Hearing in Baptist Ministers' lawsuit against Augusta today

 

A hearing today may signal the end of a frivolous lawsuit alleging Augusta violated its charter when six commissioners voted to give City Administrator Fred Russell extra duties.

Or it may be a moment of triumph for the other four Augusta commissioners, who’ve cited the lawsuit since April as a reason to vote “no” on nearly all matters related to the city’s new personnel manual and Russell’s efforts to reorganize city departments, changes with which they disagree.

The Baptist Ministers Conference of Augusta Inc., Metro Courier publisher Barbara Gordon, Paine College historian Mallory Millender and the Revs. K.B. Martin, James Williams and Melvin Ivy filed the suit in April against Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Russell and the six commissioners.

The complaint alleged the six commission votes were insufficient to pass city code amendments and a personnel manual that seemingly gave the administrator authority to hire, fire, give raises and reorganize city departments.

The plaintiffs said the changes were an illegal change in the city’s form of government, which Augusta’s charter requires a minimum of eight commission votes to pass.

The votes were “a veiled attempt to amend the charter without complying with the statutorily mandated process for doing so,” the amended complaint says.

Delving into conversations surrounding the drafting of consolidated Augusta-Richmond County government’s charter, the complaint says Augusta’s mayor, as chief executive, actually has the power to hire, fire and reorganize, powers that the commission cannot give to someone else under the law without eight votes.

Copenhaver briefly entertained the idea of assuming such powers, calling for the Georgia attorney general to decide between competing legal opinions – one from General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie, another from a lawyer for the Georgia General Assembly – that differed on whether he had those powers.

Augusta Circuit Superior Court Judge J. David Roper is presiding over the case and will hear arguments on the city’s motion for summary judgment today.

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