Two announcements this past week made official what many had already known to be true, that a pair of men very well known in their respective counties were about to become even better known as “politicians.”
They are as different as they can be: one black and one white. One working class and one affluent. One conservative and one liberal. One from an area struggling to bring economic vitality and hope to its downtrodden and one from an area that is trying to grow responsibly into the “big boy britches” its upwardly mobile homeowners and blue ribbon school system have earned it.
I know Ben Hasan, running for Augusta’s 6th district commission seat, very well. I don’t know Jim Bartley, running for the Columbia County Commission chairman’s seat much at all.
Ironically, both seem to be focusing on a common and all too familiar theme in their burgeoning campaigns, and that is a much-needed return to integrity and transparency in the way both municipal governments conduct their business.
Hasan has so many targets we made need to clone him just to make it a fair fight. We could probably start with the mess former Administrator Fred Russell made when he failed to properly “handle” several magnificent failures who held high-profile positions and created massive headaches because of their incompetence.
Only a moron would argue that the firings of City Engineer Teresa Smith, and City Attorneys Chiquita Johnson and Eugene Jessup were not justified, yet Jessup was the only one who did not get a fat check as he was shuffled out the door (in the form of “lawsuit settlements”), and that was likely because he had only been around a few months.
With both Smith and Johnson, no one had bothered to document their numerous and well-known professional deficiencies. The lack of said paper trail resulted in both getting large checks.
Having seen firsthand what happened in both cases, I can tell you that Augusta leaders did not handle the terminations correctly. We can lay that at the feet of Russell, whose job it was to investigate, verify and document said deficiencies, and act on them before further damage occurred.
Russell, also recently fired by commissioners and soon to be (hilariously) a candidate for mayor, blamed his serial mismanagement on behind the scenes “politics” and cronyism.
Hasan is not the type who would stand by for such shenanigans, certainly not for months and months on end. Had he been a commissioner back in those days, I wager a much better outcome would have materialized for beleaguered Augusta taxpayers.
In Columbia County we have the Magnolia Trace debacle, which we are told was born in a sneaky 2009 private meeting between the former county attorney (now “retired”), who had billed the developers involved for work on other projects, and two county commissioners. Why two and not three? To avoid the open meetings requirements, of course.
Offended citizens and inquiring media were told repeatedly that because the property had already been purchased, there was nothing they or the government could do to stop the massive “rent-assisted” development. At that point, they were right.
As we eventually learned in an email between county attorney Doug Batchelor and the legal “hired gun” retained to ponder any possible solutions, when that first meeting took place, the land had not yet been purchased. Had Chairman Ron Cross and Commissioner Trey Allen been told the truth about the nature of the development (they insist they were not), the whole thing could have been moved to a more “neighborhood friendly” location or scrubbed entirely.
The fact that Cross met with well-founded protests and concerns from nearby citizens with dismissive contempt is likely what prompted Bartley to decide to take him on in the upcoming election. Trey Allen and the other commissioners were humbly apologetic as the facts were revealed; Cross doubled down with defiance that he did the right thing by keeping quiet and toeing the line.
Both Hasan and Bartley promise to fight the “status quo” that often keeps both governments too secretive and hesitant in “doing the right thing.”
Sounds good to me. Hasan’s early decision to run for the seat held by the term-limited Joe Jackson should keep his opposition to a bare minimum. Bottom line, there is no better man in the 6th district to keep Augusta on the straight and narrow. While Bartley remains something of an enigma as to who he is (politically) and what he wants to do, his race against Cross may be the most interesting we have had in Columbia County in quite sometime. While Chairman Cross has been at the helm during some wonderful times for the suburban bedroom community, his boorish behavior when confronted with controversy earned him this challenge and has put his legacy in jeopardy.