Personnel manual OK'd; power still an issue

Vote is 6-3-1 on debated handbook
Corey Perrine/Staff
Augusta Commission member Bill Lockett (center) and Commissioners Al Mason, Corey Johnson and J.R. Hatney voted against the city's new handbook, saying it might help alter government by giving the city administrator more powers.

A new handbook for Augusta employees, which spells out policies and procedures on everything from break times to "generational careers" such as firefighting -- which are exempt from the city's nepotism policy -- passed muster Tuesday with six commission votes.

 

Four commissioners -- Al Mason, Bill Lockett, Corey Johnson and J.R. Hatney -- maintained their opposition to the book, which they say might be surreptitiously altering Augusta's form of government by giving the city administrator additional powers without the two-thirds majority of votes required in the charter. Several Augusta-area legislators feel the same way.

Mason, Lockett and Hatney drilled city attorneys who had drafted the manual, its revisions and legal opinions in support of it.

"People are getting paid very well to give us correct documents," said Mason, who complained that various revisions the law department prepared weren't numbered or dated.

"How do you justify making these (kinds) of changes and it does in no way impact the authority that governs this government?" Hatney asked.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver said the charter's ability to be interpreted in several ways, including an Office of Legislative Counsel opinion that Augusta's mayor is the city's powerful chief executive, was the real problem.

"If y'all don't keep me happy, I'm going to start firing people in a hurry," the mayor said jokingly.

City General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said the charter had no bearing on approving the personnel manual or changing the city personnel board. The commission voted 6-4 to change the personnel board.

"We're trying to give the administrator the authority without changing the form of government," Lockett said.

The new manual gives the administrator the exclusive authority to recommend department heads for hiring or termination, which formerly the commission also could do. It also declares he has authority to hire, fire and reorganize all other workers, although MacKenzie has said the administrator already had that authority.

In a roll-call vote on the new manual requested by Lockett, Commissioners Matt Aitken, Joe Bowles, Jerry Brigham, Wayne Guilfoyle, Joe Jackson and Grady Smith uttered clear "yes" votes. Hatney said "unclear" and "present," then abstained. Lockett, Mason and Johnson voted "no."

The split vote was the second and final one needed.

Implementing the vast array of changes called for in the new manual will take some time. The Human Resources Department is developing a timeline, Director Rod Powell said.

One of the changes is placing all city employees on a 7.5-hour workday.

The handbook also is viewed as a tool for City Administrator Fred Russell to use as he works to reorganize city government.

He prefaced the report by saying, however, that as the city loses state and federal funding, his proposed cuts might not be enough.

"This is something that scares me, because as a group, you're going to have to decide some major issues," he said.

The report shows an annual cost savings that shrinks from almost $2 million to $1.2 million if the plan is in effect for only nine months in 2011. The savings from laying off 29 employees is $536,080 if it isn't implemented until April, the report shows.

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