When Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, who is up for re-election in May, attempted to quickly adjourn last week’s meeting and block Augusta commissioners from reconsidering their vote regarding the Regency Mall property for the new arena, people got to see firsthand how petty and vindictive the mayor can be if he doesn’t get his way.
Davis attempted to walk out of the meeting to prevent any action from being taken by the Augusta Commission.
The mayor might as well have stomped his feet and slammed the door as he left the commission’s chambers, because he was clearly acting like a spoiled brat.
At that moment, many Augustans realized the city desperately needs a new mayor in the seat.
But, with the election for mayor less than six months away, voters are concerned that no one has yet stepped up to the plate to challenge Davis.
While there has been talk that possibly Augusta Commissioner Sean Frantom or Coliseum Authority members Cedric Johnson or Brad Usry might run for the seat, no one has officially made that commitment.
The clock is ticking.
So, in order to help Augustans start thinking about what kind of leader the city needs, the Metro Spirit came up with a list of folks that should run for mayor.
All of these individuals have incredibly positive energy, work well with others, are confident leaders and have made a tremendous impact on Augusta.
This list is like our dream team.
It’s our hope that this list might inspire Augustans to stop and truly consider, who would you like to see as mayor?
Let’s make it happen.
Augusta can’t afford another term with Mayor Davis at the helm.
Our Dream List:
When Maj. Scott Peebles decided to run for sheriff of Richmond County in 2012 after former Sheriff Ronnie Strength announced his plans to retire, many Augustans thought Peebles was a shoo-in.
After all, Peebles, an Augusta native, had worked for the sheriff’s office since he was 19 years old. He had climbed the ranks and was directing the office’s Criminal Investigation Division, overseeing crucial operations such as Augusta Ink, Fox Hunt and Smoke Screen, when he decided to run for office.
Everyone believed Peebles had been groomed by Strength for the job.
“I’ve spent my entire adult life at the sheriff’s office,” Peebles told The Augusta Chronicle in 2012. “I have a vision of where I would like to see that agency go, and I don’t believe that any of the other people who are talking about running can see that vision through.”
Even though Peebles received endorsements from both Strength and then-Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, his supporters made the mistake of becoming complacent, and they didn’t head to the polls in the Democratic runoff.
They assumed Peebles would sail to victory.
Instead, Sheriff Richard Roundtree defeated Peebles in the Democratic runoff with 50.8 percent of the vote compared to Peebles’ 49.1 percent.
It was a shocking blow to Peebles’ supporters.
Despite the loss, Peebles continued to honorably serve the sheriff’s office under Roundtree. It wasn’t until earlier this year that Peebles joined the Richmond County Marshal’s Office as the chief deputy under Ramone Lamkin.
The Metro Spirit believes it’s time for Peebles to run again. This time not for sheriff, but for mayor of Augusta.
If you don’t know Karen Gordon, you don’t know Augusta.
In 2003, while still a member of the smooth jazz band, quietSTORM, Gordon founded Garden City Jazz with the purpose of presenting jazz in non-traditional settings.
Since that time, Gordon has developed relationships with musicians, educators, city leaders and festival coordinators all across the CSRA.
In fact, Garden City Jazz has worked with the city of Augusta for almost 15 years to present the Candlelight Jazz Concert Series, which includes 18 low-cost concerts showcasing different styles of jazz at the Riverwalk.
Along with the success of Augusta’s concert series, Garden City Jazz has also partnered with the Aiken Jazz Society since 2005 to present an annual festival. The format alternates each year between a classic jazz concert setting and jazz dinner/dance party.
Back in 2010, the quintet Augusta Jazz Project featuring local musicians Rudy Volkmann, Joel Cruz, Travis Shaw, Not Gaddy and Gordon began bringing jazz to local
elementary school students.
Prior to this program, many of the local children had never had the opportunity to see live music.
When Augusta Magazine recently interviewed Gordon, they asked her to name her “greatest hope.”
“To leave this community better than I found it,” Gordon said, adding that she has learned some important life lesson over the years. “Each of us has the opportunity to create the reality that we talk about.”
Gordon running for mayor would be a welcome reality.
Several folks in Augusta have been trying for years to convince Brad Usry, the owner of Fat Man’s Mill Café, to run for mayor.
While Brad Usry would make an excellent mayor, some people also see his son, Havird Usry, as a natural leader who could guide Augusta into the future.
Back in 2009, the father-son team moved Fat Man’s to its current location at Enterprise Mill, and the restaurant has experienced an explosion in growth since then.
“I would say we have grown by about 400 percent over eight years,” Havird recently told the Metro Spirit, adding that Fat Man’s has served the Augusta area for nearly 70 years. “I grew up in Fat Man’s from when it was a restaurant to retail store that was down on Laney Walker, so it’s really all that I’ve known. Somebody asked me the other day, ‘What other jobs have you had in your life?’ and I said, ‘Well, I used to work some soccer camps when I played soccer in college, but that’s literally it.’ I’ve known Fat Man’s, Fat Man’s and Fat Man’s.”
But the Usrys have an exciting new restaurant coming to 1006 and 1008 Broad Street next year that will feature a healthy menu using locally grown products.
“I’ve been involved with Augusta Locally Grown and East Georgia Produce, who’s just south of Waynesboro, and literally every ingredient we’re getting for this place is right here,” he said. “You can drive within the day and pick everything up.”
Talk about forward thinking, eh?
And the Metro Spirit isn’t the only one who sees Havird Usry’s incredible strengths.
Back in 2016, Havird Usry was chosen as one of the finalists for season 12 of the reality TV show “Food Network Star” over more than 100,000 people who applied for the gig from all across the country.
Havird Usry is a shining star here in Augusta with a bright future ahead of him.
“This is home to me and will always be home to me,” Havird recently told the Metro Spirit. “It’s my roots, but it’s also an exciting time to be in Augusta.”
We think it would be exciting if Havird Usry decided to run for mayor.
Now, we’ll be the first to admit that Stacie Adkins, the CEO of the Augusta Sports Council, is a resident of Columbia County.
She can’t qualify to run for mayor of Augusta.
But she is the kind of leader that this city needs to have in order to get back on track.
When Adkins became Columbia County’s first community events specialist nearly 17 years ago, she had fewer than 10 events to plan each year. That didn’t even count a Christmas tree lighting, something she started in her second year on the job.
She was a one-woman department, and all events were held at Patriots Park because that was the only place they could hold big events.
Needless to say, Adkins transformed her department as growth in Columbia County exploded with the construction of the Evans Towne Center Park.
Before leaving her role as community events manager in Columbia County back in 2015, she led her department with three events specialists planning nearly 60 events a year.
After nearly 15 years in Columbia County, Adkins decided to take on a new challenge as the CEO of the Augusta Sports Council.
For the past two years, she has done an outstanding job.
“Adkins brings to the organization extensive management and operational experience with entertainers, event owners and promoters which will help bring elite events to the region,” Michael Sommers, chairman of the Board of Directors of the ASC, stated. “She is committed to the ASC’s mission of strengthening the quality of life and economic well being for the Augusta area through sporting events.”
A native of Augusta, Atkins cares about this community.
If anyone could lead the city of Augusta to victory, it would Adkins.
As the owner of three popular downtown restaurants — Frog Hollow Tavern, Farmhaus Burger and Craft & Vine — Chef Sean Wight has changed the face of downtown Augusta.
Downtown is no longer just a place to grab a quick bite or a beer before a show.
Wight has helped turn downtown Augusta into a dining destination for guests who appreciate fresh, regionally grown ingredients, meticulous service and exceptionally prepared dishes.
Once again, we’ll admit that Wight is a South Carolina resident and therefore can’t run for mayor.
But if he could, Wight would be an incredible political leader because he has a genuine passion for the city.
“I love downtown. Downtown has been very good to me,” Wight once told the Metro Spirit. “I think with the growth of the new hotels coming into the downtown area and the other restaurants that have opened up in the seven years since I’ve been here, I think downtown is coming along at a pretty good pace.”
But while many developers and property owners like himself are putting a great deal of money into the downtown area, Wight also believes the city of Augusta should step up to the plate.
“I would like to see a little more involvement from our local government in terms of providing parking and more lighting downtown in certain areas,” he said. “There are so many opportunities for the city to invest in parking downtown. When they do that, the retailers will come. Every retailer that I’ve talked to have said, ‘You need more parking downtown.’ And I love the small, privately-owned shops, but we need a couple of national retailers downtown like a Lucky Brand jeans or a few things like that to really bring more people downtown… As soon the city invests in parking downtown, I believe it will happen.”
In fact, Wight isn’t afraid to say that Augusta commissioners need to spend more time driving around the downtown area and really observing the parking situation when it is busy.
“I wish we could get all of the commissioners down here, even on a Wednesday night, and ride around. You cannot find a parking place,” he said. “It is awesome to see, but it is also frustrating at the same time. I swear, when it comes to a parking deck, if you build it, they will come.”
Mayor Sean Wight would be a man who would speak his mind and get it done.
There are some people in this world that are truly thankful for everyone in their lives and simply exude happiness and positive energy.
Christy Beckham is, without a doubt, one of those people.
Beckham, the owner of Par 3 Rentals and former coordinator at Leadership Augusta, will never be held back.
If she were mayor, Beckham would rise above any of the squabbling among Augusta commissioners and find a solution.
She loves working with people, finding creative answers to problems and lifting up those in need.
When Beckham is involved in a project, it gets done. She also appreciates all aspects of the Augusta area.
While she and her beautiful family live downtown, she graduated from Hephzibah High School and has worked in positions all across the CSRA including the former marketing director at the highly successful A.B. Beverage Company.
With her business, Par 3 Rentals, she primarily provides homes to individuals and corporations housing during Masters Week.
Therefore, Beckham knows the incredible strengths of Augusta, as well as the areas that need tremendous improvements.
Beckham also has an enthusiasm for life that is simply contagious.
With a smile on her face, Beckham would honorably serve the city of Augusta because she loves to converse with people and really hear them out.
Being mayor would never be about her. It would be about the good of the entire city.
Why are we so certain?
Because Beckham knows no other way to operate.
Sincerity is her middle name.
You want to talk about someone who is excited about the future of Augusta?
John Engler of DTJR, LLC is leading a local investment group constructing the five-story Hyatt House hotel next to the Frog Hollow Tavern on the 1200 block of Broad Street.
The Hyatt House hotel, which is expected to offer at least 100 rooms, will include a 140-space parking deck and a local restaurant at the site of the former Capitol City Bank & Trust.
The construction of the hotel, along with the development of the $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center on Reynolds Street and the recent announcement of an additional $35 million in funding from the state for phase two of the facility, was perfect timing, Engler recently said.
“It is pretty amazing that from right here it is about 1,500 feet over from where all of that (new construction) is going on,” Engler said. “What an exciting time for downtown Augusta.”
The 159,000-square-foot Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center is expected to open by July 2018, and Engler estimated Hyatt House would officially open its doors only a few months later in September 2018.
“Another key component about the project that is going to be a unique deal for downtown is we also expect to have a restaurant and retail component,” Engler said. “It is hard to see from the rendering here that we’ve depicted, but we will have another component over here next to Frog Hollow, so we look forward to being great neighbors, not only to Cyber Command, but also the other local businesses and also to bring in new businesses to downtown.”
A new hotel on Broad Street is definitely a game-changer for downtown Augusta, considering the city has more than 1.7 million visitors each year.
Engler has the energy and the drive to really make progress in Augusta.
For more than a decade, Tricie Scholer and her husband, Jan, have owned Wild Wing Cafe on Washington Road, and she has learned a lot over the years.
While delicious food and live music are no-brainers when it comes to Wild Wing’s success, patrons might be a little surprised at what Scholer considers just as important.
“We try to stay really involved in the community,” Scholer once told the Metro Spirit. “And we like to do whatever we can to help the community.”
In fact, local charity organizations will designate a night and invite people to eat at Wild Wing.
“Then we’ll sell armbands that allow them to get a special, and we’ll also donate a percentage of sales,” she explained. “It’s really awesome.”
That community involvement is just part of Scholer’s plan to play a key role in Augusta’s future and Scholer’s enthusiasm and high energy has really made Wild Wing a destination.
As mayor, she would do the same for the entire city of Augusta.
“We offer local entertainment as well as some folks traveling through,” Scholer said. “We’ve had some big bands come through.”
That “Wild Wing Circuit” allows Scholer to book some great acts on the rise who just happen to be passing through Augusta on their way to another show.
Scholer is helping to put Augusta on the map.
“We’ve had people like Zac Brown here,” she said. “Actually, Zac Brown cooked his own chicken wings back there. I’m probably not supposed to tell anybody, but he used to have a restaurant and he had just sold it, and he loved getting back there in the kitchen and seeing what was going on. This was before they made it big. In fact, he sang the ‘Chicken Fried’ song and I was working that night and, the next day, I heard it on the radio. He was a pretty cool guy.”
We think Scholer would make a pretty cool mayor.
You want to talk about the key to success? Just ask Will McKnight, president and senior project manager for McKnight Construction.
As a native Augustan who graduated from Georgia Tech, McKnight knows the value of hard work, and he would bring that work ethic to the mayor’s seat.
His career started during high school summers as a field employee for McKnight Construction, and he since has worked a variety of roles in the company.
With more than 35 years of experience, he offers an extensive knowledge of construction as well as countless contacts throughout the industry.
Now, working as president of McKnight Construction, he is the senior project manager on every job done by the corporation.
He visits each site regularly to stay connected with his employees and ensure that McKnight’s standards are upheld in all phases of the project.
McKnight Construction is also known as a company that treats all of its employees and clients like family.
That’s the kind of attention to detail that the city of Augusta really needs.
In 2015, state Sen. Harold Jones actually won the District 22 seat that once was held by Hardie Davis, who resigned from the Statehouse to run for mayor.
It might be time for Jones to, once again, consider running for Davis’ seat.
Only this time as mayor of Augusta.
Jones has proven he is a progressive thinker in Atlanta and is not afraid to speak his mind.
While in office, Jones introduced a bill to eliminate felony marijuana possession charges throughout the state and tried to block the so-called religious liberty bill in the Georgia Legislature because he felt it would open the door to discrimination against married gay couples.
As Augusta’s first African-American solicitor general from 2004 to 2009, Jones said he introduced the bill regarding felony marijuana possession charges because he realized Georgia laws were destroying people’s lives.
“What we are looking at is all of the different collateral consequences that happen once you get a felony charge such as losing the right to vote, losing the right to sit on a jury, and, if you are in school, you can lose scholarship money,” Jones explained.
And Jones understands that one of the biggest challenges facing Richmond County is the education system.
“I taught at Glenn Hills High School part-time,” Jones said. “I was a math teacher. I started from day one and, because of the budget, I guess they didn’t have a chance to hire anybody. So, suddenly, I was the teacher. I had parent-teacher conferences and everything. I had 150 students, and I will never forget, the open house PTA night, six parents showed up. I will always remember that.”
During his years in office, Jones has proven that he understands the law and loves public service.
“There are so many issues facing this community,” Jones once told the Metro Spirit. “When you look at the fact that our poverty rate is higher than the state average by about 30 percent; if you look at two of our zip codes, 30906 and 30901, lead the state as far as incarceration rates; when you talk about the fact that we know that Georgia is lower than the nation in education and Augusta is actually lower than Georgia when you look at our test scores, so when we have these types of issues facing the community, as a community servant, I just have to take an interest to try to impact some of these issues.”
Al Dallas, who is now the chief of staff at Georgia Cancer Center, was once the executive assistant to former Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver.
So Dallas is extremely familiar with the way Augusta-Richmond County operates, but he was still always able to maintain his professionalism while serving in the mayor’s office.
Perhaps it’s time for him to try his hand at being the actual mayor of Augusta.
Born and raised in Thomson, Al Dallas is the son of attorney Buddy Dallas, who was the lawyer for the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown.
During his time in the mayor’s office, stories circulated around the Marble Palace that Al Dallas once danced onstage as a child with James Brown.
He was getting on the good foot early in life.
The relationship that Buddy Dallas formed with Godfather of Soul is well-known.
Brown and Dallas met at a reception honoring the late Sam Sibley, who served as District Attorney of the Augusta Circuit for a number of years.
“Mr. Brown was most polite,” Buddy Dallas recalled. “Of course, I told him I had always admired his music.”
In fact, he’d done more than admire it. At the ATO house at the University of Georgia, the jukebox was set to go off at 6 a.m. to the sound of “Night Train,” one of Brown’s early hits.
With its trademark beginning — “All aboard!” — the song served as a kind of reveille and, to hear Buddy Dallas tell the story, the walls of the fraternity house literally shook from the sound.
“He always had a smile and thought it was terrific that the whole fraternity would get up to ‘Night Train,’” Buddy Dallas says with a chuckle.
From there, the two formed a long-term business relationship.
Needless to say, a mayor whose family had that kind of relationship with the Godfather of Soul could do wonders for Augusta.
If anyone, Al Dallas understands the important legacy of James Brown and the need to promote his connection to Augusta.
All aboard for Mayor Dallas!
Here’s the truth: There is no one sweeter in all of Augusta than Vera Stewart.
Back in 1984, Vera Stewart started a small business in her home kitchen baking cakes and preparing Southern dishes that eventually spread to mail-order.
By 1995, her business was booming and she was being recognized nationally by a variety of publications including Southern Living magazine. The following year, she launched VeryVera.com, and folks all over the country began enjoying her delicious cakes and creations.
By 2010, Stewart was surprised with a challenge from famous New York chef Bobby Flay on the Food Network show, “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.”
It was no surprise that Stewart won the challenge against Flay using her family recipe for carrot cake.
Now, after more than 30 years of building a brand that truly represents the heart of Southern cooking, Stewart hosts the popular “The VeryVera Show” which helps remind viewers to always use their manners.
Can you imagine the manners she could teach the Augusta commissioners?
Her early years as a home economics teacher would make her a perfect instructor for commissioners on treating each other with kindness and consideration.
Stewart could even possibly sweeten up the commissioners by offering them treats from her new upcoming cookbook due out in 2018.
It sounds like she would provide the perfect recipe for success as mayor of Augusta.
Whether it’s setting up DIY bike repair stations along local trails, holding group rides and maintenance clinics for cyclists of all types and abilities, or volunteering to do bike maintenance at local races, community service has always been important to Drew Jordan, owner of Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse.
Drew Jordan’s pure joy and natural kindness would make him an excellent choice for mayor.
In fact, his dedication to Augusta is clear.
After all, Drew Jordan grew up in the family business, which was owned by his late father, Andy Jordan.
“I just remember being in here and riding bikes around the store as a kid,” Drew Jordan once told the Metro Spirit about the 13th Street store. “It’s something every kid likes to do. I don’t know what it is about this building, but as soon as they come in here, they want to start running around, getting bikes down and riding around.”
While Drew Jordan enjoys having fun, don’t ever accuse him of not working hard.
In fact, he worked at his father’s store in high school, even though he had a difficult time convincing the folks at Richmond Academy of that fact.
“They had OJT (on-the-job training), so you could leave school a little early if you had a job to go to,” Drew remembered. “When they found out that I was going to be working for my dad, they were really giving me a lot of flack about it. So I had to fill out all this paperwork and they would call down here to see if I was actually here. They just assumed that since I was working in the family business, I wasn’t really working in the family business, but I was. I would probably argue that working for your family is a little harder than working for the guy at the fast-food restaurant.”
Drew Jordan continued working in the family business throughout college and eventually decided it was home.
“I almost had this calling to be here,” he said. “So in ’99, I graduated from Augusta State, walked across the stage, then walked through the door here and was full-time from that point on.”
Maybe Drew Jordan will one day have a calling to be mayor?
All eyes have been on the future of the James Brown Arena this year, especially following the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority’s vote to construct the new $120 million facility at the former Regency Mall site in south Augusta.
While many throughout the city have completely lost their cool when discussing the matter, one man has been able to calmly listen to the proposal and try to provide city leaders with sound advice.
That man is Chris Bird, the general manager of the Augusta Entertainment Complex.
Bird has done an outstanding job not playing politics and trying to stay out of the argument over the arena’s future.
Instead, he has concentrated on keeping the current arena up and running and providing the Augusta area the best entertainment possible in its aging facility.
And, let’s face it, what Bird has managed to achieve in the old James Brown Arena over the past several years is nothing short of a miracle.
“We kind of have to get MacGyver-like and Band-Aid things, because you don’t want to put millions and millions of dollars into the James Brown Arena given the hope that the city, the community, the university and everyone will come together to do a new arena,” Bird once told the Metro Spirit.
The fact of the matter is, the more than 40-year-old James Brown Arena is suffering from “multiple physical deficiencies,” especially compared to modern arenas around the country.
Bird and his staff can only do so much.
But, despite facing an uphill battle, Bird continues to work for the good of the community and doesn’t seem to get weighed down by the controversy surrounding the arena.
Bird is the kind of leader that the entire city needs.
Owners of Beasley Media Group know a good leader when they see one, and that’s why Kent Dunn has return to the Augusta market to oversee the company’s eight radio stations including the extremely popular Kicks 99 and News Talk WGAC.
“Kent leads by example in everything he does,” Beasley Media Group Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Brian Beasley said in a press release this month. “We look forward to Kent returning to his roots and once again overseeing the cluster and enjoying the similar success he had both in Augusta and Tampa. It’s a privilege to have him on our team.”
After joining Beasley in 1991 and working in the Augusta market as general manager and market manager from 1993 until 2014, Dunn has proven that he understands this community and its strengths.
“I am very grateful to the Beasley family for providing me with the opportunity to move back home near my family and once again lead the company’s Augusta-based stations,” said Dunn.
Over the years, Dunn has been named as Beasley’s “General Manager of the Year” on four separate occasions.
Now, that’s the kind of performance record that the city of Augusta needs as mayor.
Jeff Williams is a large man with a large personality that is a true friend to everyone he meets.
While attending Presbyterian College in South Carolina in the late 1990s, the school mascot was a guy who did what Williams considered a poor job. He had a goofy little outfit with one of those big cartoon heads.
So it was Williams’ suggestion to go to a live version of the mascot like Braveheart with face paint, a wig and an entire getup.
Everyone loved the idea, so Williams volunteered for the job, and he’s still the mascot almost 20 years later.
This questioning of the status quo is still a part of his DNA. Now a financial planner, Williams finds time to help by volunteering his energies to help wherever he can, a trait that was also instilled in him at Presbyterian.
He is not only a football coach at Augusta Prep, but he also helps his wife with the event she founded, The Benderdinker, which is a kayak and bluegrass festival and one of the largest paddle events in the Southeast.
“We love this place, and it truly is home,” Williams stated. “I want to grow my practice to provide for my family and to help out in the community. Feel free to reach out to me anytime, even if it is just to catch up or stop by to sit on the porch and have a drink.”