Valentine’s Day looms, and love is in the air. But as everybody knows, there’s no love lost among Augusta commissioners, which is why Mayor Deke Copenhaver asked them to reaffirm the commission’s Code of Conduct, so the public won’t know just how much they hate each other.
Apparently, some commissioners could care less about keeping up appearances. Commissioner Bill Lockett said they had approved the code in 2006 and in 2009 and nothing changed. They didn’t get along then, and they don’t get along now.
Commissioner Alvin Mason said he had a problem with the code provision about setting aside individual differences and supporting the commission’s actions.
“It’s awfully difficult to meet up and lay down your differences,” he said, “especially if you have some legitimate reason in your own mind, and/or some proof.”
The mayor remained undeterred and has placed the code on the agenda for commission retreats Thursday and Friday at the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, where City Administrator Fred Russell will try to pin commissioners down on what they want to do about next year’s budget deficit, a decision they have so far been able to sidestep.
THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW HISTORY ARE BOUND TO REPEAT IT: Having been witness to more commission retreats than I care to remember, I thought it might be fun to look back to see whatever came of the goals and good intentions.
The first one of the modern era was in 2004, when then-Commissioner Betty Beard proposed a two- to three-day retreat for commissioners to work on solving the city’s financial problems for the future instead of applying “band-aid” solutions every year.
So much for that.
BLAH, BLAH, BLAH: In 2006, commissioners ended a daylong retreat at the Old Government House pledging unity, togetherness and respect. They set goals to improve their effectiveness as city leaders and attempted to work out personal and professional differences that had divided them.
The new year was less than two weeks old, but abstentions, voting along racial lines and tension among commissioners had stalled government progress.
Prompted by facilitator Gordon Maner of the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, commissioners said they wanted to achieve commission unity to help improve the public’s perception of city government and, ultimately, improve economic development and Augusta’s reputation as a forward-moving city.
To solve lingering trust issues, they pledged to form a “buddy system.” Each commissioner would partner with a colleague with whom he or she was not close to learn more about each other’s lives. They also agreed to take tours of each district to better understand community needs, and plan cultural diversity training.
Five days after the retreat aimed at resolving racial divisions, commissioners reached a stalemate on electing a mayor pro tem – with the votes falling along racial lines.
MORE BLAH, BLAH, BLAH: At a February 2007 retreat, commissioners agreed on measures designed to streamline meetings and improve their image.
Instead of holding people with business before committees hostage for hours, they agreed to break long meeting agendas into two days. All except then-Commissioner Marion Williams agreed to adhere to the two-minute rule when speaking and to speak only twice on the same subject.
COMMISSIONERS, WE HARDLY KNEW YE: In March 2008, Maner issued a report after a retreat, saying it was truly amazing how far the commission had come since last year.
“(A)nd the excitement about the future is clearly in each of your minds and displayed clearly on your faces,” he wrote.
Commissioners agreed to work on 14 areas and assigned tasks to everyone. As it turned out, only Russell delivered, with a plan for signs and banners at major and minor gateways and throughout Augusta.
The mayor’s task was to lead a commission review of the charter and recommend changes that I predicted would take a little longer – say, well after those signs they put up at the gateways are rusting off the posts.
WHO’S FOOLING WHOM? “This was your best retreat ever!” Maner gushed in a letter to the city after the 2009 retreat in Athens, Ga. “You are beginning to live the title of the book Good to Great with your commission setting the example and the pace for staff and your employees, and all are feeling the old culture of fear and intimidation rapidly fading away, and the new culture of servant leadership and service excellence is emerging at a steady pace.
“I am truly amazed to see how you all have grown over the last three years; you work better together, you’re focusing on the real pressing challenges Augusta faces currently and in the future, your public image is like never before, and you all have settled into a maturity of serving, which will only allow great things to happen.”
Two months later, commissioners split along racial lines over paying for the TEE Center.
MORE APPARENT THAN REAL: “It’s such a joy now to see how they’ve come together to focus on the real challenges,” Maner said after the 2010 retreat.
It was an improvement over previous years, in which the commission spent much of the time arguing one side of Augusta versus the other, he said.
The mayor and commissioners appeared to reach consensus on several issues, including revamping the city charter to increase the administrator’s powers.
TREATED TO TWO RETREATS: On the agenda for a retreat last March were 25 questions for commissioners to review and answer before having an outside firm draft a new charter. That’s the last we’ve heard of that.
In July, commissioners were at odds over the city’s revised personnel manual and Russell’s government reorganization.
THE THREE R’S: RACE, RACE AND RACE: Word is, the redistricting map known as Plan 3R, which was approved by the ad hoc committee in Augusta in November and dropped as a House bill by Rep. Wayne Howard last week, will not be approved and that a compromise bill is waiting in the wings. Plan 3R is controversial because, for the first time, black majority districts outnumber white majority districts 6-4.
CSI AUGUSTA: Commissioner Jerry Brigham received a solicitation from the Procurement Department to bid on the forensic audit of the TEE Center parking deck. Brigham, an accountant, said he will not respond.
PULL UP A CHAIR: Republican 12th Congressional District candidates Rick Allen, Lee Anderson, Wright McCleod and Maria Sheffield are scheduled to speak at the Augusta-Richmond County Committee for Good Government meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Julian Smith barbecue pit. Augusta’s new fire chief, Chris James, is also scheduled to speak.