When Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams asked this week for a report on the city’s sponsorship relating to Augusta’s premiere of the James Brown movie, “Get On Up,” many people thought he was just filled with sour grapes.
After all, it was the Garden City’s chance to shine at the sold-out, red-carpet event that included director Tate Taylor and actor Chadwick Boseman, who starred as the Godfather of Soul.
Many people thought Williams saw photos of the mayor in his white tuxedo and black tie and turned green with envy.
Not quite. Williams had another goal on his mind.
“I had this put on the agenda because, naturally we are all in support of James Brown for many, many years and think that he is an icon and someone that was world renowned and well known,” Williams said during the Augusta Commission’s Aug. 5 meeting. “But I wanted to know what participation that Augusta-Richmond County had and how much was that.”
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said that he was not aware of the city making a “financial donation whatsoever.”
Williams responded by saying that the participation did not have to be financial.
“It was on the website that we were a sponsor,” he said.
But interim City Administrator Tameka Allen agreed with Copenhaver, stating that the city cleaned the area around the event, but it gave no financial contribution at all.
Then, Williams began asking about the tickets to the event, adding that Augusta Commissioner Bill Fennoy had wanted to attend.
“I was in Carolina at the time, but Mr. Fennoy wanted to go to the event and he wasn’t able to get there,” Williams said. “Some people had tickets and entry way to get there and enjoyed it, and I think they should have. But if some of us are going to be compensated or rewarded or encouraged, then everybody needs to be treated the same way.”
At this point, it appeared Williams was still upset that some commissioners attended the event and other didn’t get that opportunity.
“Mrs. Allen, did you go?” Williams asked the interim city administrator.
“No, sir,” Allen said.
“Okay, well, I didn’t go either, so don’t feel bad,” Williams replied. “But some of us went and some of us didn’t.”
Then, Williams said something strange.
“Mr. Fennoy ain’t saying nothing now, but he was singing and he wasn’t singing James Brown when I talked to him,” Williams said, looking down at Fennoy. “If he wants to comment, it’s his business.”
As many of his colleagues were wondering where Williams was headed with his line of questioning, Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason said he attended the event, but on his own dime.
“I certainly went and I had a good time. It cost me $200, but I did go,” Mason said. “There was no tickets given to me or any special treatment or favors. I assumed I had to pay like everybody else… So, for $200, I got in and I was able to get on the good foot.”
Augusta Commissioner Mary Davis agreed, saying she also paid to attend the event.
“I think mine was $203.50, plus the service fee,” Davis said. “Just so Commissioner Williams doesn’t misunderstand, I wasn’t given any tickets. I went through the normal process of buying them.”
Augusta Commissioner Grady Smith joked that he used the tickets left at the door that were for “Elvis.”
When it was the mayor’s turn, he explained that he actually helped privately sponsor the event.
“They were short on money, so I came on board as a sponsor individually, not on behalf of the city,” he said.
Finally, Fennoy raised his hand to speak about the matter.
“I think what Commissioner Williams is making reference to is the fact that… I was assured that I would have two tickets to the ‘Get On Up’ premiere,” Fennoy said. “And after we had the commission meeting on Wednesday, a called meeting, to vote on the administrator, evidently, someone didn’t get the vote they wanted, so they sent me a text that said that the tickets that had been previously promised to me were going to someone that is interested in Augusta and they apologize for any inconvenience that they may have cause me at that particular time.”
Fennoy was implying that someone took back the tickets he was offered because he did not support a particular candidate for city administrator.
As several of the commissioners began looking around, the mayor began, “Well, and I will, commissioner…”
But Fennoy told the mayor he was not finished.
“And I have a copy of that text in case someone questions whether it is true or not,” Fennoy said.
Then, the mayor addressed the full commission.
“And, Commissioner Fennoy, I will say that I did send that text,” he said. “I publicly apologize to you. But those tickets, because I know that you did speak to (the mayor’s assistant) Al (Dallas), those tickets were waiting for you at the theater and, unfortunately, those two tickets went unused. So I apologize publicly.”
As soon as the mayor was done speaking, Williams slowly stood up jokingly saying, “Say it loud.”
But Fennoy pressed the matter even further.
“May I say something, Mr. Mayor?” he asked. “I received that text Wednesday that said that the tickets would not be available and the premiere was Thursday.”
The mayor agreed, but then insisted that Fennoy had talked to his assistant about the tickets prior to the event.
“Well, as I say, I know you and Mr. Dallas spoke and those tickets were waiting there for you,” the mayor repeated. “So, I apologize. I was wrong.”