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Judge rules for Augusta in Baptist Ministers' suit

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Augusta Superior Court Judge J. David Roper on Thursday ruled in favor of Augusta-Richmond County in a lawsuit filed by a black ministers’ group, finding that the mayor does not have power to hire and fire employees and that the Augusta Commission did not act beyond its authority in delegating increased powers to the city administrator, including several provisions enumerated in the city’s new personnel manual.

Roper denied Augusta General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie’s request for attorney’s fees, saying a legal controversy existed, and ruled that plaintiffs, The Baptist Ministers Conference of Augusta, Barbara Gordon, Mallory Millender and the Revs. K.B. Martin, James Williams and Melvin Ivey, did have standing.

The only Augusta commissioner to attend the morning hearing was Alvin Mason, one of four black commissioners for whom the lawsuit has bolstered claims that City Administrator Fred Russell’s efforts to reorganize city departments and give raises are illegal. The four have opposed nearly every action related to the personnel manual and Russell’s reorganization plan.

Ivey said his group hadn’t decided whether to appeal. “To say it was politically motivated, no. What we’re fighting for is what’s right in the city of Augusta and that everybody followed the law.”

In his motion for summary judgment, MacKenzie said the suit was “a political attempt to alter the outcome of the commission’s decision,” while plaintiffs at an August town hall meeting called Russell’s reorganization plan a white-led effort to weaken what will become a majority-black Augusta Commission.

Before ruling, Roper said “the political issues stop right here.”

The matters at issue date to the mid-1990s when Augusta and Richmond County were consolidated and even earlier, to a 1980 Richmond County ordinance that established the position of administrator, a title not mentioned in the consolidation bill.

That then-Sen. Charles Walker stated during consolidation discussions with the commission that Augusta’s mayor had to have the powers of a chief executive, a point raised by plaintiffs’ attorney Serena Sparks, went nowhere with Roper.

MacKenzie, listing the mayor’s limited duties as spelled out in the consolidation bill, said legislative history isn’t relevant except when facts are unknown.

“This case boils down to a wish,” MacKenzie said. “They want you to write in here the mayor’s powers.”

Only if the mayor had those powers to hire and fire would the commission be required to amend the consolidation bill, requiring eight commission votes, when it delegated them to the administrator.

Roper said Augusta’s mayor never had those powers to be taken away. “The mayor in this case does not have the right to hire and fire,” he ruled.

Nor does the city administrator “have unfettered discretion with regard to what has been delegated to him,” Roper said, because the administrator’s implementation of his duties is subject to the rules spelled out in the personnel manual.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who briefly entertained the idea of possessing executive powers to hire and fire around the time the suit was filed, said the outcome was what he expected as he had “full confidence in Mr. MacKenzie’s legal counsel.”

But, he added, Augusta remains in a rare 3 percent of municipal governments with neither a strong mayor nor strong administrator, a factor likely making it less efficient and effective.

“I believe a strong mayor form is definitely worth considering,” but requires the support of the commission and legislative delegation, the mayor said.

Bill Lockett, one of the four black commissioners, said he respects the ruling. “I believe the judge did a fair and impartial assessment of what was there, and we just have to see what happens,” he said. He was critical of MacKenzie’s demand for attorney fees, however, saying that general counsel rarely requests them in other suits considered frivolous, such as those against the city’s procurement department.

Lockett said that since the commission became majority white in 2010, the four black commissioners are often left out of discussions altogether.

While he’s at the center of the suit, Russell said little about the ruling.

“It brings some closure to a point that’s frequently raised,” he said.

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Riverman1
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Riverman1 11/17/11 - 04:57 pm
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A city that's divided more

A city that's divided more than Berlin when the wall was there.

It's a complex situation. How many whites are members of those churches that brought the lawsuit? How many blacks are members of the big Augusta white churches?

Austin Rhodes
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Austin Rhodes 11/17/11 - 07:25 pm
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This lawsuit was one of the

This lawsuit was one of the silliest wastes of time ever.

...oh...and RM...under your much touted "government is only going to work in Augusta when the majority black folks are running it" theory, should we ask for President Obama's resignation now, or just when?

Black folks make up 12.6% of the American population...so how the heck is THAT supposed to be right? Under your theory, of course...

Willow Bailey
20603
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Willow Bailey 11/17/11 - 07:39 pm
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Can we ask NOW, Austin?

Can we ask NOW, Austin?

Insider Information
4009
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Insider Information 11/17/11 - 07:55 pm
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You know the lawsuit is

You know the lawsuit is without merit when the city uses its own attorney in the case.

It's the first time since consolidation that the city didn't hire an outside attorney to handle a lawsuit.

For that, we should celebrate.

Riverman1
90732
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Riverman1 11/17/11 - 08:27 pm
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Austin, if I could say

Austin, if I could say something to get Obama to resign, I would.

But you asked a question and now to make a serious point. If Herman Cain hadn't decompensated in public it's possible he, too, and a black, could have been elected. So, yes, it is possible for a minority to be elected in this country. But if we had a black elected almost every election in this predominantly white nation, something would be strange.

The reality of Richmond County politics is the majority blacks in the county are liberal Democrats. Although the elections are nonpartisan, the whites in control are conservatives except when they are ripping off the taxpayers with things like the TEE.

The anomaly that causes the unrest is you have a white conservative Mayor, Mayor pro tem, Commission majority, Sheriff and Administrator in a liberal black community. When a strong black government takes hold in Augusta, it's possible things will get better. They really can't get any worse.

Riverman1
90732
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Riverman1 11/17/11 - 08:37 pm
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This ruling of the majority

This ruling of the majority blacks by whites shows up often with negative results. When the riots were on after the Cherry Tree shooting and the city needed reassurance and leadership, Mayor Copenhaver-Boardman turned off his cell phone for four days and high tailed it to the coast. He wasn't about to get out and talk to the people.

When it's suggested community policing where the officers get out among the people would help, we are looked at like we have suggested Robert E. Lee was a coward. We are told by the white sheriff that they are not social workers.

Insider Information
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Insider Information 11/17/11 - 08:38 pm
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Riverman, if you look for

Riverman, if you look for race, you will find it.

The ministers association is case in point as are your comments.

Riverman1
90732
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Riverman1 11/17/11 - 08:42 pm
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Insider, I thought the

Insider, I thought the ministers actions were silly and wrote a parody of their choirs showing up at the Commission meetings.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 11/17/11 - 08:49 pm
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Look, I'm a white

Look, I'm a white conservative happily living in white Columbia County. But I'm a realist and see the conflict and poor government in Richmond County that results from this minority rule.

In one of the most cowardly acts ever witnessed in this area, during a time when the city was in grave danger, Mayor Copenhaver-Boardman ran away to the beach. That's the type thing that results from this racial division with the white minority ruling.

Insider Information
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Insider Information 11/17/11 - 08:57 pm
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Riverman, deke is a coward

Riverman, deke is a coward and a poor example of a leader, but that's due more to his lack of any sort of experience and silver-spoon upbringing than demographics.

There's enough of a race problem in Augusta. We don't need the baptist ministers fabricating another one.

404Law
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404Law 11/17/11 - 09:19 pm
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Roper's decision in favor of

Roper's decision in favor of the city was expected for months. An appeal has already been planned for (despite what the paper reports) and the lower decision likely will be overturned (based on first hand knowledge). Augusta knew better to waste money on representation at this level (hence, MacKenzie). Trust me, Augusta will most definitely seek outside counsel when this goes to the higher court. The "Augusta Spring" -- What an interesting 2012 awaits us.

joebowles
104
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joebowles 11/17/11 - 09:20 pm
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Insider, good point about

Insider, good point about race problems. But don't forget that some Ministers will benefit with a division of Race and obviously some of them even work for that divide.

Austin Rhodes
2970
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Austin Rhodes 11/17/11 - 09:28 pm
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404...care to make a wager on

404...care to make a wager on your prediction?

Austin Rhodes
2970
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Austin Rhodes 11/17/11 - 09:30 pm
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....and 404... Joe is a

....and 404...
Joe is a college graduate, and the best finance man either the Civic Center, or Paine College, ever had.

404Law
226
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404Law 11/17/11 - 09:31 pm
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I will place a wager on the

I will place a wager on the appeal, not the decision. LOL

Austin Rhodes
2970
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Austin Rhodes 11/17/11 - 09:38 pm
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Deke is no more a

Deke is no more a conservative Republican than Charles DeVaney was.

And if you don't think things could be any worse than they are right now in Augusta, you either have a very short memory, or you are three years old. Things could be, and have been, much, much worse.

Ask Birmingham.

Augusta sent a Mayor and a Sheriff to prison 30 years ago...Atlanta sent theirs to prison just recently.

Insider Information
4009
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Insider Information 11/17/11 - 10:02 pm
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joe, i completely agree with

joe, i completely agree with you.

Some people, the black ministers included, survive on division.

If they allowed people to work together to resolve the real problems, they would be left without any power.

countyman
21303
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countyman 11/17/11 - 11:40 pm
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The slightly majority black

The slightly majority black county voted for Deke with over 60% of the vote in two straight elections.. The black, white, hispanic, and asian voters in Richmond County overwhelmingly prefer Deke.

Riverman1
90732
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Riverman1 11/18/11 - 04:16 am
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Austin said, "And if you

Austin said, "And if you don't think things could be any worse than they are right now in Augusta, you either have a very short memory, or you are three years old. Things could be, and have been, much, much worse.

Ask Birmingham.

Augusta sent a Mayor and a Sheriff to prison 30 years ago...Atlanta sent theirs to prison just recently."

Is there a meaning in that somewhere? You think if blacks gain power they will be going to jail?

Riverman1
90732
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Riverman1 11/18/11 - 04:19 am
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Countyman said, "The black,

Countyman said, "The black, white, hispanic, and asian voters in Richmond County overwhelmingly prefer Deke."

Well, Deke did carry the last election handily. I guess it's just ALL the black Commissioners who don't prefer him which is an anomaly in itself.

Riverman1
90732
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Riverman1 11/18/11 - 04:23 am
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Austin said, "Deke is no more

Austin said, "Deke is no more a conservative Republican than Charles DeVaney was."

So you think Deke would run for other offices as a Democrat? I bet that's news to him.

Austin Rhodes
2970
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Austin Rhodes 11/18/11 - 06:21 am
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No RM...YOU said things in

No RM...YOU said things in Augusta couldn't get much worse, and I disagree with that, strongly. I used the political troubles of Atlanta and the financial problems of Birmingham to illustrate the point. ALSO...while there are a few political disagreements (obviously) many of the chronic problems have been eliminated (Teresa Smith, Chiquita Johnson, Bubba Willis) and things are looking better in Augusta.

Deke's political future is quite limited, I would say. How he would fare as a Democrat is a good question...how many "new" white Dem state legislators have been elected in Ga. lately? But he has been far too passive and far less conservative than a successful Republican would have to be to succeed. Head to head in virtually any GOP primary, Bob Young would KILL him.

Austin Rhodes
2970
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Austin Rhodes 11/18/11 - 06:22 am
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...in my opinion...the

...in my opinion...the biggest tumor that has to go is Fred Russell himself...THAT would be progress.

Little Lamb
48005
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Little Lamb 11/18/11 - 08:18 am
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RM wrote: The anomaly that

RM wrote:

The anomaly that causes the unrest is you have a white conservative . . . Administrator in a liberal black community.

Wrong. Fred Russell is the classic Democrat who believes in powerful central government. His recommendation to the commission upon the annual budget shortfall predictions is to raise property taxes. Mercifully, the commission sometimes rejects his recommendation.

If we ever got a majority Democrat commission with the tax 'em till they die mentality of Russell, things would be much worse.

Little Lamb
48005
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Little Lamb 11/18/11 - 08:39 am
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From the article: Mayor Deke

From the article:

Mayor Deke Copenhaver. . . said . . . Augusta remains in a rare 3 percent of municipal governments with neither a strong mayor nor strong administrator, a factor likely making it less efficient and effective.

Less efficient and effective? Probably so. But it makes Augusta more democratic. You see, Augusta does not have a strong mayor model of government. Augusta does not have a strong city manager model of government. What it has is a strong commission form of government. The commissioners are like sausage makers. What they do is not pleasing to watch, but they are doing what we schmucks want them to do; else we would elect someone better.

404law wrote:

An appeal has already been planned . . . and the lower decision likely will be overturned (based on first hand knowledge).

I would love to hear what first-hand knowledge you have, 404. The heart of plaintiffs' case was that the mayor originally had powers not enumerated in the charter and that the commission took those powers away and granted them to the administrator. All the documents presented to the judge showed that the mayor of the consolidated government never, at any time, had powers not spelled out in the charter.

Little Lamb
48005
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Little Lamb 11/18/11 - 08:40 am
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Wow! A bunch of posts just

Wow! A bunch of posts just disappeared into thin air!

wondersnevercease
9218
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wondersnevercease 11/18/11 - 08:47 am
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LOL!!!!!!! I have them
Unpublished

LOL!!!!!!! I have them saved................cause I am just dying to know who "i" am.

seenitB4
93817
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seenitB4 11/18/11 - 09:08 am
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WELL-WELL....hello & goodbye

WELL-WELL....hello & goodbye posters...maybe he (I) is a judge..

blackindependent
1
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blackindependent 11/18/11 - 09:29 am
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All I know is AUSTIN RHODES

All I know is AUSTIN RHODES was one of the biggest proponents of consolidation when it was proposed. I called his show at the time and asked if it made sense to create a new government and leave the same old politicians in charge of it and he stated that the charter was designed to prevent the kind of divisions and incompetence we have in local government today.
How's THAT working out???
Leaving all that aside, I can't find ANY of the benefits originally promised after all these years.

We were supposed to have the same benefits like sidewalks, uniform garbage ickup service and utility rates, uniformity in business licensing (at least that part came true. My county license fee DOUBLED so it could be the same as the downtown businesses) and I don't see a single sidewalk where there was none in the 90's.
As for this consolidation, I feel like the baseball pitcher (Augusta) praying that the next pitch (Consolidations) would get him out of a bases loaded mess (ineffective, inefficient government). But I guess a GRAND SLAM does that too.

preacher742002
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preacher742002 11/18/11 - 09:36 am
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hey people if i was yall dont

hey people
if i was yall dont need to ask austin rhodes anything you really need
to be on your knees praying to your god

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