Commission's gridlock over charter continues

The Augusta Commission might be forced to meet monthly in the city's new Ruffin Courthouse after three commissioners refused to approve a motion striking the phrase "at the courthouse" from the city charter.

Commissioners Bill Lockett, Corey Johnson and Alvin Mason opposed the measure, which was recommended by General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie as part of a general "clean-up" of old ordinances that once established Richmond County government but were later incorporated into laws forming consolidated Augusta-Richmond County.

With the motion's failure to pass, it remains on the books that the commission must meet monthly "at the courthouse," which had been the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building. All court, district attorney and solicitor general personnel are moving into the new courthouse now, and the last court proceedings will be held in the municipal building April 29, MacKenzie said.

The 6-3 vote, with Commissioner J.R. Hatney absent, reflects a continued gridlock that has plagued the commission much of this year, with the three in opposition also previously voting against efforts to reorganize city government and increase the administrator's powers. They've claimed that the moves alter the city's form of government and require a two-thirds majority of eight votes, not simply six.

Before casting his vote, Lockett cited existing local legislation and city code sections passed as recently as last year that already specify when and where the commission meets. Mason asked why the conflict was not brought to the commission's attention until last week.

MacKenzie said that the code sections Lockett mentioned were passed but the charter hadn't actually been amended, and that he'd continue to recommend the commission "be in compliance" with its own laws, despite the measure's failure.

Among those voting in favor, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles said he'd meet in the Ruffin parking lot if need be.

"At least if it's outside, we won't talk as much," Bowles said.

MacKenzie speculated that such a meeting might prompt the opposing commissioners to change their minds. The motion needed eight votes to pass.

Tuesday's commission meeting did not draw the large numbers encouraged by Metro Courier newspaper Publisher Barbara Gordon to attend. Gordon, a plaintiff with a local ministers' group and a Paine College official in a lawsuit against the city over the reorganization, told supporters during a rally last week to "black out" the meeting.

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