City Ink: Chief state official may be driven by payback

The truth is unknown, but theories abound about intrigue in the courthouse, the Statehouse and the Marble Palace.

 

One theory about why Chief State Court Judge David Watkins tried to force the court’s chief probation officer, Marie Boulton, to resign last week involves payback – payback for the officials who fired Sentinel Probation Services and those who worked to get it done.

Watkins also tried to get State Court Administrator Jan Hardy to resign, but she too refused and is transferring to Civil and Magistrate Court.

Fueling the payback theory are rumors that Watkins plans to replace Boulton and Hardy with two former Sentinel employees. Niya Barnes would replace Hardy, and Crystal Page, who previously ran the Sentinel office in Augusta, would replace Boulton.

Watkins, who became chief judge last week after the retirement of Chief Judge Richard Slaby, reportedly did not want the city to create a State Court-supervised probation office.

Augusta Commission members approved the order creating the office because of complaints and lawsuits against Sentinel accusing its staffers of having probationers jailed for not paying Sentinel’s supervision fees.

Attorney Jack Long, whom Boulton has retained to represent her, represented a number of plaintiffs against Sentinel and won. He’s warned commissioners that removing Boulton would jeopardize the office’s existence.

A second theory about why Watkins wants Boulton out involves an investigation by U.S immigration services and ICE officials of the relationships between two female probation office employees who married men suspected of being in the country illegally.

In June, immigration officials arrested one of the men and during the course of that investigation learned about the other one, who was once married to a probation officer, said to be romantically involved with a local state legislator.

So the theory is that Watkins and others want Boulton out because she knows about the investigations and romance.

A third theory is that Watkins is all about power and control, which is why he’s removing people from their jobs for no legitimate reason and planning to replace them with less qualified folks.

While all of the above are theories, two things are not. Boulton will never work for Watkins, and she is a victim of political crossfire.

More Intrigue: Boulton remains on administrative leave at least until Tuesday, when Watkins is supposed to come to the commission meeting and tell everybody what’s going on. He probably won’t tell you and me, though, because they’ll go behind closed doors to discuss a “personnel matter.”

Meanwhile, some commissioners are trying to find a job for Boulton in another city department. Commissioner Sammie Sias reportedly called the HR director last week to see whether anything was available. He did not return a phone message about that. One commissioner said he’d heard about the call to HR. Two others said they hadn’t heard anything about it but thought all commissioners should be involved in the discussion.

Mister, Can You Spare Two Dimes, a Nickel and Three Pennies?: The Augusta Commission and the Richmond County Board of Education both voted to roll back the millage for 2018.

Commissioners approved a rollback millage that’s .008 mills lower than last year’s countywide rate, which will save the owners of a $100,000 home about 28 cents.

Well, it’s better than a sharp stick in the eye or a 28-cent tax increase. Still, you can’t do much with 28 cents these days.

For example, you can’t buy a postage stamp. And you can’t buy a cup of coffee. Or ice for that matter. You could make a phone call if you could find a phone booth, but they’re so scarce Superman would get arrested trying to get his tights on in a McDonald’s restroom.

You also can’t buy a Big Mac with 28 cents.

Fit for Nine Kings and One Queen: Among the $713,753 in renovations and demolition at the Marble Palace and satellite buildings, commissioners will be asked to approve at a committee meeting Tuesday is a 1,171-square-foot suite for themselves.

Renovation of the space now occupied by the Compliance Department will create four offices for commissioners, a conference room and two waiting areas at a cost of $21,000.

So the question is, whatever happened to the three offices for commissioners that were in the mayor’s suite in the original Marble Palace renovation? Did Mayor King Hardie Davis annex the space to house his growing kingdom to equal that of the clerk’s suite across the hallway?

I don’t know because the solid wooden door from the mayor’s reception area to his throne room is always closed. You can’t even peek through a window to see what’s down the hall because there is no window.

Why Not Just Cut to the Chase?: On Tuesday, commissioners will begin the annual squabble over which outside agencies will be rewarded with some of your money again in 2018.

The $5.4 million allocated to agencies in 2017 went to authorities, such as the Downtown Development Authority. Some went to other governmental agencies, such the CSRA Regional Commission, one of those unfunded state mandates. And some to nonprofits such as the Augusta-Richmond County Museum of History, the Lucy Craft Laney Museum and the Senior Center Council.

Black commissioners think white commissioners are nitpicking when they question allocations to nonprofits that cater mainly to the black community, such as Shiloh Community Center and MACH Academy. And white commissioners think black commissioners are paying them back when they cut allocations to agencies such as Project Access.

I’m not sure whether the nonprofit agencies should get taxpayers’ money or not. But I am sure if you look at what the percentage of the annual budget they make up is, it wouldn’t cost more than what it costs to pay city employees to sit in the room for hours and hours listening to commissioners argue about who should get what.

Every year, they argue about it and end up giving the nonprofits money anyway.

Walker to Run: Augusta attorney Monique Walker plans to run for run for the Richmond County State Court seat vacated by Slaby’s retirement last week.

Gov. Nathan Deal will appoint a replacement to fill the seat until the May election based on a list prepared by the Judicial Nomination Commission. The short list of potential candidates include Robert “Bo” Hunter III and E. Freddie Sanders.

Walker said she was nominated to be considered for the appointment but did not apply.

“Instead, I will let the people decide,” she said.

 

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