Consolidation bill up for debate

Many components of the Augusta-Richmond County government established in the city's 1995 consolidation bill - from the mayor's qualifications, term limits and voting power to the sheriff's role as sole law of the land - are up for debate as Augusta moves toward revising the document.

A list posing such "issues to consider," drafted by General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie at the urging of Mayor Deke Copenhaver and City Administrator Fred Russell, lists 25 questions for the Augusta Commission to review and answer before having an outside firm draft a new charter. Eight of the questions deal specifically with the mayor.

Copenhaver, who briefly urged the commission to vote him wider powers as the city's chief executive, wants the Carl Vinson Institute of Government in Athens to review and revise House Bill 805, the consolidation bill, after leaders reach a consensus on what kind of government the city should have. The questions will be on the agenda for a commission retreat Friday.

Russell, who also will present details from a 200-page draft reorganization plan for city government at the retreat, said he hoped the mayor and commission can narrow the focus of the bill to several key issues in need of change.

"I think we need to define the mayor's role as what it needs to be, and the administrator's role as what it needs to be," Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles said. "That seems to be the most contentious issue among the commission ."

Among the questions posed by MacKenzie are whether the administrator's office and duties should be spelled out in the bill. They currently are not. Also asked is whether the mayor should have a veto, be able to vote on all decisions instead of simply to break ties, be counted toward a quorum, and be term-limited, as he is now, at two.

"I definitely believe in term limits," said Bowles, whose duties and qualifications as a commissioner and as mayor pro tem also are up for consideration.

Three questions posed by MacKenzie deal with the city's special service districts, which tax residents differently based on where they live.

Commissioners questioned whether the city had time, with a budget deficit and proposed governmental restructuring looming, to address issues with the consolidation bill now.

"I think it's more critical to discuss the reorganization than it is to discuss the charter," Bowles said.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham said the retreat Friday might have been "hastily called." An accountant busy with tax preparation, Brigham said he had cleared part of his schedule to attend the retreat, which might have a facilitator from Vinson, but doubted agreement would be reached.

"I don't know that there's any consensus on doing anything," Brigham said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett said the commission should slow down on the consolidation bill and wait for an opinion requested of the state's attorney general.

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215
or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

Top 10 Questions

A set of questions about the city's consolidation bill proposed for discussion  has something for everyone. Here are a few of the 25:

  1. Should the consolidation act be amended to include the office of administrator as well as what powers and duties are to be within the office of administrator?
  2. Should the commission be able to change the form of government by Home Rule to create a management form of government?
  3. Should the mayor have the right to vote on all matters, not just to make or break a tie?
  4. Should there be any modifications to the term limits of commissioners?
  5. Should the qualifications to be the mayor be changed?
  6. Should the duties of the mayor pro tem be modified?
  7. Should the powers and duties of the mayor be modified to include hiring and firing authority?
  8. Should the Urban Services Districts be eliminated or modified?
  9. Should there be a police department subject to the control of the commission?
  10. Should all boards, commissions, panels and authorities of Augusta  have two legislative delegation-appointed members?

In Other Business

  • Augusta Commission  took several actions but did nothing regarding an ordinance codifying City Administrator Fred Russell's authority over employees as was spelled out in a new personnel manual because the Administrative Services Committee lacked  a  quorum.
  • The Public Services Committee voted  to approve two on-premises alcohol licenses, three retail alcohol sales licenses and a special events license for a Masters Week event held at a Washington Road restaurant. A nearby hotelier, Nayna Patel, said the annual event had created much noise at her hotel less than 20 feet away, but she said she was working with proprietor Jan Sholer and the city  on the issue.
  • The Finance Committee approved what Engineering Director Abie Ladson called a "wish list"  of projects  being submitted to the Georgia Department of Transportation  that the city would complete if voters approve a new regional sales tax for transportation. The  list  includes the resurfacing or improvement of  roads and bridges, plus  improvements at Augusta Public Transit, Augusta Regional Airport, Daniel Field and elsewhere.
Consolidation Act: Issues to Consider

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