Center to become the official courthouse

The phrase that sparked controversy -- unexpected even among the divided Augusta Commission -- was clarified Wednesday in an order filed by Chief Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet.

Effective 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, "at the courthouse" officially will mean at the new Augusta-Richmond County Judicial Center, 735 James Brown Blvd., according to the order Overstreet filed.

For sheriff's sales held "on the courthouse steps" and in all public notices and statutory references, the order makes clear the official location no longer is 530 Greene St., where Richmond County courts have convened since the 19th century.

It also designates exactly where, under existing law, the Augusta Commission is required to meet monthly and the administrator is expected to have an office, although the new building wasn't designed to accommodate either.

Efforts to get the commission to agree to amend the city charter to remove the "at the courthouse" requirement have failed, with three of 10 commissioners voting against the measure last week. Charter amendments require a two-thirds majority of eight votes, not a simple majority of six.

Commissioner Bill Lockett said the proposed amendment, a lengthy document that cites a 1904 ordinance as amended more than a dozen times, appeared to do more than simply strike the "courthouse" requirement.

In recent months, Lockett and commissioners J.R. Hatney, Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson have routinely voted against a new personnel policy and procedures manual and numerous associated code and charter amendments they say have the effect of changing the city's form of government.

And the "courthouse" amendment, while presented as a routine change, also includes language that might also change the form of government, Lockett said.

"There are many different things under that one agenda item," Lockett said. "If they had just wanted to take out 'the courthouse,' it would have been no problem."

General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie, however, said the charter amendment necessarily covered the entire old Act, with many words and portions struck and others left on the books.

Amending just the portion dealing with the courthouse "wouldn't be the best way to amend the provision, because there may be inadvertent sections from earlier points left out," MacKenzie said.

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View the proposed amendment
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