Three Augusta Commission members were punished by their colleagues Tuesday for breaking the city’s ethics code by having their companies do business with the city while each held a commission seat.
The commission voted on each of the censures, a written reprimand permitted under the city code, separately at Tuesday’s regular commission meeting. No evidence was presented other than each commissioner being allowed to speak about the violations.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, whose tile business worked as a subcontractor at Augusta Regional Airport, said he’d believed his abstentions from votes on the airport contract had been sufficient to avoid a conflict of interest under the city code.
“I was recently informed by (city general counsel) Andrew MacKenzie that I had followed the correct process by abstaining,” Guilfoyle said. “But I also needed permission from the board of commissioners prior to my company doing any work. I have instructed my estimator not to quote any more jobs pertaining to the city of Augusta-Richmond County... I leave it up to the board of commissioners to take any action they deem necessary with respect to this matter.”
Commissioner Alvin Mason offered a motion to censure Guilfoyle. The motion to censure Guilfoyle passed 9-1 with Guilfoyle abstaining.
Next, Commissioner Joe Jackson admitted his locksmith business had performed work under city contracts, including work for the sheriff’s office in an undercover sting operation that led to numerous arrests. He quit doing the work for pay in 2010 after the city administrator told him it was inappropriate, Jackson said.
“I accept whatever punishment and I apologize,” he said.
On a motion from Commissioner Mary Davis, the group voted 9-1 to censure Jackson with Jackson abstaining from voting.
Commissioner Grady Smith, noting the business he and his brother inherited from their father once did heating and air conditioning work on the municipal building, said he was unaware the subcontract Smith Brothers Mechanical won at Fort Gordon was a city project.
“I didn’t know Richmond County owned property on Fort Gordon,” he said. “Yes, I made a mistake.”
Smith’s request last year to amend the ethics code to permit commissioners and city employees to serve as subcontractors is what triggered the commission inquiry into possible conflicts of interest.
“I question the fact that you contacted the general counsel,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said. “Being a former federal investigator, that tells me you had some suspicion what you were doing wasn’t right.”
At Mason’s request, Jackson and Guilfoyle agreed to abstain from seeking city business for two years after they leave office. With Smith’s firm still completing the plumbing subcontract at Fort Gordon, it was trickier, but a vote to censure him gave Smith time to wrap up business on post.
“Based on the law or the code, it is clear that not a single commissioner up here should be doing business with this city,” said Commissioner Alvin Mason. “The blame lies squarely on the commissioner that took the oath.”
Smith said his company didn’t do much work for Augusta-Richmond County generally, although it handles many plumbing subcontracts for the school system.
“I can’t tell you what is going to happen when I resign,” Smith said. The resignation would be from his position as president of the company, not the commission, he added after the meeting, due to ongoing issues with diabetes and heart disease that plagued him much of last year.
Several on the commission clearly wished a greater punishment was available to them. Commissioner Marion Williams called the censure “really nothing” and unlikely to keep a commissioner off the city dime. The last time the commission voted to censure one of its own was in 2007, when former Commissioner Calvin Holland was punished for asking an employee to retrieve information from City Administrator Fred Russell’s computer.
“If we’re going to censure somebody for asking for a hard drive,” Williams said, “I’m in the wrong world.”
Mason said the group needed to “move on” and do what it was legally permitted to do. “I’m not trying to shove anything under the table.”
In other business, the hiring of New Haven, Conn., recreation director Bob Levine as Augusta’s new recreation director was approved at a salary of $110,000. The group also started the process of hiring University of South Carolina human resources director Tanika Bryant as Augusta HR director.