In a day that began with the announcement of another department head — Gary LeTellier, executive director of Augusta Regional Airport — had resigned from his position effective Feb. 1, it appeared that it would be a difficult final meeting for Mayor Deke Copenhaver and the two lame duck commissioners.
But as soon as the mayor gaveled the meeting to order, the farewells from commissioners began and the day started to take on an entirely different mood.
First up was Copenhaver, who thanked Augusta for supporting him as mayor for two terms. He told the audience that it has been an honor serving the Garden City for nine consecutive years.
“I couldn’t have done it without working with my colleagues up here on the commission and the city staff who do an amazing job everyday,” Copenhaver said, stopping to specifically thank the tireless work of the city’s department directors. “I would particularly like to recognize our department heads and say thank you for nine years of working together. You do an outstanding job and I think you need to know that, particularly how much I appreciate you, I support you and I also appreciate your support.
“So to everybody involved with the city, to our city staff and to our commission, I just want to say thank you.”
Copenhaver’s remarks came just a couple of weeks after a handful of commissioners discussed a proposed “hit list” of half a dozen Augusta department heads that they have targeted to replace.
Since that list was made public, both Augusta Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler and Recreation, Parks and Facilities Director Bob Levine have resigned.
In the case of LeTellier, he had already informed the Augusta Aviation Commission at the start of the year that he wished to retire by the beginning of 2015.
Next up was Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson, who told the audience that it has been a pleasure serving the very city in which he was born and raised.
“It’s been an honor to be able to help people and to be able to change the direction of this city,” Johnson said. “I will tell you, I had a good group of people in District 2 to represent. I mean, these people are awesome. They supported me and they stood by me.”
Johnson also echoed Copenhaver’s support for the department heads.
“I would also like to give, again, some accolades to the department heads and those who assisted me with achieving some of the goals that I set forth when I stepped in this chamber in 2008,” Johnson said. “And I couldn’t do it without my colleagues. I know some of them weren’t here at the time, and some are here now of course, but they assisted me, they believed in me, and, as a result, they even elected me to the mayor pro tem. So I’m just honored and humbled at the same time.”
The mayor pro tem said it was an experience he would never forget.
“I am truly going to miss you all, but I am not going anywhere. I’m still going to be around,” Johnson said. “I’m still going to be here to help move this community forward and assist the new commissioner, Dennis Williams, who will be taking over for District 2. I will be working with him along with the rest of the guys to try and do what is best for this community.”
Former District 6 Commissioner Joe Jackson, who resigned from his seat in August to spend more time with his children after his wife passed away earlier this year following a long battle with breast cancer, was also honored at the meeting.
“First and foremost, I wanted to thank God and the prayers and support that you guys as a community have supported us through and my family,” Jackson said. “It has been an adventure. It is something that I would love to do again if called to do so, but for now, I’m going to enjoy retirement and just take care of my kids. But thank you a lot. It means a lot.”
Finally, it was Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason’s turn to thank the city he has served since 2008.
“I am going to do mine a little bit differently,” Mason said, announcing to the audience that he was going to quote from late Rev. Paul Jones. “Bishop Jones says, ‘I’ve had some good days and I’ve had some hills to climb. I’ve had some weary days and some sleepless nights, but when I look around and I think it all over, all of my good days, they outweigh my bad days, so I won’t complain.’”
Then, all of a sudden, Mason began singing Jones’ song, “I Won’t Complain.”
The commission chamber was instantly transformed into a chapel as he was singing the gospel.
He sang several verses of the song that continued for more two minutes, until he closed with a personalized version of the final verse.
“I will just say, ‘Thank you, Lord,” Mason sang. “When you’ve done all you can do on this commission and your season has come to an end, I’ll just say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’
I won’t… I won’t… I won’t… I won’t complain.”
As the audience cheered, Mason waved to the crowd, saying, “God bless you!”
It was an extremely grand ending to Mason’s tenure.
Augusta Commissioner Grady Smith joked, “You better warn Lady Antebellum.”
With that, Copenhaver officially began his final meeting.
“Alrighty Madam Clerk, I don’t know how we are going to top those presentations,” Copenhaver jokingly said to City Clerk Lena Bonner.
“That’s how we roll,” Bonner said, smiling. “That’s how we roll.”