They did not occupy the seat, but five men seeking to replace Augusta mayor Hardie Davis explained how they would manage the benefits of the mayor’s office.
Prevented by term limits from a third term as mayor, Davis’ heavy use of his city credit card recently prompted the Augusta Commission to develop a policy for its use where none previously existed. , but most members refused to discuss or verify the charges.
Since taking office in 2015, Davis has increased the office budget by 70% and staff by two or three and added an SUV to his resources, all with the approval of the committee.
Charlie Hannah, currently chairman of the Richmond County School Board, said his work in the school system has taught him to expect scrutiny and to avoid “ambiguity” in his use of taxpayer money . School board members do not get credit cards or vehicles to use.
âFirst and foremost, I’m not going to criticize anyone, but (credit card expenses) should be tracked every month to make sure everything is flawless,â Hannah said.
âWhen it comes to being a public servant, anything ambiguous will work against you. Problems arise when a credit card may be needed, but most of the time, like when we work for the school board, any transaction we make is scrutinized. You never want to give the impression that something is wrong, âhe said.
Hannah said supporters recently asked her about “the sticker,” the city logo sticker Davis refused to put on his city-issued Chevy Tahoe, citing safety concerns. State law that seeks to prevent personal use requires an annual public hearing when an official such as a mayor wants to drive an undercover vehicle.
Hannah said he would use the vehicle and affix the sticker, but wouldn’t let it become a distraction.
âI was driving the vehicle when doing city business – in fact, I’m proud enough of my city that I had no problem displaying the city of Augusta on it,â he said. âI can take care of a little sticker, but at the end of the day, I’m not going to let the sticker be a distraction from my duties. “
Another of the three sitting officials running for mayor, Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick, said mayors sometimes need credit cards and vehicles, but need to use them “measured and thoughtfully.”
“There are times when, as a senior official, there are things you have to do” with a car or a card, he said. “I think it’s a lot more times than we often think.”
Kendrick said he agrees with the public seeking transparency about how credit cards and other resources are used. The outcry over the use of the Davis card came to the public after media reported unexplained or poorly explained purchases and transfers of money.
“I’m not passing judgment on what his people were used for either, not knowing what they were all used for,” Kendrick said. “But I think it’s okay for the community to ask for appropriate use and ask their leaders to discuss how they are using the money they give them.”
A vehicle is “totally necessary” and “quite customary” for a town the size of Augusta, he said, while Davis’ argument against car branding has merit, Kendrick said.
âI have no problem with the sticker, but I clearly understand that the mayor does not want a sticker. As a senior official, he is targeted for things that people don’t like, âhe said. While his tax commissioner vehicle and those of his staff are all clearly marked, elected officials sometimes take steps to conceal identifying information, such as “removing their name from their property”.
Driving a branded vehicle gives and has given members of the public “opportunities to engage at a time that is not appropriate,” Kendrick said, and “some of those encounters are not always pleasant.”
As a sitting commissioner and hope to become mayor, commissioner Dennis Williams is said to have had the most recent first-hand experience with the mayor’s use of the city’s perks. But Williams objected to the audit, saying he had seen no evidence of wrongdoing and did not want to cast a cloud over city staff. He is also a retired Veterans Administration bureaucrat with experience in documenting public expenditures.
âI have extensive experience with government credit cards and government checkpoints. I would probably be a little more detailed, âsaid Williams. âYou have to use common sense. The mayor will have the opportunity to justify all the accusations he has made. “
Former branch president of the NAACP, Williams said he would use the Tahoe and didn’t mind having a sticker, but he knew safety was a real concern.
âIt wouldn’t make any difference to me one way or the other, if (the sticker) was there, or if it was off,â he said, although âsomeone could see the logo, and they can do something to harm the mayor. Since I was elected, I have taken security very seriously.
Former commission candidate Brian Marcus, a lesser-known mayoral candidate, said he personally does not have a credit card due to his credit rating and is unsure how he will use the mayor’s card.
âKnowing me, I probably wouldn’t use it,â Marcus said, while Davis âknows what he’s doing and abuses the city’s moneyâ. He would use the vehicle, but the car and the card “should only be used for government business,” Marcus said.
Former Commissioner Marion Williams, who served two terms, has a lot of experience watching city spending and using credit cards. The auto and motorcycle enthusiast has also made waves with his heavy use of city gas cards, which are no longer issued to marshals.
The gas card, which had a gallon limit, “was approved by the board,” he said. âI probably used more than anyone else, but I worked hard. I served the people.
Williams said he remembered a former mayor wanting a blinking blue light on his car, a used sedan and an airport manager refusing to put a sticker on his vehicle.
Instead, the director stuck a magnetized logo on the vehicle. âI turned the sticker over and took a photo of it,â Williams said. âThe rules stated that all city vehicles are supposed to be white in color and must have a seal on them. “
A number of Davis’ credit card fees appear to be associated with travel, and Williams said he supports the mayor as well as commissioners traveling to conferences and other cities, to bring ideas back to Augusta.
âHe needs to travel. If you don’t go, you don’t grow, âWilliams said, using a favorite tagline.
At these conferences and training courses, elected officials receive in-depth training on respecting taxpayer dollars, he said.
âWhen you talk about taxpayers’ money you are not talking about your money or my money, you are talking about taxpayer money and you are held accountable,â he said. “When you go to training, that’s the first thing they tell you.”
So a city official “should know what the rules are,” Williams said. âIt doesn’t pass the smell test for me. If you’re talking about the city that gives you a charge card and you can just do it? “
Williams recalled a time when city parks and recreation workers got the cards from Sam, then changed their billing address to a PO Box so someone could foot the bill with a check, instead of going through the city’s accounts payable.
Williams said he supports the call for a forensic audit, if only to set the record straight and present a level playing field.
âI think there should be a forensic audit to make sure everything is correct. If you don’t inspect what you expect, how do you know everything was done correctly? “