Brenda Durant of the Greater Augusta Arts Council appeared before the body seeking an approval of the Memorandum of Understanding, which allows the Arts Council to be paid a small fee for managing the Gateway Sculpture project that was approved in the last round of SPLOST (or SPLOSH if you’re Commissioner Sammie Sias).
Commissioner Marion Williams was in full bloom, having just stepped off his oak soapbox (paid for by the city) concerning transit stop shelters as Durant approached the podium to speak.
The commissioner again repeated he simply did not understand why the first sculpture in the Gateway Sculpture project wasn’t being installed on the southside first.
“Ladies and Gentleman of the jury, I’m just a Caveman. I fell in some ice and later got thawed out by your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me. Sometimes the honking horns of your traffic make me want to get out of my BMW and run off into the hills or whatever.”Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer
This is of course patently false, since the process has played out facing him, with real live people explaining the process in real time as it was worked through.
It appeared Durant, the long time Arts Council leader, was on this day lacking in the superhuman amount of patience it takes to deal with the commissioner known for his twisted sentences and love of attention.
So, after approaching the discussion with Durant by throwing any semblance of good faith out the window by claiming to not know what he certainly knows, there was no foundation for compromise or honest discussion and dialogue. Just grandstanding. Durant seemed to say what everyone else was thinking, telling Williams ”no one wants to be here until 8:00 o’clock.”
Williams distilled question to Durant was, “can we begin at a different location besides Riverwatch and Alexander? Like in part of my district instead?”
“Ok, so there’s a lot of questions in your question, I’m going to try and cover them all,” Durant promised. “The answer is according to procurement, because the national call went out with that location identified in the call for submittals, that we cannot change location.”
As Williams stuttered and hemmed and hawed, Durant continued.
“That’s your simple answer.”
“I can talk more. No one wants to be here until 8:00. I can talk more about it,” stated Durant, no rookie to speaking in the commission chambers.
“I’m gonna stay here until it is time to go home. My job is to try and get you to understand something, from what you just said, I hadn’t heard any reason why. Will it be too old, too young, too big, too small?” That is an actual question from Williams.
The location was chosen 18 months ago when the GAAC began working with the GDOT. The intersection of Riverwatch and Alexander Drive fit all the requirements; It had been identified as a property that was going to be landscaped, maintained and was a main gateway.
Durant again explained the process is too far along to change location. The artists are presenting their models for the Riverwatch and Alexander Drive location NEXT WEEK.
“The answer why we can’t change at this point goes back to the procurement process. I had checked on this two months ago. I was personally wondering if we could change locations,” Durant told Williams. “I was thinking, would it be easier if we just switched to a different property? So, the answer I got at that point was it would negate the process and all the time we put into this, about 18 months, we’d have to start from scratch.”
So, twice now Williams had received the answer he claimed to be looking for.
Durant took a moment to once again remind the commissioners of the process, which had been proceeding right in front of them.
“On April 30th at our public art overview, we presented a bunch of our projects. In our presentation from April 30, you can see in our talk, we presented the three locations, with the Riverwatch being the first go.”
Williams again couldn’t get the answer he wanted. “Where you lost me at is when the three locations was picked by Dr Skelley and the CVB and your group, same three locations still there, I don’t want to change it,” Williams stated. “I’m just saying we should start, they all going to be the same structure I think, they all goin’ to be similar, the same funds, I just ain’t heard anything that tell me that you cannot start at another location.
Williams feigned ignorance, while basking in the spotlight once more. “Can anybody from procurement help me understand what Brenda just said. I really can’t understand if procurement done told us if we building the same model on the same size on a piece of land we already got on another location. If it’s too big for that spot, ain’t got enough money-but everything is the same, I’m not asking to change the location, I’m just asking if we can start at another location first.”
Then Williams added a little homespun wisdom. “That’s all. That to me…in backyard stuff, I be doing it in the backyard all the time, I know this ain’t no backyard kind of stuff, I understand, I’m not satisfied, Mr. Mayor. I need to hear from somebody in procurement. I need to know why, show me the difference between the two if there is a big enough difference, I’ll be nice enough to say…”
Ron Houck. Interim Director Recreation and Parks, tried to explain to the commissioner what Durant had just told him three times. “Commissioner, word I got this morning when I talked to procurement is if we decide to change locations we’d have to start this process all over again.”
“Why Ron, is it too big?” Williams queried. “Common sense tell me if it’s the same size, the same area, if we just gonna move the starting point position don’t give me a reason to do anything but go to another area to do it. It there was gonna have to be a tree gotta be moved, it may have to go to another location. Maybe my colleagues understand, but I don’t be understanding that.”
“I think it was just, the, the artists what are the specifics if there are different specifics you be helping me out now give me specifics.”
“OK, thank you Ron.”
In the next breath, Williams loudly proclaimed, “Mr. Mayor, I want to make a substitute motion we start all three of them at the same time or don’t start none of them no time.”
The substitute motion failed without a proper second, and the memorandum of understanding was approved by the full commission.
The commission is constantly fighting side turf wars that have nothing to do with the matters before them. The culture that allows this sort of behavior week in and week out is a sick culture. Sure, Augusta and the CSRA are booming right now.