For Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams, it didn’t matter that his fellow colleague, Commissioner Sammie Sias, had volunteered his time without pay as manager of the Jamestown Community Center for more than a decade.
It didn’t matter that Sias had spent countless hours mentoring to area youth, organizing the events at the Jamestown Community Center and even cleaning the toilets.
The fact that Sias and some members of the Sandridge Community Association had the only keys to the Jamestown Community Center in south Augusta stuck in his craw.
“We have always had agreements with different associations. I understand that,” Williams said during the Sept. 29 meeting of the city’s finance committee. “But if that’s a partnership, why is it that our city’s recreation department does not have a key to operate or even inspect that facility?”
That’s completely ludicrous, Williams said.
“I requested a key from the recreation and parks department,” Williams said. “They gave me one key to the gate, but they did not have a key to the facility. And I ain’t got no problem with that. If that’s the rule, that’s the rule. But I don’t think any commissioner ought to have any more advantages over any other commissioner as far as being able to go out and operate that facility.”
But Sias said the Sandridge Community Association is allowed to have keys to the Jamestown Community Center according to its contract with the city.
Ever since the doors opened at Jamestown Community Center in south Augusta under the leadership of the Sandridge Community Association in 1999, Sias has insisted that the neighborhood volunteers to keep that center organized and on track.
By 2007, the Sandridge Community Association contracted with the city of Augusta to build a 2,800-square-foot addition to the Jamestown Community Center. The neighborhood also renovated the main room, kitchen, office and storage rooms.
The city estimated the cost for the improvements would be $450,000, but, in the end, the Sandridge Community Association managed to finish the job at a final cost of $191,500.
In order to complete the work, the Jamestown Community Center received $130,000 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funding and $50,000 from the city of Augusta. In addition, the Sandridge Community Association raised $10,000 to help fund the project.
The fact that the Jamestown Community Center received SPLOST money that was overseen by the Sandridge Community Center doesn’t sit well with Williams.
For more than a month, Williams has questioned Sias’ role as manager of the Jamestown Community Center.
Williams insists that he is concerned about the fact that Sias, now as a commissioner, is determining how SPLOST dollars are spent when the Jamestown Community Center has received sales tax money in the past.
Just recently, Sias voted against non-governmental agencies receiving any SPLOST dollars in the proposed sales tax package scheduled to go before voters in November.
As a result of Williams’ growing concern over the matter, City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson was asked to review the city’s contracts involving local neighborhood associations.
Jackson said there are about 10 local organizations that have various lease agreements with the city. Two of those organizations are neighborhood associations.
“One of them is Sandridge,” Jackson told the committee. “The other being the East Augusta Neighborhood Association for the Eastview Center. Both of those agreements are roughly 15 to 17 years old and they reflect the same language.”
During this week’s committee meeting, commissioners voted to hire former Aiken director of parks, recreation and tourism director Glenn Parker as the city’s new recreation director.
Jackson recommended that Parker should be tasked with reviewing and updating these neighborhood agreements with the city.
“Most of these agreements are old,” Jackson said. “Some of them date back to 1996, 2000, 2001, etc. It would be my recommendation that we ask our new recreation and parks director to take a look at those when he is on board, so that we can get those agreements updated for modern times.”
Williams said he thought that was an excellent idea, however, he felt that the commission should also review whether it was proper for a colleague to continue to be manager of a community center.
“Once you become elected, that changes everything,” Williams said. “No one elected official is going to have authority or power to be over a center and nobody else is.”
However, Augusta Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle disagreed with Williams, pointing out that Sias has been manager of the Jamestown Community Center for more than a decade.
“Regarding that position, he was in place before he got elected,” Guilfoyle said.
Williams said that didn’t matter.
“So, you are telling me because that happened first, it stays like that?” Williams asked. “I don’t think the ethics board would agree with none of that, now.”
Finally, Sias could not hold his tongue any longer.
Sias told his fellow commissioners that anyone who has a key to the Jamestown Community Center earned it.
“Now, here is the deal,” Sias said to his colleagues. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are. If you want to come to our community center, you want to move to Sandridge, you want to come in and clean, come in and mop, clean human excrement, clean the toilets, you are welcome to. But as far as this community association, it has been honoring this contract with the city for over 16 years. It has been honoring its contract with this community for 25 years.”
Sias made a motion to simply take Jackson’s report as the information. The committee approved Sias’ request.
But Williams vowed it would not be the last time he brought up his concerns about Sias and the Jamestown Community Center.
“Once you cross that bridge as being elected, that changes everything,” Williams told his fellow commissioners. “I don’t know how this body is going to respond and I really don’t care how this body responds. But I do know that no other elected official should have no more authority than anybody else.”