City Ink: Answers about judge heard behind closed doors

Richmond County Chief State Court Judge David Watkins is in. Richmond County Chief Probation Officer Marie Boulton is out. And the truth is still unknown. But intrigue in the courthouse, the Statehouse and the Marble Palace continue with an illegal closed-door commission meeting and unanswered questions.

 

For example, why did Watkins call Boulton over and try to get her to resign while Richard Slaby was still chief judge? Watkins called her over to make the offer, which she refused, almost a week before Slaby’s July 31 retirement date, then he placed her on administrative leave the day he became chief judge.

There’s also a question of who’s in charge of the probation office since Boulton was banished. Augusta Commission member Ben Hasan said any of the probation office’s certified law enforcement officers could step up as chief. However, that person must first be approved by the state Department of Community Services.

Boulton’s attorney, Jack Long, said removing her could put the office’s future in jeopardy.

When Mayor Hardie Davis and commissioners learned what had happened, they were upset. At least they acted that way and asked Watkins to come to Tuesday’s commission meeting to answer questions, which he did. He even brought the questions and the answers with him, but what they were is all secondhand since everybody went behind closed doors.

They said it was to discuss personnel and pending or potential litigation, but since Chief Civil and Magistrate Court Judge William Jennings went with them and they received evidence, neither of the exceptions to the state’s open meetings law applied, said the Augusta Chronicle’s attorney, David Hudson, the attorney for the Georgia Press Association.

In the past, I thought former Commissioner Bill Lockett and Commissioner Marion Williams were too harsh in their criticism of the city’s general counsel, Andrew MacKenzie. Now I’m not so sure.

Anyway, Watkins is said to have claimed Boulton was insubordinate and lacked empathy. But none of the commissioners believed that at all, which is why they came straight out of that meeting and hired her as deputy warden for the Richmond County Correctional Institution at the same salary she made as chief probation officer.

Some people have criticized that move, but I think the taxpayers got out cheap by resurrecting the deputy warden position. Although some are trying to trash Boulton by saying she doesn’t have a college degree and never held an important supervisory position, she holds a four-year bachelor’s degree in political science/criminal justice from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and has 25 years in law enforcement with an exemplary record.

She also was the agent in charge for Aiken County for the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services from 2010 until last year. There, she supervised a staff of two team leaders, two administrative assistants, a victim service coordinator, a sex offender agent, pre-parole and pardon investigators, and regular probation/parole agents.

Word on the street is Watkins didn’t like Boulton because she wouldn’t play his racial games or be intimidated and that he wants to replace her with someone he can control.

Think what a big payout Long could have gotten for her.

Watkins also tried to force State Court Administrator Jan Hardy to resign, but she too refused and is transferring to Civil and Magistrate Court with a huge pay cut. She’s been employed by the court for 38 years and is three years away from retirement. Maybe she’ll hire Long, too.

You Don’t Have To Be a Sheriff To Know Deputies Deserve a Raise: Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree had the ammunition with him when he made his pitch for across-the-board pay increases for deputies.

He came with a list of accomplishments and improvements in the sheriff’s office since he took charge in 2013, including such a large percentage decrease in crime that it made me wonder whether one of those consultants he has over there hasn’t been fiddling around with the facts and figures, re-categorizing them and all.

He said violent crime was down by 36 percent and property crime down 43 percent since he took office. At that rate, he’ll have all but wiped crime out completely in Augusta by the end of this decade.

The sheriff proposed two options for raising the below-par pay for his underpaid deputies. The first would give all 655 certified and sworn deputies 10 percent raises at a cost of $2.8 million, and would raise the salary of a starting deputy to $40,292 from the current $34,629.

The second option would cost $2.7 million and would give most of the 535 certified personnel an eight percent raise, and would raise the starting deputy salary to $39,500, which would increase to $44,600 in two years. Corporals and sergeants would receive seven percent increases. Captains and higher would get five percent.

City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson said she couldn’t see how the city could do it without a tax increase next year. And Roundtree said he’d help sell it to the public.

Here’s A Solution the Public (Taxpayers) Would Welcome: Everybody knows police deserve much more than they’re being paid, but, unlike Jackson, I think they should look to cutting some things before they start raising property taxes, beginning with her office.

They could cut her $173,400 salary to $150,000 and eliminate her $10,000-a-year car allowance, and save $33,000. Surely she doesn’t do more than $150,000 worth of work a year.

They also could do away with one deputy administrator’s $137,700 salary and $6,000-a-year car allowance, and not fill the other one and save $286,000 a year.

And Jackson’s $67,500 mouthpiece would have to go. How many PIOs does a group of people who never say anything need anyway?

The total savings for that office alone, including the cost of fringe benefits, would be $526,533.

Davis should volunteer to give up the $102,290 increase he received in his office budget, as well as the $38,750 for his My Brother’s Keeper program.

The fire department’s PIO position shouldn’t be refilled and the $52,066 salary used to raise the pay of 10 deputies to $40,292.

The city also could save $43,200 a year by cutting the pay of the chairman of the assessor’s board chairman’s pay to $250 a month from the current $875 a month and the seven other members to $200 a month from the current $625 a month.

The assessors’ office should start taxing some of the church-owned apartment complexes the state Department of Revenue says are ineligible for tax-exempt status. Last year, there were five church-affiliated properties worth more than $13 million that paid no taxes. Taxing them could add $166,000 or so a year to the sheriff’s deputy fund.

Commissioners could cut the membership to the Georgia Municipal Association or the Association County Commissioners Georgia and belong to only one, as most counties and cities do, and save an estimated $75,000 a year (my estimate) on dues and conventions.

The number of commissioners could be reduced to four from the current 10 for an annual savings in salaries alone of $188,568, not counting fringe benefits. Even better would be to reduce the number to three and save $219,996.

It only makes sense because Commissioners Sammie Sias and Ben Hasan are in charge anyway. Williams would be the third commissioner to keep an eye on them and tell everybody what they’re up to.

It would cut the commissioners’ gasoline bill drastically, too.

And if Roundtree would forfeit the $29,000 he received from two raises since his election in 2013, he’d still have enough to live on with $110,000 and raise the yearly pay of five deputies to $40,292.

The total of potential cuts so far is $1.25 million, and I haven’t even started on the nonprofits and city departments that could tighten their belts for the sake of public safety.

 

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