Workers get paid without working

It took Augusta 11 years to hire a general counsel for an in-house legal department as the consolidation law mandated in 1995, but only five months to get rid of him.

 

City commissioners voted to fire General Counsel Eugene Jessup on Tuesday, but he'll receive $7,692 in severance pay through July 5, bringing his total compensation to about $16,000 since going on administrative leave with pay May 7.

And while the in-house legal department no longer has an attorney of any sort, its 2007 budget remains at $455,350, according to city records.

Mr. Jessup was placed on administrative leave after he did not resign when Mayor Deke Copenhaver asked him to. The mayor and other commissioners said the legal newcomer had turned out not to be "a good fit" for the commission.

Mr. Jessup ruffled feathers when he learned that assistant in-house attorney Vanessa Flournoy had been doing real-estate closings on her city-owned computer and reported her to the human resources department.

Ms. Flournoy was placed on administrative leave with pay May 1 and has been paid about $7,000 and will receive about $6,000 more in severance pay through June, according to city records.

Meanwhile, three legal department secretaries in offices with no attorneys also are being paid. Lisa Williams receives $1,321 every two weeks; Meschery Powell is paid $1,277; and Betty Carrera receives $1,196. But City Administrator Fred Russell said two of the secretaries are doing work for Attorney Stephen Shepard, who is the city's outside legal counsel. Mr. Russell said he had not decided where to place the third secretary.

Another city office mandated by the consolidation law that took almost a decade to get going also has run into trouble, and has ceased performing its primary function because of a federal judge's court order.

On Feb. 13, U.S. District Judge B. Avant Edenfield issued a temporary restraining order that prohibits Augusta from giving preference to small and minority-owned businesses. Thompson Building Wrecking Co. and three other businesses challenged how the city decides who gets contracts.

The city can continue doing business, taking bids and awarding contracts for goods and services. But unless the judge lifts the restraining order the city cannot use the rules of its Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program ordinance.

The ordinance was enacted to increase business opportunities for women, minority and small contractors. Its goal was to require contractors or vendors wanting to do business with the city to include 25 percent minority or small-business participation in their bids or prove they had tried to do so.

The lawsuit filed in federal court, and one filed by Thompson in Richmond County Superior Court, alleges the program causes reverse discrimination and puts local companies at an unconstitutional disadvantage.

But while the disadvantaged business program has been shut down, the costs continue. This year's budget is $221,400.

DBE Director Yvonne Gentry said she has redirected her efforts toward helping small businesses and preparing a request for proposal for a disparity study that could allow the city's DBE ordinance to pass judicial scrutiny.

"We want to make sure small businesses have an opportunity to bid on city contracts and services and that it is done from a local standpoint and not by going outside of the CSRA to find those vendors," said Commissioner Don Grantham.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

DELINQUENT DEPARTMENTS

City of Augusta Offices that aren't doing what they were designated to do and what they're costing taxpayers this year:

- In-house legal department, $455,350

- Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Office, $221,400

Source: 2007 City General Fund Budget

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