A pared-down version of an amendment to a law requiring commissioners to meet, and the administrator to have an office, "at the courthouse" may be gaining favor among the Augusta Commission, but on the advice of counsel the commission did not vote on it Monday.
The shorter amendment was prepared to address the concerns of three commissioners who previously voted against a longer version, alleging that hidden in its sections were other, potentially illegal changes.
The new amendment changes just two sections of a 1980 law now incorporated into the city charter. One section involves the board of commissioners' monthly meeting place and the other addresses the administrator's office and duties.
The "duties" component proved to be a sticking point Monday for Commissioner Bill Lockett, who questioned inclusion of the phrase, "the duties of the administrator shall be as determined by resolution of the board of commissioners of Augusta, Georgia."
At a called commission meeting, Lockett said, "Included in that charter change is giving this body authorization to create resolutions detailing the administrator's duties."
But authorizing the commission to delegate duties to the administrator by resolution was already in the old law, and the only changes being made to it, as shown in a red-line version, were removing the "county" in "county administrator" and changing "Richmond County" to "Augusta, Georgia," General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said.
The paragraph in question "already had the language in there that you have an office of the administrator and it provides how duties are set for the administrator," MacKenzie said. "We didn't change anything with respect to that."
Not yet convinced, Lockett said he, the mayor and most of the commission had agreed Thursday on a motion dealing only with meetings.
"I don't know why you keep adding stuff about the administrator. We keep telling you to leave it separate, leave it alone and let's take care of the courthouse meeting," Lockett said.
"It was already there that basically says you as a group can assign me duties and whatever," offered Administrator Fred Russell. "The only thing actually done is change the name of Richmond County to Augusta, Georgia."
The 1980 local law, passed under the Home Rule Act with eight votes and not repealed during passage of the 1996 House Bill 805 consolidating Augusta-Richmond County government, "created the language with respect to the powers of the administrator being delegated by resolution," MacKenzie said.
"You're saying that can be done now?" Lockett asked.
"Yes, and it has been done since 1996," MacKenzie said.
"We can give the administrator all this authority, but with six votes we can't decide where this body is going to meet or where the administrator's office is going to be located?" Lockett asked.
"It takes eight votes to amend a local law, and so that's what the proposal is to do, to change that part of the local law," MacKenzie said.
Commissioners Al Mason and Corey Johnson, who previously voted against the amendment, were present but did not question the new version.
A motion to receive the ordinance as information passed 9-1, with Lockett opposed. MacKenzie said the amendment would require a wait of seven days before it goes for a first reading and vote by the full commission. The amendment requires a second reading and vote two weeks after the first and publication in the newspaper before it becomes law, he said.
Afterwards, Lockett said he might support the amendment "if it is what they said is in there."
The commission's next regular meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. May 17.