Laying down the law

File/Staff
City attorney Chiquita Johnson

The Augusta Commission thankfully, and without ambiguity, shot down city attorney Chiquita Johnson's media crackdown and power grab Tuesday.

 

Now commissioners need to spend the holidays considering whether they're getting even minimally competent legal advice.

Ms. Johnson's proposals were a two-pronged poke in the public eye. One resolution would have limited media access to elected officials -- restricting the number of news cameras in commission chambers and shunting aside reporters into a "media room" to conduct interviews. Meanwhile, anyone off the street could have engaged commissioners in dialogue anywhere else. Clearly unconstitutional, even to a first-year law student.

The other proposal would have changed the city charter to grant Ms. Johnson and the city's lawyers "peace officer" power to launch probes into any city department, authority or contractor. She also would have had the power to hire any outside counsel she wished without the commission's approval.

Commissioners bluntly showed Ms. Johnson what they thought of her ideas. Her "peace officer" plan was shot down 9-0-1, with only outgoing Commissioner Calvin Holland abstaining. As for her media plan, it was strangled in its cradle even before discussion.

Since Ms. Johnson apparently thinks meeting space is too cramped to accommodate commissioners and reporters, the commission voted unanimously to move all future commission and committee meetings into its larger chambers.

Action in the meeting Tuesday amounted to a referendum -- on the job performance of, and the level of trust in, Ms. Johnson as city attorney. As an exclamation point on this, commissioners wouldn't even grant her request to enter a closed session to discuss unspecified legal matters.

Her track record as legal counsel for the city is littered with controversy and obstructionism. Too much of her time has been spent in helping thwart the media's open records requests. Instead of simply handing government documents over for rightful public inspection, she makes citizens jump through hoops, only for them to run into a brick wall.

Commissioner Alvin Mason says Ms. Johnson's behavior is beyond arrogant and bordering on incompetence -- and says "I certainly couldn't accept any legal advice from her, given what we'd just went through." Yet, he says he's not looking at firing Ms. Johnson.

Why in the world not? What good is a lawyer whose legal advice you can't accept? Exactly how low are Mr. Mason's standards?

The city of Augusta's legal representation shouldn't have to sink to an even deeper level of dysfunction before corrective action is taken. Our government and its citizens deserve better.

More

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 23:27

Beyond the call of duty

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 01:15

A man of belief