While they'd heard nearly as much in court, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Augusta's mayor, city administrator and six white commissioners received their written answer Wednesday in an order filed by Superior Court Judge David Roper.
The Baptist Ministers Conference of Augusta, Metro Courier Publisher Barbara Gordon, three black ministers and a Paine College professor sued the city in April, alleging that actions recently taken by the commission to adopt a new personnel manual and increase the administrator's authority were an unlawful delegation of Mayor Deke Copenhaver's authority and an illegal change in the city's form of government.
Roper detailed his ruling in the city's favor at the end of a Nov. 17 court hearing, but the plaintiffs said they'd wait to decide whether to appeal until the judge's written order was released.
The only plaintiff to respond to a request for comment, Gordon, said late Wednesday that the group hadn't really lost because its lawyer, Serena Sparks, had asked the wrong questions.
"Our premise was something that the lawyer did not fight," Gordon said. "Lay people tend to follow the advice of experts. I'm not one of those lay people."
Gordon said the question remains whether six of 10 commission votes were sufficient to approve the changes. The consolidated government's charter requires a supermajority of eight commission votes to pass certain sweeping measures.
Roper's written order states that Augusta's mayor doesn't have the power to hire and fire employees. Rather, he wrote, the commission does, and it successfully delegated most of that authority to the administrator years ago, though not without limits. The powers spelled out in the city's new personnel manual and corresponding ordinances closely resembled existing city codes and aren't unreasonable, Roper wrote.
Without speaking to the number of commission votes required, the judge wrote that the changes don't need to comply with provisions for amending the city's charter because they are not charter amendments. Any actual change in the city's form of government would require an act of the Legislature, he said.
"Neither the ordinance adopting the personnel manual nor the ordinances amending City Code 1-2-36 affects any elective office (i.e., the mayor), nor does either affect the composition or form of the city's government," Roper wrote.