New leadership in Augusta might result in better cooperation with Columbia County, officials say.
Political newcomer Deke Copenhaver defeated Augusta interim Mayor Willie Mays in a Tuesday runoff election, garnering 56 percent of the more than 40,000 ballots cast in the vote to Mays' 44 percent.
A former Columbia County resident and Evans High School graduate, Copenhaver is already friends with Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross, who said the friendship dates back to Copenhaver's childhood.
"I watched Deke grow up," Cross said. "He had a close friend next door to us and he was over there a lot. I knew his family forever and I'm just tickled to death that he was able to pull that off."
Both leaders hope their friendship will mean a better relationship between the neighboring counties.
"In order to realize this area's potential we have to work together as a region," Copenhaver said. "Having a good relationship with the chairman of the county commission already, I think, helps put me in a position to reach out to Columbia County and try to get some more regional cooperation going."
Copenhaver is filling the seat vacated by former Augusta Mayor Bob Young, who resigned in June to take a position with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development in Atlanta. He is expected to be sworn into office Monday.
One of his goals, he said, is to meet with the leaders of Columbia, Aiken, Burke and McDuffie counties to discuss regional economic development.
Earlier this year, attempts to create a regional development partnership between Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties failed.
Cross blamed the failure on conflicts between the Richmond County Development Authority and the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Columbia County has since formed a development partnership with McDuffie, Wilkes and Lincoln counties.
However, Cross said their current partnership doesn't omit working with Richmond County.
"We're going to discuss that and would be happy to consider their inclusion, or doing something separate with just Richmond County," Cross said.
Copenhaver said he also would like to reopen economic partnership discussions.
"I think part of the issue with Columbia County is that Columbia County has not been real confident in Richmond County's government for a while," he said.
"Hopefully, with some new leadership, we can restore Columbia County's confidence in Richmond County."
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