By Abbigail Remkus
Looking back on his first 100 days in office, newly elected Mayor Garnett Johnson is wasting no time in realizing the challenges facing Augusta-Richmond County, and creating a path for what it will take to make a difference. Johnson said his leadership rests on three principles: growth, action and results.
A Growth Mindset
One important component to growing Augusta, Mayor Johnson says, is to improve the confidence of the residents that the city already serves. “I need to help our citizens grow their confidence, not only in calling Augusta their home, but in its leadership. That’s important to me,” he adds.
As a board member of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Johnson recognizes that Georgia has grown “by leaps and bounds,” while Augusta has not. Surrounded by neighboring counties that continue to see population booms, Mayor Johnson’s sights are set on growing the tax base of Augusta-Richmond County beyond the mere three percent they have seen in the past decade. “If you look at what they’ve done over in Aiken, North Augusta, and what they’ve done in Columbia County, and municipalities like Grovetown, they’ve done a phenomenal job at growing, yet Augusta has not,” Johnson says.
As mayor, Johnson hopes to bring educational awareness to the importance of more industry and more rooftops in the city, particularly South Augusta, to house a workforce needed to fuel those new businesses. “We have Aurubis that’s actually under construction, which is a copper smelting facility, however, there are so many other parts of the state that are really moving as it relates to the electrification of vehicles and battery development,” Johnson says. “I want to make sure that I use my influence on that board to create opportunities for Augusta. In order to do that, you have to be able to create economic opportunities so people can work here.”
A native of East Augusta, born to a single teenage mother, Mayor Johnson knows all too well the struggle of poverty for Augusta-Richmond County residents today. “I’m proud that I went through it,” Johnson says of his humble beginning. “I tell people, I empathize with a lot of those young men that are still there because I was prayers away from trouble. Trouble is easy to find in those environments, especially when you’re poor and the people that you idolize are the people that have.”
Johnson reflected that with a strong mother in his corner, he was able to overcome those obstacles and become a successful small business owner. His experiences have taught him the importance of taking action. Now, he is committed to being held accountable through action.
“Being a business owner, being a sales guy, you can only be measured on the things that you get done. I believe strongly that we need someone who is accountable to the taxpayers of Augusta-Richmond County,” Johnson says.
In his first 100 days, Johnson has tasked the city’s interim administrator with conducting an efficiency audit of the city’s departments to identify who does what, where, and what those processes look like. Culling that information presents one of his most important questions: Can it be more efficient?
“Grass cutting, simple, right? I had constituents call me and say ‘the grass is 10 feet tall, can you get it cut’? There are literally four departments that are responsible for cutting grass depending on where it is, depending on what side of the road it’s on, and what street it’s on. That’s crazy,” Johnson says.
Another action item during Johnson’s first 100 mayoral days is a community cleanup initiative. After a successful gathering of community members to collect litter and debris, the next step is to “add teeth to the enforcement of the city’s littering ordinances.”
“Soon, I will be having a meeting with the city’s marshal department to see what can be done; we have an awareness campaign that also penalizes those who choose to litter and throw trash out of the windows,” he says. “In addition to that, I am in the process of working with our folks over in the judicial side of our county, to see if I can get what I call some ‘weekend warrior’ volunteers — people who want to work on some community service.”
Johnson has also taken legislative action, through Senate Bill 231, which allows the mayor to “be a full voting member of the commission.” “In my opinion, it is a pretty big deal in that we have had this consolidation act and charter in place since 1996, and I felt strongly that sometimes we are not able to get things done simply because people abstained for no other reason than to abstain, and that prevents progress,” Johnson says.
He added that after meeting with local legislators, the bill was designed to “provide a better balance of power.” Most importantly, he said, was that the final decision will be left to the voters. “Our population, our constituents voted on this charter that we have in place now, and any changes that are made to it should only be made by the voters.”
For the full article pick up a copy of our June/July 2023 issue on stands.