A native of the Columbus, Ga., area, Andrew MacKenzie has headed Augusta’s in-house law office since January 2010. On occasion, he has become the focus of several Augusta Commission members’ ire at public meetings, including an Aug. 6 session at which three questioned his attention to their concerns and the truthfulness of his responses. MacKenzie denied the allegations, and several commissioners subsequently apologized. The Chronicle sat down with MacKenzie last week for a short interview. Here are five of the questions we asked and his responses, edited for length:
Q: What’s been your toughest legal assignment since joining Augusta government?
A: “There’s such a diverse work field, it’s really hard to narrow it down. It’s certainly a challenging job to work with the diverse set of legal disciplines that you have to work with in a government that has such a broad spectrum of needs, from very technical environmental issues to commission issues. It’s very hard to have a generalist view and to deal with all the expertise.”
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of working for the Augusta Commission?
A: “One thing that is challenging is having 11 bosses and trying to work within that kind of parameter, where you don’t always have a clear direction of what the will of the commission is. You don’t have just one boss, or two or three, but 11. … Each commissioner has an obligation to provide representation to those residents (in their districts), but we live in a diverse city and you’re going to bring competing interests from all those groups. But that’s the nature of a representative government.”
Q: What are some of the challenges inherent in Augusta government?
A: “It’s a weak-mayor form of government, and there’s not a manager, there’s an administrator. It makes Augusta challenging in ways that other governments are not challenged. A strong mayor would have veto power; in a management form of government the manager has hiring and fire power over all the employees. … It’s working the balance of how much the commissioners should be involved on the day to day versus how much the administrator should be.”
Q: How do you tolerate commissioners who speak ill of you at public meetings?
A: “… I’m like a duck. The rain can be hammering down on a duck but he isn’t affected by a thing. Unless the duck gets his feathers ruffled, then the water can come in and make them cold. You just let the negativity roll off you and remember you’re there for a greater purpose.”
Q: Why don’t you take a better-paying job in private practice?
A: “I would be doing something else if I was in it for the money. There’s a whole different mindset when you work in a large law firm. I worked with a man who had 6-year-old twins who worked 10 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week. His wife would bring his kids to the office to see him. That’s not really what I’d like to do with my life. I have two young kids, I like to be around them and have more time with them than I might in a different setting.”