Naming new judicial center sparks debate

Another rift is forming on the Augusta Commission, this time over a proposal to name the new courthouse after John H. "Jack" Ruffin Jr., a civil rights attorney who went on to be chief judge of the state Court of Appeals.

 

Commissioner Corey Johnson, who put the idea forward at last week's Public Safety committee meeting, and Commissioner Calvin Holland, who chairs the committee, both say they believe all five black commissioners will vote for it.

But Commissioner Jimmy Smith said he doesn't think it will get the necessary sixth vote and wishes Mr. Johnson would take it off today's agenda.

"I don't think it could pass," he said. "To me, if it doesn't pass, it would look bad for the judge."

Both he and Commissioner Jerry Brigham said Monday that the building shouldn't be named for anyone and should rather be called the Augusta Judicial Center.

"That's what we've always called it, that's what it's always called everywhere else in the state," Mr. Brigham said. "A judicial center is a place where everybody's going to get justice. It's not a place to honor a particular person, in my mind."

Mr. Holland said there's a first time for everything. He believes a commission vote last year signaled a desire to name the building after someone.

On Nov. 5, former Coliseum Authority member J.R. Riles went before the commission suggesting the judicial center be named for Judge Ruffin -- the first black member of the Augusta Bar Association, the first black Augusta Superior Court judge and the first black Court of Appeals chief judge.

Mr. Johnson made a motion to do so, seconded by Mr. Holland; but Don Grantham proposed a substitute motion, seconded by Mr. Brigham, to do more research. The substitute motion passed 8-1, with Mr. Holland opposing.

Mr. Holland had that section of the Nov. 5 meeting's minutes attached to today's agenda. According to the minutes, Mr. Grantham said he was in "very much in favor of Judge Ruffin," but wanted to give others a chance to make recommendations.

"Here it is, almost another year, and no one has come up with a name," Mr. Holland said.

Mr. Johnson said he doesn't understand how anyone could oppose his plan, what with the jail being named for former Sheriff Charles Webster and a water treatment plant off Tobacco Road for former Utilities director Max Hicks.

"I don't see why it should be a problem," he said. "I think even the former mayor, Bob Young, is in support of it."

Mr. Young, who proposed naming the judicial center after Judge Ruffin in a March 2008 letter to the editor published in The Augusta Chronicle , said Monday that he can imagine why someone might oppose the idea.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the white commissioners are going to try to use that as leverage to get a black commissioner to vote for the (trade, exhibit and event) center," he said. "It would seem more politically-driven to me than personality driven. And it's really sad."

Both Mr. Brigham and Mr. Smith denied their positions have to do with the gridlock over the TEE center. Each said they would be willing to name a courtroom after the judge.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

The Judicial Center

NEARING COMPLETION: The judicial center is about 95 percent complete, though it's 10 months into a 24-month schedule, Senior Project Manager John Lukens, of Potts Company, said Monday. The most time-consuming phase will be the interior finishing.

UNDER BUDGET: The building was projected to cost $67 million, and Mr. Lukens said Potts is on target to come in $1.5 million below budget. He expects to be finished in December 2010, about two months ahead of schedule.

WHAT'S NEXT: The tower crane will be coming down this week, windows will start going in, and on Nov. 6 the company will hold a "Topping Out Celebration," a barbecue at noon to celebrate the building reaching its maximum height.

Special meeting called

Before today's 2 p.m. commission meeting, City Administrator Fred Russell will present a proposed 2010 budget in a 1:30 p.m. special-called meeting.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham said he has been told the budget has a significant revenue shortfall that would require a millage rate increase, unless services can be cut.

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