City Ink: Incoming chief judge goes after 2 officials

Judge David Watkins won’t become chief judge of Richmond County State Court until outgoing Chief Judge Richard Slaby’s retirement kicks in Tuesday, but Watkins has already tried to kick out the Augusta Probation Office’s chief officer and the state court administrator.

 

Watkins called Chief Probation Officer Marie Boulton in for a meeting Tuesday and made her an offer she could and did refuse – a separation offer to resign. When Boulton refused, Watkins warned her that if she walked out the door without signing the offer, it was off the table.

Slaby hired Boulton last year to run Augusta’s new in-house probation office amid rave reviews from Augusta Commission members.

“She blew the socks off everybody in the interviews,” Commissioner Marion Williams said.

Boulton came with 25 years of law enforcement experience in South Carolina, and her personnel file since being in Augusta is spotless.

Boulton has retained Jack Long as her attorney.

Watkins also summoned State Court Administrator Jan Hardy, who’s worked in the court for 38 years, and made her a similar offer to resign, which she also refused to sign. She will transfer to Civil and Magistrate Court with a big pay cut.

Word is, Watkins plans to replace Boulton and Hardy with two former Sentinel Offender Services employees. Niya Barnes would replace Hardy, and Crystal Page, who previously ran the Sentinel office in Augusta, would replace Boulton.

Commissioners approved the order creating the probation office because of complaints and lawsuits against Sentinel accusing its staffers of having probationers jailed for not paying Sentinel’s supervision fees. A statewide audit later found widespread abuse by private probation companies.

Watkins’ moves to shake up the probation office have some Augusta commissioners all shook up. Williams is proposing moving the probation office from under the court system and placing it under the commission. He’s placed an item on Tuesday’s commission agenda to discuss the move.

Watkins did not respond to a phone message left on his judicial assistant’s answering machine Friday with questions about his offers to Boulton and Hardy and plans for their replacements.

We Don’t Need No Stinkum Permission: A Monday meeting called by Mayor Hardie Davis that included the administrator, directors and some commissioners while excluding others prompted a minor dustup at a commission committee meeting last week.

The mayor’s meeting concerned expanding local, small and disadvantaged business requirements to include professional services contracts which are currently exempt. Companies bidding for other city contracts must show proof they’ve given local, small and disadvantaged businesses an opportunity to participate in their contracts.

Commissioner Ben Hasan, who was at the mayor’s meeting, briefed commissioners about it at Tuesday’s committee meeting. He said those present were commissioners Andrew Jefferson and Williams, City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson, Compliance Department Director Kellie Irving, Procurement Director Geri Sams and City Clerk Lena Bonner.

The group decided that Irving and the law department would create an “appellate process” for an ordinance that would require professional contracts to comply with local, small and disadvantaged business requirements, and formulated a motion to that effect.

Commissioner Sean Frantom took exception to a motion being written without the knowledge of all commissioners.

“That’s disappointing,” he said. “A meeting took place with a few commissioners, and a motion was drafted. We said we weren’t going to do that.”

Williams said he wanted to clarify that they didn’t have a special called meeting because they’d have had to call me and Augusta Chronicle staff writer Susan McCord. Besides, he said, a motion is not an order.

“We had some issues we addressed, but I think we need to move this process forward,” he said.

Hasan said that except for Grady Smith, he’d personally informed the other commissioners about the meeting and what was discussed.

“They knew about this,” he huffed. “They’re being dishonest for whatever reason, and that’s their prerogative. … We don’t need anybody’s permission to draft a motion. It had nothing to do with a resolution or ordinance.”

How Indeed?: A line item in the Housing and Community Development Department’s fiscal year 2017 Action Plan Final Allocations caught Hasan’s eye.

“In looking at your outline about programs, you have financial literacy $31,442.84,” Hasan noted.

The housing department staff member said the department saw a need to go above and beyond the in-house financial counseling for potential homeowners and that the money was used to pay for things participating banks couldn’t provide.

Hasan took issue with that.

“If three or four different banks cannot absorb $31,000 to be exposed to potential homeowners in financial literacy classes, you need to look at some other entities to do business with,” he said.

Commissioner Sammie Sias said financial literacy is a very valuable class and that in working with Habitat for Humanity the past 20 years, he’d taught financial literacy to potential homeowners.

“It’s amazing how many folks we ran into who had no clue of how to do a personal financial budget,” he said. “Had no clue of personal financial responsibility.”

Sias said that when officials were talking about relocating residents of Gilbert Manor apartments in other areas of Richmond County, they asked, “How do you put these people out in the community to maintain a home or residence with no financial literacy, no financial classes?”

 

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