful animals is certainly tragic, so The Insider gave Smith the benefit of the doubt.
And then came the commission’s discussion regarding the raising of Augusta’s property taxes by 1.75 mills to balance the city’s 2014 budget.
Richmond County residents who own a $100,000 house will have to pay about $60 more this year on their tax bill.
Again, don’t misunderstand, voting to raise taxes is not easy for any politician, but when Smith finally decided to join his colleagues to approve the 1.75-mill increase, he was downright tearful.
Whether he was speaking to his colleagues, the TV cameras or the print media, he was visibly emotional, having to pause several times while he was discussing the matter.
This is a tax increase.
It was a hard political decision, but that’s all.
Let’s just say, no animals were harmed in the making of that vote.
But Smith was acting as if, once more, he had lost man’s best friend.
And which commissioner was strong, direct and unapologetic for voting on the tax increase?
Augusta Commissioner Mary Davis.
Whether readers agree with Davis’ decision or not, she was a true leader.
Meanwhile, Smith needed a tissue.
It begs the question: Is Smith unraveling?
Most Augustans know by now that in mid-June the Georgia State Patrol announced Smith had been placed on administrative leave with pay from his position as a lieutenant with GSP due to a “policy violation.”
Smith, who has worked for the GSP for more than 20 years, is now under investigation.
He refuses to publicly discuss the matter, which is understandable, but all of this recent emotional behavior makes some people wonder if the stress of the investigation is getting to Smith.
And all of these tears are confusing for some people who have watched Smith be, not just confident, but aggressive when he has a strong opinion about issues before the city.
Just this spring, Smith took on the architects, Virgo Gambill, for what he saw as major blunders in the $40 million renovations to the Marble Palace on Greene Street.
Smith looked directly at representatives from Virgo Gambill and admonished them for their work on the Municipal Building.
“There is a certain group of people that I think are responsible for that,” Smith said earlier this year. “I can remember Virgo Gambill coming in here and asking for money from us and I certainly remember that I was unhappy with their performance then and I’m unhappy with it now. I voted against it then, and they are the only people in this room that are responsible for what we’ve got today. And gentlemen, I’m just as disappointed today as I was the first time I met y’all.”
And, of course there is Smith’s beef with Gary LeTellier, the executive director of Augusta Regional Airport.
In November, tensions erupted between Smith and LeTellier during a debate over the authority of Augusta Fire Department at the airport.
For more than a year, there had been a battle brewing over who was the official “incident commander” in the case of a fire at the airport: Augusta-Richmond County Fire Chief Chris James or Augusta Regional Airport Fire Chief Willie Paulk.
Smith told the commission that he had been working for months to help resolve the situation, but it had gone nowhere.
“Ever since day one, when I got sworn in up here, I have been trying to get this done,” Smith told the commission in November. “Now, 11 months into my term, I have been fed up with this. I don’t want the public at risk.”
LeTellier agreed that the situation needed to be resolved, but he insisted it was unfair to characterize the airport as the “obstructionist.”
“I do think we can to fix this, but it isn’t going to get fixed by pointing fingers and calling names,” LeTellier said in November. “And Commissioner Smith, just so you know, I deeply resent your approach. I do.”
Smith definitely doesn’t hold his tongue when it comes to things he is passionate about, but tearing up is an entirely different story.
So is Smith the strong, confident commissioner Augusta saw last year? Or is he now the emotional city leader who is going to tear up during every difficult decision?
And are those tears real?
It’s a legitimate question.
Obviously, Smith, in his career with the highway patrol, has stopped thousands of drivers willing to turn on the waterworks when they are trying to weasel their way out of a difficult situation, like a speeding ticket.
Has Smith now mastered the art of manipulating people’s sympathy when faced with a challenging vote?
If Smith continues down this tearful path, some future contenders for the District 7 commission seat will definitely be lining up to run against him in 2016.
After all, big boys don’t cry.