Solution to mayoral power not likely today

Corey Perrine/Staff
Deke Copenhaver: Mayor said he and the commission should focus on establishing what kind of government they have.

The debate over who's in charge of Augusta government is unlikely to be resolved at today's Augusta Commission meeting, despite Mayor Deke Copenhaver's request last week to "call the question."

 

"After considering it further, what we have to do is go to the root of it: the charter, the consolidation bill," Copenhaver said.

Interpretations of those documents in a legal opinion by the Office of Legislative Counsel found Copenhaver to be Augusta government's chief executive, empowered with sole authority to hire and fire employees, including the city administrator. The opinion, which was requested by Augusta-area legislators, contrasts markedly with one prepared by Augusta's general counsel.

Although General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie subsequently prepared ordinances designating hiring and firing duties to the mayor, they weren't ready in time to be placed on today's agenda, and Copenhaver said he's ready to go in another direction instead.

"The discussion that the commission and myself need to be having is what kind of government do we want to be," the mayor said. "After 15 years, it's still open to debate as to what form of government we are."

Copenhaver wants the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia to review the documents and make recommendations for revisions that create "a professionally run, efficient and effective government."

The legal opinions offering conflicting interpretations of the documents have been sent to the office of Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, however.

MacKenzie sent a letter to Olens last week posing four specific questions about the powers held by Augusta's mayor and commission, whether such powers could be delegated and, if so, whether it takes a two-thirds majority of the commission for passage.

Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, said Copenhaver asked him Friday to make a similar request for an opinion from the attorney general.

A response to the request is probably a month away and is not binding, a spokeswoman for Olens said.

The office is willing to help local governments but does not write binding opinions for anyone except its state government clients, who do not include Georgia legislators or municipalities, spokeswoman Lauren Kane said.

Regardless, Howard, Copenhaver and several Augusta Commission members have said they welcome the advisory opinion from the state's top lawyer.

Copenhaver said he would like to see the government function under the attorney general's guidelines until Augusta's charter can be revised.

Howard differed with Copenhaver's proposal to have the Vinson Institute review the charter, saying there are "bright enough minds within the city that can participate in a process that's fair to everyone."

Though there are no charter conversations on today's meeting agenda, the document that spurred controversy over how city government operates -- a new personnel manual -- is up for discussion again.

Bill Lockett and two other commissioners refused to attend a meeting Friday on the handbook, saying further discussion was futile until the attorney general issued his opinion on whether giving City Administrator Fred Russell greater authority constituted a change in Augusta's form of government.

"How can you approve a personnel manual with six votes, when delegating authority to the administrator takes two-thirds of the commission (to approve)?" Lockett said, also taking issue with the manual's placing Russell over the actions of the city personnel board. "We'd be abdicating our responsibility if we did that."

Lockett lamented the change in tone among members of the commission, which appeared to agree on more things last year and rarely had the 7-3 and 6-4 splits it has recently had.

"After the last elections and everybody started speaking of the six votes -- I think that was the beginning of the downfall," Lockett said, but added, "I don't think the wound is so deep it can't be healed."

Commissioners snub work session
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Letter requesting Attorney General opinion on Augusta goverment

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