A profile of the Mayor of Augusta, Hardie Davis Jr. and his Chief of Staff, Petula Burks.

“If you care more about the work than you do the people, you will abuse the people while trying to do the work.”
– Mayor Hardie Davis Jr

The People are the Work

Mayor Davis deeply believes in progress and the ability to use government as the vehicle to achieve progress. However, where he differs from many leaders and politicians is that he does not lose sight of who that progress is meant to serve, the people. When it comes to progress, too often society subscribes to the adage of ‘do the ends justify the means?’ and use that as justification for their work. Mayor Davis subscribes to no such adage because in his eyes to advance an agenda that leaves the people behind is to work in service of yourself instead of the people who you were elected to serve.

In order to effectively work in service of the people, Mayor Davis points out that one must possess “the ability and the wherewithal to know when to play the part of a diplomat and when to play the part of a pugilist.” To be able to be both a person who can deal with people in a sensitive and effective way as well as be a fighter or boxer, is a seemingly impossible dichotomy to try and balance. Yet, Mayor Davis affirms that is the job of a leader and their chief of staff if they intend to promote meaningful progress for their people.

The Values You Have

Hardie Davis Jr. was born in Macon, Georgia and grew up in a family of four. From a young age, his parents instilled the values of “caring for others and to value the company you keep.” Speaking about his parents, he considers himself fortunate that they are both still alive and well, even in the midst of a global pandemic, and “ensuring that he does not stray from the values they instilled in him as a child.” It is because of these values that Mayor Davis considers his journey and the success that has come with it to be “rooted in the people.”

Growing up Hardie Davis Sr. worked for Georgia Power which exposed Hardie Jr. to the STEM field. However, he always differed from his father in one key aspect “[I] was not interested in how to power things, but rather how to make things work,” a notion that would prove to be a precursor for his journey to success. Mayor Davis pursued his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech, one of the top engineering schools in the country. Mayor Davis looks back fondly on his time at Georgia Tech, crediting the school and its international student body as “helping to shape [my] world view by providing [me] with touchpoints to people from all walks of life.” As interested as he was in engineering though, Hardie Jr’s values always pointed him to his true passion, caring for others. It is for this reason that later in his life Hardie would go on to receive a Doctorate in Ministry from the Christian Life School of Theology.

Serving the People

Upon graduating from Georgia Tech, Hardie went on to pursue a career in engineering. He would wind up spending twenty-four years working as an engineer and experienced great success doing so, yet his passion for “caring for others” would ultimately compel him to leave his field of study and begin serving the people his journey and values were rooted in.

Mayor Davis started in the Georgia State House of Representatives for two years before quickly making the switch to the Georgia State Senate which he served in for six years. It was during this time that he was first exposed to the chief of staff role and greatly valued the ability of a chief of staff to have a bird’s eye perspective of all the touchpoints between stakeholders. Speaking about the personality of a chief of staff, Mayor Davis described them as “observational learners” who are “knowledgeable and insightful” and in terms of the Georgia State Legislature had an awareness of the dichotomy between policy initiatives and the budget.

Mayor Davis, though, “did not want to be a career Atlanta person” and so after eight years in the Georgia State Legislature, he decided to run for Mayor of Augusta and won in a landslide. As mayor of the second-largest city in the state of Georgia, which has also been the state capital twice before, Hardie contends that “wisdom, not experience, is the best teacher.” His reasoning for this is rooted in what he admires about chiefs of staff, the ability to be an observational learner and glean best practice based on what has and has not worked for others in similar positions.

Late into his second term he was in the middle of looking for a new chief of staff and a colleague introduced him to Ms Petula Burks.

Petula is a native of Athens, Georgia and received her degree in broadcast journalism from Brenau University. However, Petula did not use her degree to pursue a career in journalism; instead, she got her first job out of school as the Public Affairs Director for a Miami Dade County Commissioner. After a few years serving in this role, Ms. Burks actually moved back home to Georgia and continued using her public relations skills at the Georgia Department of Transportation. Upon leaving the department, she pivoted and became a teacher for a few years. “[Teaching] ironically, taught me a lot, especially how to deal with brutal honesty. My students were painfully honest and I learned how to keep my composure, restructure a lesson in a quick minute, and still impact their lives in a meaningful way.” Petula would utilise the lessons she learned upon her return to government as a Public Affairs Officer and ultimately as the Director of Public Affairs for Miami Gardens where “[she] rolled up her sleeves and went to listen to the people about the work that needed to be done.” To accomplish the work, Petula noted that sometimes you had to bring the fight to the people or things standing in your way, but not in a way that would humiliate anyone you defeated; otherwise known as the velvet hammer.

Ultimately, this is what Mayor Davis valued most in his chiefs of staff, “the ability to be both a pugilist and a diplomat.” Not only that, but he felt Petula was someone who understood his principle of “the people are the job, not the work.” As such, he told Petula he wanted her to come to Augusta with him to be his new chief of staff.

When Petula arrived in Augusta she quickly learned that the second-largest city in the state of Georgia actually did not have a communications department, and so from the very beginning she took it upon herself to act as the communications department as well as the chief of staff. Managing such a large workload “proved to have its bumps” but she learned “how to let go and delegate.” As chief of staff, Petula has worked with Mayor Davis on a series of projects. The project that best highlights their commitment to the people is their fight against homelessness in the city. With the support of their team, Petula and Mayor Davis have put together a white paper on best practices to fight homelessness which is now being utilised by cities across America.

During Mayor Davis’s now nearly six years in office, the city of Augusta has transformed into much more than “just where the Masters Golf Tournament is played.” Significant accomplishments include making Augusta the cybersecurity capital of the world, reducing unemployment to under four per cent, reaching the highest bond rating in the city’s history and creating complete transparency on the spending of government funds. Under the stewardship of Mayor Davis, and with the support of Petula and the rest of the team, Augusta is now an international city that serves as a home of opportunity for everyone, as well as the home of the Masters and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

Transcribed and Edited by Baxter Potter, The Chief of Staff Association.