Taking at least two hot-button issues behind closed doors Monday in a 70-minute session with attorneys, the Augusta Commission took no action on the city bus service or a new voting map issued last week by a federal judge.
A month ago, the commission gave Mobility Transit Services LLC a deadline of 30 days to fix several issues or be held in breach of its contract to run the city bus service, but the commission and five of its committees that met Monday took no public action.
“I don’t mind giving them more time, so if we do get rid of them and get sued, we have our bases covered,” Commissioner Joe Jackson said after the meetings.
Meanwhile, the buses continue to run, City Administrator Fred Russell said. Elizabeth McLeod, an Augusta attorney representing Mobility Transit in the contract dispute, attended several of the meetings but did not address commissioners.
Also discussed behind closed doors with Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey was the district map for the commission and the Richmond County Board of Education.
The map was released by District Judge J. Randal Hall last week. Hall gave plaintiffs and defendants, who include the commissioners, until 5 p.m. Wednesday to comment on the map, which he drew in response to a federal lawsuit filed over the city’s inability to complete a new map based on 2010 census data.
Jackson and Commissioner Jerry Brigham said the group was generally pleased with the judge’s map.
In another matter, a committee approved adding three members to a subcommittee established to determine the scope of a forensic audit sought on the city’s Trade, Event and Exhibit Center (Augusta Convention Center) parking deck.
“I don’t know how far they’ve come along, but I’ll give my input,” said Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who was appointed to the subcommittee along with Mike Blanchard, the city’s deputy director of Information Technology, and Steve Little, the assistant director of finance in the Utilities Department.
Commissioner Bill Lockett, the subcommittee chairman, said he hoped the forensic audit found no wrongdoing, negligence or incompetence but that he wants it performed to satisfy public concern.
The commissioners took no action on proposed retail alcohol-fee increases developed partially in response to restaurant complaints about paying for an additional Sunday sales license.
Other retailers are able to buy a seven-day license, available since voters approved a referendum allowing Sunday alcohol sales.
Commissioner J.R. Hatney, who abstains on nearly every alcohol-related agenda item, opposed the increases.
“Some of my best friends are liquor store owners,” he said. “If it’s going to cause further harm to these folks, you might want to rethink that.”
Rob Sherman, the director of licensing for the city, said he would conduct a public meeting on the proposed changes with retailers in the coming weeks to gauge response.
The increases would generate about $104,000 if implemented on existing Augusta businesses, Sherman said.
The officials on Monday relegated to a future work session presentations from the city’s Housing and Community Development Department and Augusta’s community housing development organizations on how the groups have expended federal Housing and Urban Development money distributed by the city since 2005.
Requested weeks ago by Brigham, the groups have yet to produce a written accounting of expenditures.
They will present information in some form to commissioners at a 1 p.m. work session next Monday in the commission chamber.
The officials agreed to schedule a work session on funding demolition of abandoned and otherwise blighted properties, which Commissioner Corey Johnson said he hoped could come from the city’s next sales-tax referendum.
General counsel Andrew MacKenzie said he would examine whether the demolition qualified.
The city now allocates $100,000 a year for demolition countywide in addition to the $100,000 budgeted for demolition in the city’s Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods, according to Sherman.