Augusta Commission to get definition of 'ordinary business'

Augusta Commission members with lingering doubts about the phrase "ordinary business" as mentioned in the city charter won a partial victory Monday when four commissioners voted to have the city attorney draft a legal opinion.

Commissioner Bill Lockett, who has requested an attorney general opinion on the matter more than once, said that if the charter names "ordinary business" as requiring six commission votes to pass, then there must also be a higher level of business requiring more than six votes, and Commissioner Corey Johnson voiced similar concerns.

"If they specified that it takes six votes to conduct ordinary business, then there has to be business other than ordinary business that this body would conduct," Lockett said.

General counsel Andrew MacKenzie said Friday and Monday that the charter section in question merely addresses the number of members present to constitute a quorum able to accomplish city business with six affirmative votes and that the attorney general was unlikely to render an opinion on such a local question.

The section reads, in its entirety:

"Seven members of the commission-council shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of ordinary business, and an affirmative vote of at least six members shall be required for the commission-council to take action. Official action of the commission-council shall be entered upon its minutes. Any member of the commission-council shall have the right to request a roll-call vote."

Nowhere in the charter is any other type of city business mentioned, and the only time an eight-vote super-majority is needed is to amend the charter, MacKenzie said.

A recent Superior Court ruling in a suit over the changes also held that the commission hadn't overstepped its authority in making the changes.

Lockett insisted that "this body has done things in the past year that hasn't been done in the history of this government," such as outsourcing the city bus service to a private firm.

“To me to privatize one of our departments is not ordinary business," he said.

Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle and Jerry Brigham said the city had in previous years wrote personnel policies and contracted with private firms to manage city services, and MacKenzie agreed that only six votes are required to accomplish such things.

MacKenzie offered to explore the topic further, however, and on Brigham's motion the committee voted 4-0 their approval for him to do so.

It is unclear whether MacKenzie, who works on a salaried basis, will wait for full commission approval to write the opinion.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

• City Administrator Fred Russell was authorized on Monday to attempt to level pay inequities created when he awarded raises to 44 employees in July. The raises added up to $350,000, but Russell said Monday that the requested adjustments, which will bring several department heads up to the same level, will add up to much less. He said he’ll return with recommendations on the adjustments later this month.

• After a called legal meeting behind closed doors, the commission authorized a $17,500 settlement with Sheenda Brown, who filed a lawsuit after being involved in a wreck in June 2010 with sheriff’s Deputy John Nguyen.

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