He calls himself “nitpicker-in-chief.” So why is Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett so concerned about what seems to be the minutiae of Augusta government?
For one, he has the time and experience. At 72, Lockett is retired from a long and varied government career that began in 1957 in the Marines, continued for 15 years in the Army, ran five more years with the Georgia Department of Labor, 10 as a federal human resources investigator, then 10 as a business instructor at Butler High School, where he retired for a final time in 2005.
“Being a former federal investigator, I paid quite a bit of attention to detail, and I’m able to read between the lines,” said Lockett, who holds a master’s degree in public administration. “If you’re going to try to get something by me, you better make sure you’re on top of your game, because if you’re not, I’m going to catch you.”
Lockett said he was recruited by former Commissioner Calvin Holland and others to run for the District 5 seat, for which he might seek a second term next year.
“I’m not a professional politician; I consider myself an elected official,” he said by phone while driving home from training for Georgia elected officials Friday in Dublin.
Lockett said he enjoys being involved in his community but that recent relentless commission unrest and trouble with the administrator are making the official side of his position almost untenable.
“I still enjoy being a commissioner, but I don’t enjoy coming to the meetings, I’ll be honest,” he said.
He and Commissioner Alvin Mason call the voting pattern that has persisted most of this year the “Gang of Six,” for the six white commissioners who have consistently voted for numerous changes: a new personnel manual, outsourcing the city golf course and bus service, and enhancements to the administrator’s authority over personnel.
The group, whose six votes the city attorney deemed a sufficient majority to approve the changes, rarely consults with the “Gang of Four,” the four black commissioners, Lockett said. As a result, changes are ushered in “piecemeal,” with little attention paid to detail or to the big picture – something that’s maddening for Lockett.
“That’s the way this reorganization has been,” he said. “Making decisions, not knowing what the impact is going to be.”
Other commissioners say they’ve accommodated Lockett’s need to closely examine proposed changes, holding multiple workshops on the personnel manual, reorganization and budget.
City Administrator Fred Russell, whom Lockett and Mason twice tried to fire for making changes he was authorized to make, says he wants their support.
“I would love for eight, nine, 10 to agree to move forward with projects,” Russell said. “But democracy says it’s only six.”