Since when did Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver become such a powerful player on the Augusta Commission?
Late last week, Copenhaver achieved the seemingly impossible by convincing six Augusta commissioners to approve a $194 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) package that will be considered by voters on the May 20 ballot.
Now, granted, four of the most vocal commissioners — Marion Williams, Alvin Mason, Bill Lockett and Corey Johnson — failed to show up for Copenhaver’s special called meeting, but if you get the six votes you need, what does that matter?
Copenhaver managed to bring together six commissioners to agree to match $8 million for Georgia Regents University’s cancer center (which will play a vital role in this community’s future) and approve about $5 million for the Augusta Regional Collaboration Project to transform the two empty downtown textile mills (King and Sibley mills) into future campus space for either GRU or another interested party.
Of course, now it is up to the mayor and commission to convince voters to approve the $194 million package, but Copenhaver should be commended for being instrumental in putting together a SPLOST package in record time.
This achievement comes only weeks after Copenhaver helped unite commissioners to almost unanimously agree (the vote was 9-0 with Commissioner Mary Davis absent from the chambers) to move forward with addressing some of the issues revealed in a 2009 disparity study that stated the city was discriminating against minority- and women-owned businesses.
That was a big accomplishment considering the study has been basically sitting on a shelf collecting dust for the past five years.
So, the question is: Where has this powerful Mayor Copenhaver been for the past nine years?
Is he finally seeing the finish line of his term in office and deciding its time to sprint to the end with the city cheering him on?
Augusta can only hope so.
Copenhaver deserves a strong legacy and if he continues to bring the commission together like he has since the beginning of 2014, he will go out on top.
This is a far cry from the end of his first four years in office, when many people were complaining that he had not accomplished much.
The main problem was he wasn’t really ever a leader because he never wanted to say much.
Sure, he would talk, but he didn’t inspire the Augusta commissioners to follow his lead.
And the question back then was, how can you be the mayor of the city if no one is listening to you?
If voters remember, Copenhaver was first elected mayor in 2005 in a runoff against former Augusta Commissioner Willie Mays to fill the unexpired term of Bob Young.
In 2005, Copenhaver was known as the “new kid on the block” and the “sleeper of the season” because he had no real political experience, but he was well known throughout the affluent sections of Augusta.
Copenhaver, who ran on a promise to build a better Augusta through fresh, new leadership, received 56 percent of the votes cast in a runoff against veteran candidate Mays.
Mays boasted more than 25 years of political experience in Augusta, but earned only 43 percent of the votes.
After being elected mayor, Copenhaver insisted the entire city had won.
“Truly, the people have come out and voted in a mandate for change,” Copenhaver said during his 2005 victory speech. “The people of Augusta are ready to come together and create a better future for Augusta.”
Copenhaver pledged to reach out to all citizens to move Augusta forward and unite a deeply divided community.
“Augusta did not get into the situation that it is in overnight,” Copenhaver said in 2005. “It’s taken a while and we will not change it overnight, but we will start tomorrow.”
There have been many tomorrows since that victory speech in 2005, but the truth is, Copenhaver is trying to keep his promise.
In the final months of his term as mayor, he seems to be truly attempting to bring the Augusta Commission and this city together.
Keep it up, Mayor Copenhaver, and the entire city will congratulate you at the finish line.