Category Archives: Leadership

Leadership Thoughts for the New Year

Leaders must:

  • Have a clear mission and vision
  • Make it crystal clear how you expect everyone to implement your vision
  • Provide ongoing support and feedback
  • Hold them accountable when they stray too far from their purpose
  • Thank them when they excel
  • Admit when you make a mistake
  • Strive for continuous improvement for yourself and your team
  • Advocate for care of self and others
In the absence of leadership, expect one of four responses from each member of the team
  • They will do what they want with their own interests at heart
  • They will do what they can in an attempt to help the the team
  • They will step into the perceived void in the leadership role and attempt to influence change the best they can
  • They will feel compelled to leave due to loss of confidence
If you are struggling as a leader, ask yourself how much honest and supportive conversation you are having with your people every day.

If they are not responding to your mission in the manner you expect, they either do not understand your expectations, do not believe that there will be consequences for doing their own thing, do not have loyalty and trust for you (which must be earned) or have their own interest at heart, making them unfit for the team.

There are no shortcuts for direct, honest and supportive conversation, even if brief, with your team members EVERY day. This cannot be delegated and cannot be procrastinated. Talking to your team constantly, asking questions, saying thank you and building trust is the only path to loyalty, which is the only path to cohesive teams and fulfillment of your mission.
I implore you, if you are a leader, do not ever let a day go by without talking to as many of your team members as you can, giving them your full attention in a respectful manner and reinforcing your expectations and concern for them as human beings.
My best wishes to all of us who struggle as leaders and struggle with their own leaders. Be kind to one another, be gracious of our mutual strengths and challenges. Most of all, say this to one another every day, and not just today, on Thanksgiving: I appreciate you.

Lessons in Leadership

My first team leader job was a Clinique Counter Manager position in my early 20’s; I was responsible for 1 full-time and 2 part-time beauty consultants. Back then, I could not have imagined that my entire career would revolve around various management responsibilities, or that learning about leadership would be a lifelong pursuit. My passion for servant leadership started a few years after the Counter Manager gig, when I accepted a position as Sales Manager for the Cosmetics department at a Rich’s store in a South Atlanta shopping center called Shannon Mall. It was the time I spent at Rich’s Shannon with 15 female sales professionals that ultimately became my foundation for  how to build a dynamic team and how to be a supportive boss.

Shannon Mall, sadly, no longer exists. It closed in 2010 after 30 years of business, and online pictures of the declining retail facility do not help me recall my years working there. The memories I cherish come from a folder I have kept since the 90’s, with photographs of my team, documenting a time when we created an encouraging work family. These are the women I grew to love, and for whom I would do anything to create a pleasant work atmosphere.

When the Store Manager of Rich’s at Shannon Mall offered me the opportunity to run my own department, I was initially uncertain. In an effort to help me decide, I visited the store and skulked about the cosmetics area to get a sense of it. I watched the women working there, who seemed to have a sense of dedication and camaraderie, and I could easily imagine myself in their midst. I accepted the position and the transformation began immediately. From the impressive individuals within that small space, I learned how to be a team leader. They taught me about building a culture, resolving conflict and communicating in a positive way.

 

There is a popular leadership quote: “people want to know how much you care before they care how much you know”. I approached the job with this in mind, in a position of humility, knowing that I was young and inexperienced and that they knew the business top to bottom. Once the team had a sense that I was more interested in offering support than disruption, they began to trust me and provided me with the tools I needed to succeed as their leader. The key, as is so often the case, is to listen for the answers, instead of forcing one’s own answers onto others.

I constantly asked questions and accepted guidance. I rolled up my sleeves to work with them. I was open to new ideas. I was not afraid to put in long hours. In exchange for this, the team rewarded me with not only their knowledge, but their kindness and their trust. They made grand gestures for my birthday (see photo of a money tree above) and they were committed to the success of our business. We worked hard and played hard and cared about one another. There were struggles and fights, much like any family, but at the end of the day, there was respect.

When I think of the kind of boss I am today, I know that I have these women to thank. I am not afraid to have the tough conversations with people, but I know that you have to do it with calmness and consideration. I am known to launch innovative projects, but I value process and protocol. I accept that there is a fine line between supervisor and friend, but realize that you can truly love the team members you serve and fight tooth and nail to make sure they are happy. All of this I learned from these 15 women, and my subsequent team members through the years can give them the credit (or the blame) for the type of boss I eventually blossomed into being. Although we only spent a few years together, it was a pivotal time in my leadership development, and an experience I greatly treasure.

7 Leadership Books for a World Class Culture

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It has been said that leaders are readers, but it is often difficult to find the time to sit down with a self-improvement book in the midst of life’s fullness. For many of us, reading is not only a reprieve from stress, but an inspiration to find new ways to do a job more effectively.

The books I most appreciate are the ones which resonate with my own experiences, especially as a self-described high maintenance customer. My bosses expect excellence from me, and I have been conditioned to demand it from the companies where I spend my money. As a consumer, I can tell instantly if a business cares about building long-term relationships. There are 2 big tests of an organization’s culture of customer service.

1-Are the employees happy? I am sure you have walked in to a business and instantly caught a positive or negative vibe about the place. This vibe is a result of the team culture, which is rooted in how the associates are treated by their team leaders. We cannot expect our employees to offer good customer service if we don’t show them exemplary support and common courtesies. I have 12 different responsibilities in my job, but the one thing that is the most important to me, and I can do nothing else until it is done, is making sure my team has everything they need to be successful.

We all know that sub-standard employee performance and high turnover can be the death of any business. There is no greater responsibility than to recruit the best, train them well, and SUPPORT them. I just had a team member celebrate her 10-year anniversary with my department. During that time, I have made a conscious effort to offer my ongoing encouragement and tell her that I appreciate her often. It is the ideal relationship of mutual respect, and one that allows her to foster that same loyalty in the team she develops.

There is no way that the team members will care about the company, the product or the customer if the boss doesn’t care about them, as workers and as people. It has been said that 90% of an employee’s job satisfaction is how they feel about their boss. The strongest leaders I know in building a culture of customer service embrace servant leadership, where the boss is willing to jump in and work alongside of the team, both to set an example of excellence as well as to show that they are willing to help. They ask about their employees, they know about what is important to them, and they are approachable if the employee has a concern. They say thank you…a lot. They ask for their input. They know their strengths, and are interested in fostering their development. For more on this topic, consider these books:  The Customer Comes Second by Diane McFerrin Peters and Hal F. Rosenbluth and The 12 Elements of Great Managing by James K. Harter and Rodd Wagner.

2- How does the company handle mistakes? The second test of an organization’s customer service protocol is what I call the Art of the Apology. There was a time in my dealership’s history when our customer service national ranking was 210 out of 220 dealerships in the country. During those years, I called myself the professional apologizer. I learned what to do and what not to do during an apology, enough to write a book of my own. But the essence is this: we are people, we are going to mess up, but how we handle it shows our character for the better or worse. Think about how your employees apologize to you when they make a mistake. What do you like to hear? It’s the same thing that your customer wants to hear from you: I take responsibility, I will make amends and work to minimize the chance that it will happen again. What bosses and customers do not want to hear is excuses, reasons, finger pointing. The customer NEVER needs to hear why something messed up. Even if they ask why it happened, I tell them I am focused on the solution and assure them that I will later work behind the scenes to fix whatever broken process caused the problem. The only thing worse than having to apologize, is having to apologize to the same customer more than once for the same thing. If you find yourself if this position, there might be some teamwork issues to repair. Thankfully we have since repaired our team issues and are back into the top 10 in the nation, but let me assure you, it was an arduous climb back to the top. Fixing a culture is difficult, but it’s the only long-term solution. If this is a focus for you, check out The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Many business books like this are presented in fable format, knowing that the busy executive only has the time and attention span for a helpful story-with-a-lesson. It makes for a quick read and a powerful testimony to the essential value of teamwork.

In addition to taking ownership, the other critical components of an apology include acknowledging the other person’s feelings and demonstrating sincerity. I put myself completely in the moment, give the apology my full heart and intention, and offer empathy for any frustration I may have caused them due to my lack of leadership. Let’s face it, if I had better leadership and processes, the incident would likely have not occurred in the first place. I am at the core of the mistake and should own that. People know when you speak from the heart, so mean what you say with your whole being. Acknowledge their feelings by saying “I know that must have been frustrating for you. I would feel the same way.” ONLY then can the relationship start to mend. For this topic, I suggest Legendary Service by Kathy Cuff and Victoria Halsey. I have had the honor of meeting Kathy and she changed my entire understanding of how to make amends with someone who is upset.

Here are a few action items to consider if you are dedicated to a culture of customer service.

  1. Create a personal mission statement-Life is short. Ask yourself what is your legacy. Do you want to be known as a nice person? A good father? A good boss? Your personal mission statement should infuse your actions at home and at work. Mine is to be a blessing to others. This mission simplifies my decisions and reduces my stress, because it guides my actions and demeanor. Consider the book Give and Take by Adam Grant as you craft your own. It may help you grasp why some people give more than others and why a shift towards giving is essential in business. If you are a giver in a world full of takers, it also helps you accept your less helpful coworkers better because you know they are wired that way.
  2. Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement and should be a part of everything you do. The only way to become a better leader and human being is to ask questions, read, take an interest in others and challenge yourself to learn from mistakes. The best title for this is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith: It’s chock full of readable examples of top leaders and how they had to learn to change their ways to reach the next level of success.
  3. Learn these two phrases and say them often. I am sorry, and I appreciate you. (customers and employees). Mean it.
  4. Focus on your people. Get to know them, absorb stress for them, let them have some fun once in a while.
  5. Read How Starbucks Changed My Life by Michael Gates Gill. It will just take just a couple of days but it will stay with you always. A job with a supportive atmosphere can be life-changing for your employees. What a way to be a blessing to someone, and how rewarding to watch them thrive and develop while in your care.

One extra last Title I recommend:

Everybody, Always by Bob Goff: If spirituality is an important part of your life, this is a compelling message on how to love even the most difficult people in your world.

Two Japanese Words

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Any time I talk about customer service, I have to break out two of my favorite Japanese words, commonly used in the world of Lexus: kaizen and omotenashi. Kaizen means continuous improvement, an ongoing passion for personal and professional development. It goes without saying that any conversation about customer service will require a constant pursuit of offering better service today than we did yesterday. We must read, learn, try new things. Omotenashi is a little trickier to explain, as I don’t know that there is a true English equivalent.

Omotenashi loosely translated means hospitality, but it really is a stronger version of it. Imagine that your favorite celebrity is going to visit your home: think about how you would put out your best dishes, purchase fresh flowers, and prepare their favorite foods. This level of service is anticipatory, offering amenities which the guest doesn’t even know they want or need. It is a hospitality level designed to delight the guest, help them feel at ease, and create lasting memories. For a company aspiring to the utmost level of the customer experience, one can easily sense that omotenashi is the ideal goal.

In thinking of customer service in this way, I am reminded of the motto held by the Ritz Carlton: We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. I love this phrase, because it conveys a sense of manners and graciousness. It implies that it is an honor to serve others (which it truly is). When I hear about a situation involving a heated debate with a customer or coworker, I think of this motto. Keeping a poised demeanor is absolutely essential, and the more that we maintain our decorum, the calmer the other person will pick up on our dignified presentation and respond in-kind.

In addition to these two concepts, I am unable to discuss customer service without mentioning employee engagement. I believe with my full heart that there can be no ongoing culture of exemplary guest service without a conscious commitment to the internal customer, the associate. It is not realistic to expect team members to be superstars of omotenashi and kaizen without a direct supervisor who embraces those same values. Of the 8-10 responsibilities I have at the dealership, the one which is my absolute priority is caring for the 5 employees for whom I am responsible. I cannot do anything else unless I know that they are ok, and that they have everything they need for the day. I work extra hours to accommodate special schedule requests, ask them about life events, keep communication lines open about their duties and tell them I appreciate them. As we have built our relationship over the years, they have rewarded me with a loyalty that impresses me daily. These amazing individuals provide anticipatory service to the Jim Hudson Lexus customers, seeing things that need to be done for them and jumping in without having to be asked. Ours is a relationship of the utmost level of mutual respect; we watch out for one another and safeguard a positive work experience. When guests comment on the friendliness and service extended by my department, I feel that it is a direct reflection on how they feel about their job.

It has been said that how one feels about their job is 90% related to how one feels about their supervisor. This is why I take my leadership responsibilities so seriously. Considering how much time we spend at work, I have the power to impact someone’s daily life in a significant way. I am sure that John Mackey of the Whole Foods organization concurs: “If you are lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have a moral obligation to make sure people do look forward to coming to work in the morning.”

The best way to fulfill this obligation is to lead by example. If I instruct my team to be punctual, well-groomed, polite, attentive, hard-working…then I myself must demonstrate those attributes in excess of the level I expect from them. If I am encouraging kaizen and ongoing learning, then I must pursue it, as well. My team and I help one another to be better employees, and by extension, better human beings. As we sustain an elevated level of courtesy and graciousness in our environment, that same optimistic attitude begins to ooze into our personal lives, with positive results. We become a blessing to one another.

Being a blessing to someone is at the core of everything I choose to do in my life. It has become my mission statement, informing every interaction at home, work or in the community. The cool thing about having a personal mission statement is that it simplifies decisions. Anytime I am overwhelmed or in doubt, I ask myself how I can be a blessing to the other person, and the answers and actions flow from that. Followers of my blog will recall how I came to discover this mission statement a couple of years ago, but perhaps do not realize how transformative it has become. Be a Blessing Blog By asking myself how to be a blessing to others, it brings personal significance to the customer service I extend. I want to bring the most beautiful aspects of omotenashi to the guest in front of me in each moment, and I am rewarded with a feeling of actually being in love with my job. I go home each night knowing that the work I am doing is my life’s purpose, and it is more fulfilling than any career I could have imagined for myself 30 years ago when I helped my first customer in my first job almost 40 years ago.

While there are still moments of incredible stress and frustration in my work life, I cannot imagine doing anything else, for any other company, as long as I am physically able to work. Customer service positions have to be the most challenging and difficult of any jobs today, but by embracing two small Japanese words and coming up with a mission statement that resonates for you, I can testify that even a job you have had for many years can become new, fresh, and amazing.

 

M is for Maskey

A friend gave me a set of coasters for Christmas, beautiful beige ceramic ones with an elegant gold M etched into the top. I set them out on the coffee table this weekend, and Kevin jokingly asked if the M was for Miller. I assured him that the M was indeed, very much for the name Maskey

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It’s easy to see why he asked the question; he knew that I was still on a Miller buzz after an amazing grand opening weekend. Staff and volunteers for the Symphony Orchestra Augusta had just successfully introduced the revived theater to the community, following a 10-year, $23 million-dollar journey, and I had been blessed with a front row seat on the ride.

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The years leading up to this moment were filled with donated time and money unlike any endeavor I had ever undertaken. I served on the SOA board during the feasibility studies (2008-2011), a time I used to hound project chair Levi Hill IV to let me do anything in order to be involved. “I’ll sweep floors, hang posters, anything you need,” I vowed with awestruck enthusiasm for the impending renovation. Eventually my tenacity and vocal outbursts during board meetings must have convinced him of my passion for the building, because in 2011 he asked me to lead a team of like-minded marketing people to advocate for the campaign in the community. I recruited a group of impressive community leaders and creative minds to serve on the “MMT”,  the Miller Marketing Team. For the next 6 years, the MMT coordinated an ongoing stream of events to create awareness for the fundraising campaign and future construction. As a result of my role in these activities, I would ultimately be asked to serve on the board of the newly created Miller, LLC, and thus began my education in everything from capital campaigns to easement rights.

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Kevin always supported this often crazy journey of mine. I devoted entire weekends to representing the Miller at public events like the Downtown Loft Tour, Arts in the Heart and the Junior League Holiday Market, as well as coordinating our own events, including street festivals, birthday parties, music videos and private tours. Kevin has seen me selling shirts, answering questions, recruiting volunteers, building websites, attending meetings and even gift wrapping to raise money for the cause. He has watched me pour our personal money into marketing materials, event supplies, team lunches and souvenir sales. No matter how thin I stretched my time or money for Miller-related activities, Kevin remained steadfast in his encouragement. Never once did he challenge my level of giving, not even when I passed out broke and exhausted at the end of my many Miller adventures. I imagine most people would have at least had one conversation starting with “Um, honey, are you sure about all this?” Not my Kevin. He even allowed me to plaster Miller art and photographs all over the house, including a 9-foot painting we bought at a fundraiser back in 2010.

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He knew that the Miller journey was not always easy, for me or for the others who were involved. Volunteers and staff came and went. There were doubters, obstacles, learning curves and political battles. My portion of those challenges was minuscule compared to what Levi endured, always with grace and confidence. I tell anyone who will listen that the Miller stands proudly today because of Levi, and I have crazy respect for this charming gentleman and intelligent leader. Somehow the right people always came to us at the right time in the project, and I tend to think they were drawn to Levi’s unwavering faith and charisma. There were too many heroes in this battle to mention, but two individuals in particular felt like gifts from heaven when we needed their strengths the most. Anne Catherine Murray came in as Director of SOA at a time when the boat was flailing a bit, and she was able to maneuver us back on course with her experience and ability to make tough decisions. She was gracious and savvy; she seemed to intuitively know how to focus the talent on deck. Then, as we neared the finish line with much left to accomplish, in flies Marty Elliott, the Mary Poppins of General Managers, with her knowledge and firecracker energy.  What a blessing these three leaders have been, and I credit them and the major investors for the phenomenal structure which now connects the past of downtown Augusta with her future.

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During the opening gala, despite the incredible symphonic presentation and vocal performance by Sutton Foster, I was restless and wanted to walk the space by myself. While the sold-out crowd enjoyed the music, I meandered the glossy arcade and strolled past the shiny displays. It was a surreal moment, remembering what it used to look like and feeling a tiny bit out-of-place. I focused on being fully present in the moment, still emotional after the presentation to Levi which had taken place onstage a few moments earlier. I knew I would remember this night as long as I lived, the culmination of years of efforts by hundreds of people, humbled by the fact that I was a small part of it all, and honored to know that the name Maskey would grace the plaques in this space for generations to come. And for that, the final thanks has to go to Kevin Maskey. I want him to know that no matter what challenge I tackle, that M will always be for Maskey.

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Kev-Ang at the opening gala

 

 

Volunteer Augusta

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I hold a clear memory of walking to school in the fourth grade in our small town of LaJunta, Colorado, entertaining a wide array of big thoughts. It was the mid-70s, and for some reason I kept pondering about what life would be like when the year 2000 rolled around. I calculated how old I would be, and had difficulty picturing myself at the age of 33, a number that borders on senior citizen when you are still in single digits. I couldn’t have imagined then, that when December 31st of 1999 finally rolled around, I would be volunteering my time for a city-sponsored New Year’s Eve party in Augusta, Georgia.

Fast-forward to 1999. I had recently graduated from Leadership Augusta, a program to promote civic involvement, and one of my fellow graduates had thrown my name in the hat to be the volunteer coordinator of a street festival celebrating the new millennium. In one of the most difficult volunteer-recruitment gigs ever, I had the overwhelming task of convincing people to not only give up their free time on such a significant occasion, but to do so out in the cold, working such jobs as selling cokes, serving beers and working ticket gates.

Going into the big night, I had many open slots I had been unable to fill, and I worried that there would be unmanned posts all over the festival grounds when the time came for the big countdown. As it turns out, the volunteers from the prior shift came to my rescue, and pulled double shifts to make sure that all went well for the historic moment at midnight. It is a powerful thing when people surprise you with their generosity, and that is exactly what happened. Many of them visited my check-in table at the end of the event to tell me about their experience.

Cheeks rosy from the cold, and eyes gleaming with excitement, they proclaimed that they had an amazing experience. “Angela, we had the best time!” They gushed their enthusiasm to me as we stood around Broad Street at 1am. “We loved our volunteer time and want to do more of it! How do we go about it? How do we sign up for the next community event that needs help?”

In what Oprah would call an “aha” moment, it occurred to me that there might be a need for someone to serve as the liaison between the people who want to serve but do not know how to go about it, with the agencies who need the help but do not know how to find it. The next day, I went back to my dealership and convinced them to sponsor a website called Volunteer-Augusta.com, a resource for volunteers and non-profit groups to connect. What I didn’t know then, but realize today, is that the creation of this website and the cause of volunteerism would become my life’s passion.

In the 15 years since the site was built, I have observed first-hand the impact that donating your time can have. Volunteering allows you to have unique experiences you would not have had otherwise. You learn new skills, meet new people, feel the intrinsic reward of doing something positive and get a sense of connection with your community. You often are pushed outside of your comfort zone, which for an introvert like myself, translates into powerful personal growth.

The most impactful benefit of volunteering, however, is perspective. No matter how difficult your life may seem at times, it all comes into focus when you serve others. Whether dishing up a hot meal for a homeless person, taking donated soaps and toothbrushes to a women’s shelter, accepting tickets at a local arts event, walking shelter dogs around the park or standing outside of Kroger, ringing a bell for the Salvation Army-in these moments, you realize you are a small but vital part of a larger whole. By becoming engaged in a new endeavor, you help our community to become more robust. Your own life experience becomes richer, filled with more gratitude, kindness, and generosity. Your circle of influence expands, as you create alliances to affect positive change for all citizens. Your kids witness the importance of service, and the seed for their future volunteerism is planted.

No matter how much or how little time you have to give, I encourage you to participate in a variety of charitable activities. Build a diversified portfolio of experiences. Your first step is to think about what causes are important to you. Then visit the volunteer-augusta.com website, and find the contact information for those agencies to learn more. If you are on social media, you will want to join our Facebook group, where over 1,000 people have signed up to stay in the loop on upcoming volunteer needs. Follow us on Twitter, where there is a constant stream of 140-character posts about getting involved. If for any reason you encounter difficulty finding volunteer jobs that are a good fit for your schedule and interests, call me directly, and I will do all I can to get you as hooked on volunteering as I am. I’m confident that we will take our collective small gifts of time, and together make a tremendous impact on the area we call home. I think my 9-year old self would be proud at how it all turned out.

A Grain of Rice

I’ve never been a fan of politics. I’ve kept my opinions to myself, steering away from political debates in the same way we’ve all been warned to eschew chats about sex and religion at the dinner table. This avoidance is wise, given my corporate PR position and leadership roles with various organizations. You can’t offend anyone if you don’t foray into the arena at all.

Lately, however, I’ve been dipping my toe into the local political scene, and have decided that there is too much at stake to continue to play it safely on the sidelines. When it comes to next week’s Mayoral election, a quote from the movie Mulan keeps popping into my head: “A single grain of rice can tip the scales,” says the Emperor of China. “One man may be the difference between victory and defeat.”

Another quote keeps popping into my head, advice from an old friend with tremendous political expertise: “Be careful when you show your cards in the political poker game: if you decide to go public with your support of a candidate, make damn sure you back a winner.”

The problem with this advice is that you cannot always be sure. Some races are close, and they require our involvement. They seem to be calling for the grain of rice. Sometimes, for the good of the cause, you have to stick your neck out there,  even though you cannot be 100% sure they will win. You risk alienating people who support a different candidate, and you risk aligning your personal brand with someone who may not be victorious on Election Day.

Here’s the catch: for communities to prosper, we cannot all sit quietly with our opinions to ourselves. There are donations to be made, signs to be posted, events to be attended, flyers to be distributed, voters to be educated. This is especially true when the competition is tight, and victory can come down to a handful of votes.

From the time I heard that Hardie Davis was running for Mayor, I knew he would have my vote. I am a huge Mayor Deke fan, and want his successor to build on that momentum- a unifier, an articulate ambassador for Augusta, someone we can trust to represent us. What I didn’t know at the time was that I would become involved, and exposed. I have officially shown my cards. And there was one issue that pushed me over the edge. SPLOST.

I am in support of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that is on the same ballot as the Mayoral race. It is a similar package to what has been given voter approval in the past, but this one is tarnished with controversy sparked by misinformation. I am completely convinced that there are Mayoral candidates who refuse to support it simply because they think the public has issues with it, and are afraid to make a stand. Hardie Davis is not afraid; he is informed and supportive. The day the Augusta Chronicle announced that he was the lone SPLOST advocate of the 5 Mayoral hopefuls, I immediately grabbed my purse and made an online donation to his campaign. I was in.

My decision to publicly support Hardie was reinforced at tonight’s Mayoral debate, presented by the Augusta Richmond County Committee for Good Government. In a standing-room only crowd at the Julian Smith BBQ pit, the audience filled with a Who’s Who in politics, Hardie not only held his own, but shined above the rest. He so impressed the crowd that voting members of the Good Government Committee decided to endorse him as their official candidate. But I get ahead of myself. Here’s the scoop on the debate:

I can go ahead and help you eliminate Charles Cummings and Lori Myles, and not just because their numbers are low in the polls. Mr. Cummings, who was difficult to understand, did manage to get the crowd laughing, although not in a good way. At one point, he announced that if elected, he would hold all city commissioners accountable, even if it meant giving them a “report card” on their performance. At his mention of the promise to “hold their feet to the fire”, I was quick to look over at commission members in the audience just in time to witness the nonplussed expressions on their faces. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it would be difficult for Mr. Cummings to build consensus among the Commissioners with that tactic.

I don’t have much to say about Lori Myles- oops, sorry – DOCTOR Lori Myles, who made reference to her advanced education so many times that I began to wonder if it was an academic competition instead of a political one. She seemed angry and defensive and preachy. I tried to picture her making local speeches and kissing babies, and the images just wouldn’t surface. She is the only person who mentioned SPLOST all evening, but there was no love behind her words. She also made a comment about the city running on a deficit for the past 5 years, an error which Hardie Davis corrected.

Alvin Mason had many supporters in the crowd, and they became quite enthusiastic when he let it be known that if you are looking for a female in office, you might as well vote for him because his Mom is going to be an integral part of his leadership. Mr. Mason actually did quite well in tonight’s event, smiling often and demonstrating an astute mastery of the political charm needed for the Mayoral position. Unfortunately, he has some crazy idea about the Riverfront levee (one that the US Army Corps of Engineers would never allow) and is anti-SPLOST, so he’s off my list. I’m also unsure why he feels he is the only one of the 5 candidates with the “skill-set to sign contracts, something only the Mayor can do.” Overall, a decent performance, but he too is low in the polls and unlikely to be a major contender.

Which leaves me to the 2 top contenders, Hardie Davis and Helen Blocker-Adams. Blocker-Adams has had quite an eventful week in her campaign. She received the endorsement of The Augusta Chronicle, and the next day was blasted by callers on the Austin Rhodes radio show for her personal financial instability. (Bankruptcy, foreclosure, bounced checks, repo, etc- the full package.) Critics question her ability to be a steward of the city’s finances if she cannot manage her own. Blocker-Adams says that her financial troubles are so common that today’s news actually “aligns her with 99% of the population” of this community. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to be lumped into that category.

I know Helen, who is a nice person and passionate volunteer for the community, but I’m not convinced she has the experience, leadership skills, or polish to represent us on a global stage-which, let’s face it, we are on as a result of the Masters. I have no reservations that Hardie and Evett Davis could mingle with visiting dignitaries, business execs considering Augusta for their expansion,  or other leaders interested in collaborating with our community. Furthermore, I disagree with Blocker-Adams promise that all city employees should get a raise because a) that’s not her decision b) we are in budget crisis mode and c) there are 2,600 employees. What are the odds that they are all doing a good enough job to warrant a raise?

Speaking of 2,600 employees, do you know how I was able to easily whip out that figure? Because Hardie Davis mentioned the number when discussing city finances. One of his strengths for the night was his use of facts to make his point. He presented himself as confident, well-spoken and intelligent. In addition to the HR stats, he also tossed out specifics such as the incompleted Highway 56 and Windsor Road projects, the 16.5 acres of land affiliated with Riverfront issues, the importance of private investment, the potential for Technology Square, and the 31,000 students who need to not only succeed in their local education, but also to have a reason to live and work here after graduation.

Hardie said that the role of government is to promote the well-being of its citizens. His vision makes sense to me, and I am confident that he can build on Mayor Deke’s great progress. If Hardie can be the grain of rice that tips the scales for Augusta’s success, then perhaps we can be inspired to be the grain of rice that tips the scales for his campaign and for SPLOST on May 20. It’s too important to sit back and be quiet. I might even bring it up at the dinner table.