Augusta Commission approves budget resolution, personnel policy changes



Commissioner Bill Lockett’s “disgust” at the way an agenda item to amend Augusta’s new personnel manual was presented turned to outrage Tuesday when General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said the motion also included a supplement handed out at the start of the meeting.

Lockett, who immediately called to adjourn, and Commissioner Alvin Mason stood up and left the commission meeting, with Commissioner J.R. Hatney following as a vote to adjourn failed. The remaining commissioners then voted to approve the amendments, as well as a resolution authorizing the 2012 budget.

Toward the end of the meeting, the commission approved a budget resolution that, among other things, would eliminate about 34 positions for a $1 million savings.

Calling himself the “nitpicker-in-chief” during a work session last week when most of the personnel manual changes were discussed, Lockett wanted them to pass through the Administrative Services Committee he chairs before they went to the full commission, but Commissioner Joe Jackson requested they go on Tuesday’s meeting agenda instead.

“I can’t legislate the behavior of grown folk,” Mayor Deke Copenhaver said to Lockett when the commissioner asked why the amendments appeared on Tuesday’s agenda. Copenhaver later broke a 5-5 tie to pass the changes.

“There is no controversial items in this agenda item,” Jackson said.

The changes approved include adjustments setting the rate by which firefighters accrue and use sick and annual leave, and a rule against employees making contact with personnel board members prior to their employment hearings before the board.

They also remove the “generational careers” exception to the city’s nepotism policy from the fire department, and limit the amount of severance pay awarded to top city staffers who are fired without cause.

The maximum amount of severance, which in the document approved by six commissioners in March had been two years’ salary for an employee employed 24 years, drops to a maximum of six months’ pay in the changes approved Tuesday.

All the late additions presented by MacKenzie on Tuesday deal with employee driving, including standards of review of motor vehicle records and policies for dealing with vehicle accidents and driving violations.

Probably more controversial, but receiving no discussion before its approval at the tail end of the tumultuous commission meeting, was a 2012 budget resolution requiring all departments, excluding law enforcement, to make 2 percent to 8 percent cuts on a sliding scale based on their sizes.

The cuts would hit the largest city departments such as recreation and E-911 the hardest, requiring each to trim more than $300,000 during 2012.

The plan also calls for the elimination of approximately 34 positions whose salaries and benefits total $1 million. The 34 positions, discussed during last week's work session, make up about 1.3 percent of the city workforce.

The approved plan dips into savings and capital outlays as it also authorized the addition of a new mayor’s economic development position, three public defenders and a deputy coroner, requires no employee furlough days and gives all city employees a small raise.