A significant oversight might add to the cost of Augusta’s $40 million renovation of the Municipal Building.
Under design since 2008, final plans for renovating the building’s second floor from offices and courtrooms to space for the mayor, lawyers, procurement staff and commission apparently left out adequate space for recordkeeping and other responsibilities performed by the clerk of commission, according to Clerk Lena Bonner.
“We have found the space allocated to us to be totally inefficient and inadequate to serve the public,” Bonner said Tuesday during a meeting of Augusta’s engineering services committee.
Forrest White, the project manager for Heery International, Augusta’s agent on large construction projects for a decade, denied having knowledge of Bonner’s concerns.
“Your concerns were about the size of the clerk of commission’s office,” White said. “That’s the only concern I’ve heard anything specific about.”
Formerly on the eighth floor, the new clerk’s office and work space is on the other side of a windowless door at the northeast corner of the building, behind the spacious new commission chamber. In the new layout, two offices accessed from the mayor’s reception area will serve as part-time shared office space for commissioners.
Bonner said her concern was not the size of her new office, which is currently 11 feet by 14 feet, but the “totality of the office space” and its ability to house her department’s functions. The new space is lined with stacks of crates of documents relocated from the former clerk’s office, but only a handful of file cabinets.
“My issue was they did not program space adequately for the preservation and custodian of city records,” Bonner said. “The office itself (is) inadequate for the records we have. This government is in its infancy – it’s only 16 years old. When the city of Augusta gave up its charter, it was over 200 years old. Those records are valuable; they’re historical and by state law, we have to keep them.”
With many duties spelled out in Georgia law, county clerks record and maintain meeting minutes, prepare and distribute meeting agendas and information packets, obtain signatures on documents, arrange commissioner training and travel and serve as custodian of county contracts, leases, resolutions and ordinances.
“I’m more than willing to sit down and discuss how we can make it more functional for the public,” said Bonner, who returned from authorized sick leave to the new space. “That’s my main concern. It’s not my office. That office belongs to the citizens of Augusta, and they deserve a little more space than what we’re seeing now.”
Interim Administrator Tameka Allen said removing a wall in the clerk’s area would cost $50,000, while the nine-story building had other “areas that have not yet been finalized” where the clerk’s work might be shifted.
White said former Administrator Fred Russell signed off on the layout after a series of “round robins” with department heads; Bonner said Russell had assured her in 2008 the office’s space needs would be met.
“He understood my issue; he told me he would take care of it and I assumed he would,” Bonner said.
Russell was fired by the commission in December and subsequently deleted numerous files from his computer, although most commissioners have made light of the missing documents.
Bonner said she was happy to meet with staff and consultants to resolve the issues and would not name the party responsible for the oversight.
Commissioner Marion Williams, who did not attend the meeting, questioned why the clerk’s space was so much smaller than that of the mayor, city attorneys and procurement department all housed on the second floor.
“Whoever signed off on that, they were wrong,” Williams said. “The mayor’s got an elaborate office. The attorney’s got room for records he’s not required to keep … We’re putting six to eight people back on that floor, and we’ve run out of space?”