Sunday Insider: A county at odds

Augusta Regional Airport vs. the Augusta Commission? Gold Cross vs. the fire department?

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Sunday Insider: A county at odds

How smart is it for a town our size to have so many government entities at odds with each other?

The answer is simple: It’s beyond ridiculous.

Whether it is the dispute between the Augusta Fire Department and the private ambulance company, Gold Cross EMS, or the disagreement between officials at Augusta Regional Airport and the Augusta Commission, it is all a waste of energy that is making the Garden City look bad.

When the Augusta Aviation Commission unanimously voted last week to allow Executive Director Gary LeTellier to seek legal advice on ways the airport commission could be changed to an authority so as not to be under the Augusta Commission’s thumb, it felt like the city had stepped back in time.

About a decade ago, the Augusta Aviation Commission started butting heads with the Augusta Commission under the leadership of former Airport Director Al McDill.

When McDill first came to the airport in 1997, he served under a very agreeable aviation commission with members such as Ed Skinner, Charlie Presley, Lewis “Pop” Newman, George Sancken, Bernie Silverstein, Frank Dennis and Pen Mayson.

However, as McDill began to push for more authority out at the airport and less oversight by the city, several Augusta commissioners began pushing back. All of a sudden, some of the very agreeable aviation commissioners were replaced by new members who didn’t mind shaking things up.

One aviation commissioner in particular, Marcie Wilhelmi, really got under McDill’s collar and made his life miserable.

At the time, the aviation commission chairman, Ed Skinner, worked for Morris Communications Corp., the company that publishes The Augusta Chronicle.

And as soon as Wilhelmi began having run-ins with McDill, the editorial pages of The Augusta Chronicle pounced calling her names such as “Madcap Marcie,” queen of the boondoggle, a mercurial gadfly and a “hyperactive Goldilocks.”

But Goldilocks proved she wasn’t afraid of any grumpy old bears living in the Chronicle’s News Building on Broad Street.

Wilhelmi had already taken over the house.

By April 2000, she had mounted a group of comrades on the Augusta Aviation Commission and with a vote of 7-3, she and her gang managed to abruptly fire McDill and end his three-year tenure at the airport.

So, let’s just say, before LeTellier and the Augusta Aviation Commission get too big of a head and decide to demand that the board be given full authority to oversee the airport, they may want to think twice.

After all, it could take a while to create an authority at the airport, instead of an aviation commission. In fact, some believe it would require a change to the city’s consolidation act in order for the city commission to give a newly created authority control over the airport.

In that length of time, some of the current aviation commissioners’ terms might expire and those city commissioners who are getting fed up with LeTellier, such as Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith, just may decide to appoint a firecracker like Wilhelmi to the aviation commission to run LeTellier out of town.

It has happened before. It can happen again.

Also this week, a committee of the East Central Georgia EMS Council voted to designate Gold Cross as the “EMS zone provider” for Richmond County, which gives the ambulance company total control over 911 medical calls in Augusta.

This was a complete reversal from a decision made last November to designate the city of Augusta as the EMS zone provider for Richmond County.

 

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For more than a year, Augusta Fire Chief Chris James has voiced some concerns about Gold Cross and its contract with the city, saying the contract was not specific enough and that Augusta should have more of a voice about how its EMS service is provided. He insisted that there was no “checks and balances” in place to monitor or review Gold Cross’ performance.

James said the city’s arrangement with Gold Cross allowed the ambulance company to basically “write their own report card.”

Such comments from James caused some Gold Cross officials to point fingers at the fire chief, accusing him of trying to take over the ambulance service. They said James was looking to boost his budget, along with his ego.

James, of course, denied such accusations, but, as everyone knows, as soon as the mud starts flying, it is hard to get clean again.

For almost two years, Gold Cross and the fire chief have been at odds and it doesn’t appear to be getting better anytime soon.

So, the real question is: What are these feuds really doing for Augusta?

Again, the answer is simple: Absolutely nothing.

Ill feelings are like cancer. It just keeps spreading and spreading and spreading…