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Lawsuit delays opinion from attorney general

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An opinion settling the issue of Mayor Deke Copenhaver's authority to hire and fire personnel is unlikely to arrive from Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens anytime soon.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver  file
Mayor Deke Copenhaver

Instead, many of the issues raised in two competing legal opinions -- one written by Augusta General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie and the other by the Office of Legislative Counsel -- are likely to be addressed in an April 1 lawsuit filed against the city by a ministers group and others.

MacKenzie said that such pending litigation typically precludes attorneys general from rendering opinions and that the city had received a communication from Olens' office "along those lines."

MacKenzie said he'll brief the commission on the pending suit, filed against the city, Copenhaver and the six commissioners who voted last month to approve the code section, during a called legal meeting today.

The April 1 suit, filed by the Baptist Ministers Conference of Augusta, newspaper publisher Barbara Gordon, Paine College historian Mallory Millender and the Revs. Kenneth B. Martin, James Williams and Melvin Ivy, asked the court to declare a recently approved section of Augusta's code involving the city administrator unconstitutional and in violation of Georgia law. It did not ask for damages or attorney fees.

The suit, once resolved, will result in a court order deciding questions about the operation of city government going back to 1996, MacKenzie said.

In the same year that a Augusta-Richmond County consolidation went into effect, the commission created the position of administrator, a title that has held the most executive authority of any city official, elected or otherwise. No mayor has exercised authority as the city's chief executive.

In an opinion requested by Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, the Office of Legislative Counsel found that Augusta's mayor was the city's chief executive and had powers as such that could not be delegated to the administrator without eight votes.

Deputy Legislative Counsel Rick Ruskell and plaintiffs in the Baptist Ministers' suit say the commission is delegating away the mayor's power without a two-thirds majority of the mayor and commission, or eight votes.

Jerry Brigham, one of the commissioners named in the suit, said the city might hire outside counsel to represent it in the case.

MacKenzie said that while unfortunate, the suit might have a positive outcome.

"If you have to go that road, at least you have a court order at the end of the road," he said.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver might have the authority to fire city personnel.

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TrulyWorried 04/10/11 - 10:11 pm
There goes some more of the

There goes some more of the taxpayers' money - when the Commission has to hire a lawyer - no end in sight with this circus!

Riverman1 04/11/11 - 06:58 am
I knew it was too good to be

I knew it was too good to be true that the Attorney General would issue an opinion. But I don't know what the black ministers are so riled up about. When they totally take control of the Mayor's office and the commission in the very near future, what does it matter? If anyones doubts that, look at the demographics of the last census.

seenitB4 04/11/11 - 07:07 am
Now are asking

Now are asking people to think "ahead" to the you know that is asking TOO MUCH! :)

XXYY 04/11/11 - 08:27 am
Riverman1, you are right that

Riverman1, you are right that there is a possibility of an African American taking control of the Mayor's office in 2014. So you have to look at what the white commissioners are doing. If things go their way, Fred Russell will have all the power to hire and fire; so when an African American mayor takes office, what will he/she have the power to do? Nothing! Its a slicky boy move on the part of the commissioners. Why all of a sudden, when Deke's term is preparing to run out, they want to change and give the powers to Fred. There is always an underlying agenda and its been snuffed out by this group of concerned citizens!

justus4 04/11/11 - 09:11 am
The city's attorney is over

The city's attorney is over his head on this one and those minority ELECTED commissioners had better watch this guy - his understanding of the "law" will always be detrimental to minority issues, thus his "legal decisions" are easily predicted. This slippery attempt to grab power away from democracy-loving citizens, who see right through the "legal" charade designed to allow an un-elected person to control government levers, deserve a rapid response from the attorney general. But once a decision is reached, don't expect the locals to adhere to the decision because it will expose their obvious plot. Oh, and those Baptist ministers are correct in their law suit and will win it but, again expect a failure on the implementation of that win at the local level.

Richmnd Cty Votr
Richmnd Cty Votr 04/11/11 - 11:19 am
I am definitely against

I am definitely against giving this power to the Mayor. Companies have boards of folks to go thru, and so should the Mayor. Keep it the way it was and stop wasting our time and taxpayer dollars to try to keep reinventing the system. MOVE ON! Augusta does NOT NEED a KING!

Brad Owens
Brad Owens 04/11/11 - 08:15 pm
RM1, The funny and stupid


The funny and stupid thing about XXVY's comments is that if they supported giving the mayor a vote they could change the Administrator any time they wanted.

I love the short sighted idiots running the "African-American" community as leaders in Augusta these days.

If they would just do these two things they would dominate the political power structure in Augusta;

1.) They should push the delegation to give the mayor a full vote by passing a request through the commission now asking for it.

2.) They should make a majority vote of a quorum present pass any agenda item.

Then in the next election find a powerful African-Ameican candidate and unite around him or her for mayor, maybe Steve Kendrick?, while running someone better than Fennoy against Atiken in the 1st.

BINGO! Domination of County politics by African-Americans for the rest of our days.


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