Augusta Commission members talked about the need to improve the panel’s public image for the good of the city Monday.
“No one of us is guilty, but we all are to a certain extent,” said Commissioner Bill Lockett, who put the item on the agenda of the administrative services committee he leads. “Let’s take the past; let’s make it history.”
Several on the commission have been publicly critical of each other and of city staff in recent weeks, on issues ranging from whether an employee is a department head to the job performance of General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie. The disputes have often fallen along racial lines and the meetings have run long, with some members leaving early on occasion after tensions escalated.
Commissioner Bill Fennoy said he was surprised to hear of Lockett’s agenda item so soon after the commissioner blasted him in one of the city’s black weekly newspapers.
“What made me surprised was an article I read in one of the local tabloids,” Fennoy said, quoting a recent Metro Courier article that portrays Lockett as reminiscing about former District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken’s tendency to vote predictably with his white colleagues, after Fennoy voted with several white commissioners to hire McDonald Transit to run the city bus service.
“It’s very difficult when you say ‘do as I say not as I do,’ ” Fennoy said. “Any time I vote, I will vote for what’s in the best interest of my district, and I have not to my knowledge made any vote that will harm anybody in any part of my district.”
Mayor Deke Copenhaver read the commission code of conduct, first adopted in 2006, into the record.
“If we just treat each other with dignity and respect, we’ll be fine,” he said.
“I had perfect opportunities in the past to attack colleagues, but never have and never will,” said Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle.
Absent Monday were two of the body’s more vocal members: Marion Williams and Alvin Mason. Williams, who said he’d missed the meetings because of doctor’s appointments, argued that commissioner decorum was not what was setting Augusta back.
“That’s not the reason business isn’t coming,” Williams said. “Nobody’s making money but a few people.”
In other committee business Monday:
• A 2014 contract with Sentinel Offender Services for Richmond County State Court was not approved because it did not get three affirmative votes. Commissioner Donnie Smith voted against. Grady Smith and Lockett voted for. Mason, who is chairman, was absent. Donnie Smith likened the probation company’s jailing of people for nonpayment of probation fees to predatory lending, but Chief State Court Judge Richard Slaby said state court is not concerned with lawsuits filed against Sentinel. The contract will go before the commission for final approval.
• The administrative services committee approved Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler’s request for a $2.5 million “bridge loan” to cover redevelopment in Laney-Walker and Bethlehem until the city can issue more bonds for the project in 2015, with the stipulations that Wheeler return with a cost-benefit analysis of decisions to rely heavily on pricey consultants and seek alternative funding sources in addition to the effort’s guaranteed annual $750,000 in hotel bed taxes. The interdepartmental loan won’t hurt the city’s credit rating, Assistant Finance Director Tim Schroer said, but dipping frequently into savings could.
• Administrative services referred a final vote on the city’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program for federally assisted transit contracts to a legal session. The program has been under development for more than a year as the city law department, DBE Coordinator Yvonne Gentry and the Federal Transit Administration have been unable to agree on what it should contain.