AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Unless you have been out of the country recently, you know that we are in the middle of a very busy election season, and NewsChannel 6 and “The Means Report” are all over it. We had a good time covering all the races for you on primary election night. Wayne Guilfoyle and John Clarke are both running for Commission District 10, a seat that John Clarke hopes to keep, a seat that Wayne Guilfoyle hopes to get. John Clarke’s been the incumbent for the better part of term number one. Wayne Guilfoyle served two terms in District 8. He finished in 2018. We hope the information you gain from this episodes gives you the knowledge you need when you cast your vote in just a few weeks.
Brad Means: Wayne Guilfoyle, let me start with you, if I may, and ask you why you are trying to get back on the commission. You were there for two terms. Do you miss it, or do you think Mr Clark’s doing a bad job, or both?
Wayne Guilfoyle: Well, Brad, thank you for that question. What I’m looking at when I was on the commission, we accomplished a lot, where you had the me municipal building remodeled, you had the old AT&T on 5th Street actually purchased. And we put in the engineering department and utilities department. We’d redone the library. So when it comes to doing things, as well as the sheriff’s office, but when it comes to jobs, it’s a big issue to me because when I was on the floor, we actually had Unisys, we had Starbucks. We actually supported the, and had the, Cyber Command. With the Cyber Command, we reassured that Fort Gordon would not be going anywhere. When it comes to saving taxes, we actually looked at stopping the caddy tax for downtown, which saved millions of dollars to the taxpayers. We actually reduced the fire insurance out there in the rural area, which I represented.
Brad Means: All right, so let me ask you this.
Wayne Guilfoyle: Yes, sir.
Brad Means: Let me ask John Clarke this. Mr. Guilfoyle has listed an array of achievements, businesses that have been brought to town, new development. How do you think things have gone during your first term when it comes to keeping Augusta’s business community thriving?
John Clarke: Well, my term has been a term of COVID. So you’re not really aware of everything that’s gone on. But in my term, we’ve had a lot of development going. We’ve had businesses, I think 80 something new businesses, in the downtown core to come in with private money that’s around the $60 million mark. We’ve got two factories being built out in Corporate Park. We’ve got new buses coming in. You know, anybody can build something, anybody can vote to tear something down, but I’m the people’s commissioner that also picks up a telephone when it rings, listens to the people, actually go out to their homes, and get things done. So it’s not always about sitting on that dias, but it’s about when you’re not on that dias, what you’re doing for the people, as well as the business leaders. So we can hang trophies on the wall, say what we’ve done, but at the end of the day, it’s what you’ve done for the people of Augusta, the citizens of Augusta, the taxpayers of Augusta.
Brad Means: Now, listen, let me talk to both of you. And John Clarke, I’ll start with you about the outcome of that primary election. John Clarke, you were this close to not having to be sitting on that table right now being interviewed by me. 49% of the vote, 32% for your opponent. What are you doing differently, if anything, to get your 49% back out there and pick up one more?
John Clarke: Well, I’m not gonna give away my game plan to everybody, especially with my opponent sitting right next door. But you know what? I would have been reelected if it hadn’t have been for the law that you have to have 50.01% of the vote. It’s a state law. It happens. We’ve got three runoffs. That’s gonna cost the city of Augusta a whole lot of money. And it is what it is. So we’ll continue on, and we’ll be reelected.
Brad Means: What about you, Wayne? 32%. You’ll need to pick up about 20 more or so to win this. Can you get people out there in the middle of vacation season and maybe people who are sick of politics at this point?
Wayne Guilfoyle: Well, Brad, what we’re doing, I have nothing to hide. We are actually focusing on doing the reach-out through the media. We’re gonna continue on the radio. We’re doing the billboards. We’re gonna do push cards, mailers, as well as the Facebook, directly at Facebook, where you could centralize certain areas. We have nothing to hide. Actually, we have a lot of, I have a lot of accolades to give. And when it comes to saving the taxpayers dollars, I’m happy to talk about that.
Brad Means: John Clarke, you probably would’ve won if Wayne Guilfoyle wasn’t running. Did you ever go up to him just commissioner to commissioner at any point and say, “Hey, man, please don’t run”?
John Clarke: No, I never did do that because it’s open. It’s an open election. It’s an open seat. Anybody can run for an office. And so no, I never asked him not to run. I would never ask anybody not to run. It’s a free country. Thank God. And he chose to run, and that’s the way it is.
Brad Means: What about you, Wayne? Were people whispering in your ear, “Hey, we need some change”? I know you mentioned your list of accomplishments when you were on the commission, but did you and your people watch what was happening, not only with Mr. Clarke, but with the whole body, and they just said, “Wayne, you’ve gotta go back up there”?
Wayne Guilfoyle: Well, Brad, when I was watching the entire time, actually, I had spoke with Commissioner Clarke about a year and a half ago about his accomplishments. He came to my office, and I was trying to figure out what his accomplishments was, which was the transit and the airport, which they have their, per se, the airport has their own boards. And when I see policy broken where we give the administrator, the attorney that we just let go a year’s salary, we broke our own policy. And then the third time we did it for the fire chief, which is the max you could give is six months per policy. And now it’s setting a precedence to where it’s not favorable for the taxpayers in the future. We also have my opponents actually trying to, he tried to increase the expenditure of travel budget, as well as the gas card. I never did use the gas card. I returned it in the two envelopes that it came in. And then my opponent was talking about he ended up doing away with the gas card, him and Ben Hasan, to where he was using the least fuel of all commissioners, which I appreciate that. But he also started a car allowance, so his fuel went from $140 a month to $500 a month. And I don’t think that’s looking out for the taxpayers.
Brad Means: What do you have to say about that, John Clarke? And what do you have to say about maybe your forensic audit that would show all of us how y’all are spending all of our money?
John Clarke: Well, number one, I congratulate Mr. Guilfoyle for never using his gas card. Like I’ve stated before, I’m retired. I don’t own a business. I can’t write things off of my income taxes. I recall it was a 10-to-nothing vote to increase the auto allowance to, because we were having commissions that were spending a thousand, $2,000. That was out of the way. So by us going to a monthly stipend for the use of our automobile, the upkeep of our automobile and the gasoline, and bear in mind that we pay income taxes on that stipend, so it’s not the full amount that we are given. So we’ll put that to rest. Talking about travel allowance, there again it was a commission’s vote. It’s like I had a pitchfork and a torch leading the charge. That wasn’t true. It was, in fact, I voted against something that the other commissioners voted for. Now, as far as a forensic audit, I use the word “forensic” because that gets attention that goes into deep detail. My opponent says that we do a budget every year, and it shows where the money goes, how it’s being spent. Well, my problem is I want an in-depth audit so that we’ll know how the money is being spent, as well as where it’s being spent because every time we go to do something, the big answer we get is we’ve gotta find the money, we’ve gotta find the money. So let’s find the money. Now, it’s also brought up, and I’ve been criticized, that I wouldn’t-
Brad Means: Let me do this. Let me do this. John, finish your point. I want you to finish your point, but we are gonna take a break after you finish your point. So try to keep it tight. Go ahead.
John Clarke: Okay. I’ve been criticized because I voted against a forensic audit for the mayor. Well, the rest of the story is that was a substitute motion. I made a motion to do the audit on the government to include the mayor’s office. So me voting against the mayor’s forensic audit is not an accurate statement. So get over that.
Brad Means: Well, we appreciate your clarification, Mr. Clarke, and y’all’s answers during our first segment. We are grateful for those. When we come back, our conversation continues with Wayne Guilfoyle and John Clarke trying to get your vote for the District 10 commission seat in Augusta. on “The Means Report.”
Brad Means: And we welcome you back to “The Means Report,” everybody. John Clarke and Wayne Guilfoyle are our special guests today. They’re running for the Augusta District 10 Commission seat, a seat that John Clarke currently occupies. And he’d like to keep it for a second term. Wayne Guilfoyle trying to return to the commission after taking four years off, a former two-termer out of District 8. John Clarke, let me start this next segment with you. And the topic for both of y’all is gonna be Regency Mall. The headline a few days ago was that a revitalization project is coming to Regency Mall. A quite grand and elaborate project. John, do you think this is gonna happen?
John Clarke: Well, I will remain cautiously optimistic, seeing that this was the first that many of us had ever heard of this, including people that are in positions that should have known about it.
Brad Means: Did the Economic Development Authority know about it?
John Clarke: They did not know about it. That’s strange that they wouldn’t know about it, but no, they didn’t know about it. So with them not knowing about it, why would most of us not know about it? But it is strange at the number of people that, and who did know about it. And so we’ll let it go at that, and we’ll see what transpires, but I will remain cautiously optimistic about any development that we can get at that parcel of land because it’s been a blight on this city for years and years and years. They’re not paying their fair share of the taxes. They’re told to keep them paying the storm water fee. So it’s time to do something with it.
Brad Means: All right. Wayne, same question to you. Mr. Clarke is right. That’s been an eyesore, Regency Mall, for years. Do you think this is the project that’s gonna turn things around?
Wayne Guilfoyle: Well, Brad, it’s kind of like it brought back memories when the Civic Center was trying to be put there. We had a rendition of a picture of what it’s gonna look like as the new Civic Center. And it was close to passing. It was actually 5/4/1 vote when I was on the floor. But everything’s the devil’s in the details. There’s no substance I see a render in. And I’m hoping that there is some substance to it. But when it was the Civic Center at the Regency mall, to keep it from passing, I ended up reaching out to a lot of my contractors’ friends and finding out, putting a number to it, which was over a half a billion dollars. And fortunately, the colleagues at the time entrusted a man that project failed from having the Civic Center there.
Brad Means: Well, I appreciate y’all’s answers. And I’ll tell the audience this was an initiative or an announcement that was spearheaded by mayoral candidate Steve Kendrick. Steve’s gonna be on the show next week, along with his opponent, Garnett Johnson. So we’ll kind of dig into the Regency Mall issue more deeply with them. Please make sure you watch, and we’ll find out what Mr. Kendrick’s and Mr. Johnson’s hopes are for that piece of land out there. Let’s talk about the arena, John Clarke. Mr. Guilfoyle mentioned the James Brown Arena. What do you see happening down there? Voters last time said we don’t wanna have a bond referendum and pay for it. What’s the future of the James Brown Arena?
John Clarke: Well, we do need a new facility down there because the one that we have has outlived its purpose.
Brad Means: Yeah.
John Clarke: We’re looking for ways to pay for it. We’re talking about bond issues where you’ve been rearranging about some amenities within it. So it’s a work in process, but what I would like to see happen is the possibility of let’s let the visitors to the city pay the biggest portion of that bill to build the new arena. I would like to see, like they do in other cities, have a tax attached to the motel rooms, say, $2 a night more on the motel room tax, and have that money especially dedicated to the monies involved with the James Brown Arena. I think that would probably give a relief to the citizens of Augusta and the tax payers and let somebody else that’s coming in using all of our facilities and infrastructure pay for it.
Brad Means: Yeah, what about you, Mr. Guilfoyle? What are your hopes for the arena? I know times are tight. Taxpayers may not be willing to shell out extra for it right now.
Wayne Guilfoyle: Well, actually, this question was brought up during the chamber conference conversation. You know, the way I look at it, I know that Cedric, Brad, as well as the rest of the board has been trying to find avenues, and they hired a company to help them figure out the funding of it. If we look at it, SPLOST dollars, which is the one-cent sales tax of the people in Augusta, probably pays about 44 cents on every dollar. So it’s not an impact directly on each citizen. So if we increase the SPLOST by one cent, go from eight to nine cent, in four years, you’ll have enough money to cover the arena, which is 235, $240 million.
Brad Means: All right, let me move. That’s a lot of money. Quarter billion dollars. But I hear what you’re saying about an extra penny on the tax. But that’d take us to 9%. We’ll see. Let me talk about the ambulance service in Augusta. Wayne Guilfoyle, when you were a commissioner, you had to deal with this. John Clarke, I’ll let you answer first. Renewing the contract with Gold Cross, why does that seem to take so long and be such a big deal? From my perspective, just a guy who watches the ambulances drive up and down the street, they seem like they’re doing a good job. Is there something that we’re missing?
John Clarke: Well, what we’re doing right now in the city of Augusta is we’re working with a MOU, a memorandum of understanding. What we’re trying to do, and I am chairman of the Public Safety Committee, and what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get, instead of having so many workshops going over the same things over and over and over, we’re trying to move this forward to direct our administrator and our attorneys to meet with Gold Cross and their attorneys, take the memorandum of understanding, and form a contract so the people and the citizens of Augusta Georgia will know exactly how many ambulances we have on duty every day dedicated to emergency calls to the citizens. And it seems like we’re getting pushback, pushback, pushback for that. And I don’t ever speak for someone else. You’ll have to ask them what’s in their mind as to why they’re pushing back on it.
Brad Means: Was it a headache for you, Wayne Guilfoyle, or were times easier with Gold Cross when you were a commissioner?
Wayne Guilfoyle: No, I actually had fought for Gold Cross because I knew the impact that it would put on our citizens with, we have poverty, as well as fixed income, that the rates would go up. and Gold Cross did warn us, if the subsidies was cut, that it would be increased. So a normal ambulance ride went from $800 to $1,800. And with the elderly people with no family, friends around, if they fell, it used to be a free service from Gold Cross before the subsidy was cut. Now it’s a $400 charge. Well, people that’s in poverty, on fixed income, cannot afford that. They’re either gonna give up medication or food. So I was a big proponent of keeping the subsidy for Gold Cross, even though Augusta-Richmond County wanted to go into the ambulance business. But since that moment, we had two of our citizens die at the hands of our person that was in charge of ambulance service at the time. I think what we need to do, I know that John was the chairman over the public safety, but Alvin Mason had put it on the agenda two weeks ago to put the subsidy in. It should have been the chairman’s responsibility, not one of the other commissioners if we was really serious about looking at the safety of the citizens.
Brad Means: Let me ask you both a couple more questions. Let’s start with making Augusta a better, cleaner, healthier place to live. I’m talking about more bicycle paths, more green space, just making Augusta more pleasant. It’s a great town. We all love it. but what can be done to improve it? John Clarke, will start with you.
John Clarke: I think what can be done to improve it is clean it up.
Brad Means: Yeah.
John Clarke: Keep the grass cut. Keep the sidewalks clean. Let’s repair Riverwalk. Just do routine maintenance, and it’ll start coming around. You know, we have water fountains downtown that are beautiful, but they don’t operate.
Brad Means: What’s the problem? Why don’t y’all send a crew out there to fix ’em?
John Clarke: Well, I guess we’ve gotta find the money to do it first.
Brad Means: Hey, you’ve got $11 million in leftover pandemic relief money. Can you use that seriously, or is that earmarked for other things?
John Clarke: You know, they-
Brad Means: They got a lot of strings on that money, the government does.
John Clarke: They’ve already got it earmarked for other things. I mean, my Lord, we had an administrator that, on record, I voted no not to hire this guy, and everybody else voted to hire him. Well, he got us in problems, and it was allowed to happen. So we both agreed that, in a couple of years, we’re gonna start having to look for ways to cut things, find money, real, big time money, to cover the debt that we’ve been put in, so.
Brad Means: Wayne Guilfoyle, let me give you a chance to talk about ways to make Augusta better and happier and make us love it even more.
Wayne Guilfoyle: Well, Brad, what we need to do is really clean up our city. We had provisions in place before I left office as far as the Riverwatch. We had a maintenance program that would take care of the issues as they was presented. If you look at the boathouse, it’s no longer usable. They want to close down the park. And I would question why because the last time I was on the commission, the commission controls the money. Every year, we were presented with a budget, and we know where every dollar is spent. There’s some frugal money in there that could be utilized. Now, with this federal relief money, I would make it priority to get what we have messed up fixed. We got a landfill that’s sucking the city dry. And before too long, it’s gonna be closed down if the EPA continues to find problems with that. It’s a headless department. It’s used to be a money maker. We need to get our house back in order, Brad.
Brad Means: John-
Wayne Guilfoyle: And it’s not being done.
Brad Means: John Clarke, he says you’re not keeping your house in order, you and your friends on the commission. 30 seconds to respond to that.
John Clarke: Well, we do have to keep our house in order, but when you’ve got a commission that all it takes is six votes to get anything they want to be done done, and a lot of times you’re the lone vote, you and maybe two other people that are going, “Wait, back up. Stop, stop. We don’t need to do this.” well, you talk about having relationships among each other. We do have relationships. We do talk about things. He talked about Alvin Mason put a something on the agenda that I should have put on. Maybe Mr. Guilfoyle didn’t stop to think that maybe that was already talked about beforehand that we were going to do it that way. So things do need to be back in order, but we need people that will stand up to do it. And I’m standing up and I’m fighting for the citizens of Augusta. It’s a hard fight, but that’s what it is.
Brad Means: Well, listen, our time flew by. We could easily do another 30 minutes with you all. And I just am so grateful to you for taking the time and for running for public office to serve our city. John Clarke, Wayne Guilfoyle, best of luck in this runoff, and thank y’all for coming today.
Wayne Guilfoyle: Thank you, Brad.
John Clarke: Thank you for having us. Thank you.