A proposal to extend time behind closed doors is getting a mixed reaction on the Augusta Commission.
The proposal from a subcommittee looking at commission rules and regulations goes before the commission Tuesday. It recommends moving the start time of a standing bi-monthly called executive session from noon to 11 a.m.
The move would give commission members more time behind closed doors to discuss what they’ve said is a mounting pile of lawsuits, personnel issues and real estate transactions, but it has met with disapproval from the public and open government advocates.
“I’m in opposition to it; we don’t need all that much time,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said. “All we do is regurgitate the same stuff, over and over … It could be streamed down a lot.”
Lockett serves on the subcommittee with Commissioners Mary Davis, Sammie Sias and Sean Frantom but was absent when the three made the recommendation.
Davis said the recommendation was being “misrepresented” as an effort to keep the public’s business private.
“The intention is to give us enough time, if needed, to get through the full agenda in legal and start our commission meetings on time so that those from the public aren’t waiting and waiting for us to begin,” Davis said.
She said the commission had never started a meeting on time after a closed-door legal session in her three years as a member.
“I think the executive session needs to be done on a different day than committees” to allow more time for discussion, Commissioner Marion Williams said.
He insisted the group is “handling the people’s business,” even behind closed doors.
Frantom said the closed-door sessions rarely start on time and “by having an additional hour, it is more respectful” of those waiting to obtain business licenses and other actions when the sessions end.
He said “most” of his constituents appreciate the need for more time behind closed doors.
“The people that are engaged in the process seem to understand it,” Frantom said.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle paraphrased an attorney’s advice that “the verbiage is used against you” in court if the commission discussed issues such as discrimination complaints in the open.
“The worst thing that could happen is to make a decision without asking questions,” he said.
When Mayor Hardie Davis is presiding over the sessions, they move more quickly, but the problem remains that the group can’t get through what has become as many as nine agenda items per meeting fast enough, Guilfoyle said.