Augusta city leaders stopped short of a ban on saggy pants Tuesday and instead voted unanimously to establish a “comprehensive dress policy” for all city facilities.
Several Georgia cities have enacted laws against residents exposing themselves by wearing pants below the waist, and Commissioner Marion Williams was leading a charge to outlaw the practice in Augusta.
City General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said he’d developed a framework for a ban that involved a citation and possible community service for the first offense, followed by progressively larger fines up to $125, with no requirement of jail time.
Commissioner Bill Fennoy, who previously said a ban would target men of color who “look like me,” questioned Tuesday who would enforce the ban and whether the sheriff’s office had been asked about doing so.
“If there’s no jail time even though I may get a ticket, why should I pull my pants up?” Fennoy said.
Instead, the city should work with the Exchange Club, local restaurants and movie theaters, Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority and Richmond County Board of Education to get the entities to deny access to patrons with sagging pants, Fennoy said. “There’s not enough room at RYDC to house juveniles who do not pull their pants up,” he said.
“We simply need a dress code policy,” continued Commissioner Sammie Sias. “It’s not that complicated.”
Commissioner Ben Hasan praised Williams for raising the issue and discussion that followed. “The public at large is not pleased with what they see,” he said, but said he opposed involving law enforcement in a ban.
Williams pushed for an actual ban. “We’ve lost about four, maybe five generations,” he said. “Grown men have been allowed to do this and think it’s fine. It’s not getting any better, Mr. Mayor, it’s getting worse.”
Commissioner Andrew Jefferson said he asks young men to raise their pants, but didn’t think the practice warranted commission involvement.
“We have more pertinent issues to talk about. I don’t think the taxpayers are paying us to be the fashion police,” Jefferson said. “We have an ordinance addressing decency; let’s enforce it.”
Mayor Hardie Davis said the sheriff’s and marshal’s offices had not been “engaged” and that Augusta has “no enforcement mechanism” for a saggy pants ban.
“I have also not heard this governing body… address issues of rampant and pervasive poverty,” Davis said. “We still have not said a single word about how we’re going to put a single person to work. We have not said a single one of those things.”
Williams joined in a 10-0 vote to develop a dress code, but after what was a contentious, three-hour session said he was “very sick of the commission talking in circles and not doing anything.”
IN OTHER ACTION
Ahead of the dress code vote, commissioners spent about two hours jockeying around a personnel matter involving Augusta Professional Firefighters Association spokesman Charles Masters. To start, Fennoy asked to pull a dozen consent agenda items for discussion that would have the effect of slowing the meeting.
At that, Williams moved to go behind closed doors to discuss pending litigation, but Fennoy made a substitute motion to wait until after the meeting. The substitute failed 4-5-1, then Williams called for a roll call vote on his motion. “If you want to play games, I know them,” he said. During the roll call vote, Fennoy took some time to answer, saying he was “still thinking” but eventually voted yes to enter the legal session.
The commission came from behind closed doors and voted 6-3, with Fennoy still “thinking,” to suspend Masters for 30 days for no stated reason. Jefferson, Sias and Commissioner Dennis Williams were opposed. Davis, who took the settlement document with him to sign, declined to comment. Sias returned the pulled agenda items to the consent agenda.
Sias had added to Tuesday’s agenda a discussion of eliminating the city personnel policies and procedures manual altogether, a motion he connected inversely Tuesday to the commission’s handling of Masters’ case. “Our (manual) represents the law. When we violate that, we violate the law,” he said.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said the Masters matter was “the first time this governing body has seen me fight for an employee,” but that “if I had to do it again, I would do the same thing.”
Fennoy said after Masters was “busted,” he’d “turned in nine other employees he said did the same thing,” and that the Tuesday vote “weakens the authority of department heads, because some employees think they can go crying to commissioners and get what they want.”
Masters’ attorney, Jack Long, made a statement on his behalf. “We resolved this with Masters keeping his job,” Long said. “He will return to work May 11. The settlement is fair to both sides and keeps a well trained and valuable fireman on the job.”
Masters had a dust-up with Fire Chief Chris James two years ago when the association publicized issues James had in Augusta as he tried to get a new job in York County, S.C., under former deputy Augusta administrator Bill Shanahan, by then manager in York.
After the meeting, Marion Williams questioned commissioners’ claims they didn’t get involved in personnel actions. “The fire chief talks to commissioners all the time,” he said.
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.