Augusta Commission rejects hiring 3 employees to help with Hyde Park relocation

Panel rejects hiring three employees

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 10:39 PM
Last updated Wednesday, March 21, 2012 5:05 AM
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Plans to relocate 107 families and buy out landowners in Augusta’s Hyde Park neighborhood hit a roadblock Tuesday when a vote to hire three employees to help with the process failed.

The new employees, who were hired by Housing and Com­mu­nity De­velopment Director Chester Wheeler before he sought Augusta Commission approval, were to be paid using sales tax money designated for the Hyde Park project and were allotted up to 20 hours of weekly overtime for up to five years.

The debate over whether to approve them grew heated at Tuesday’s commission meeting, with District 2 Commissioner Corey Johnson, who twice had made the buyout a campaign promise, questioning why the commission was even voting on hiring staffers paid using sales tax money and doubting that the task could be outsourced for less.

“This happened way before me, and it’s going to continue way after me,” Johnson said of the neighborhood’s dismal reputation as being contaminated by nearby industry and of the city’s efforts to make better use of it as a large drainage pond.

The commission had voted in October to reprogram about $4.5 million in sales tax revenue to relocate residents under federal guidelines, a plan that allotted only about $10,000 per family to replace the equivalent of a two- or three-bedroom house. No additional funding source has been identified, although some city officials expect to add it to the next sales tax referendum in 2014.

Tuesday's commission item “shouldn’t even be here on the agenda, in my opinion,” Johnson said.

City Administrator Fred Russell said he had sought commission approval to create three positions “out of an abundance of caution.”

Several commissioners had called for Russell’s job when he awarded 44 raises without their approval last year, and several continue to question whether he should have hiring and firing authority.

Although special purpose local option sales tax revenue normally is used for capital projects, the city has at least 30 employees paid using the sales tax money to work on specific construction projects, according to a database compiled by The Augusta Chronicle.

Some of the workers have been on the city payroll for more than 20 years.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham, who opposed hiring the employees, said the tasks easily could have been outsourced.

“We outsource every major right-of-way project in this county,” he said. “Why are we guaranteeing three people 20 hours a week overtime for three years whether or not they need it?”

Voicing his support, Mayor Deke Copenhaver said Wheeler had a “proven track record” with redevelopment initiatives in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods.

The effort will become the new home of some of the relocated Hyde Park residents, according to Wheeler.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles abstained from voting because his family owns property in the area. Bowles questioned why, as landowners, his family had “never received one notification” about the buyout, relocation or drainage plans.

Although numerous neighborhood meetings have been held, Wheeler said his office was starting off with notifying 44 area families of the relocation’s first phase.

Commissioners Joe Jackson and Wayne Guilfoyle joined Brigham in voting against the measure, which needed six votes to pass but had only five. Commissioner Grady Smith was absent Tuesday.

Russell said that the vote will slow the relocation but that he will return with “another pitch” for getting the job done.

Residents were told at a recent community meeting not to move until they were contacted for a city interview.

The only Hyde Park residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting were opposed to moving out. Homeowner Nora Roberts said she was glad the vote failed.

SUNDAY SALES START SOON

It’s official: Businesses in Augusta will be able to start selling packaged alcohol on Sundays beginning April 1.

The Augusta Commission voted 8-1-1 on Tuesday (Commissioner J.R. Hatney abstaining and Commissioner Bill Lockett opposed) to approve the licensing required to allow Sunday packaged alcohol sales to begin April 1, with no additional fee for retailers.

“I hate to see people leaving the church on Sunday and their first stop is the liquor store,” Lockett said.

On March 12, the commission’s Public Services Committee voted 4-0 to approve that licensing requirement. Voters approved a referendum on Super Tuesday this month, making Augusta-Richmond County the largest jurisdiction in the area to allow Sunday packaged alcohol sales.

– Susan McCord, staff writer

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raul
5729
Points
raul 03/20/12 - 11:07 pm
1
0
The new employees, who were

The new employees, who were hired by Housing and Com­mu­nity De­velopment Director Chester Wheeler before he sought Augusta Commission approval, were to be paid using sales tax money designated for the Hyde Park project and were allotted up to 20 hours of weekly overtime for up to five years.
Voicing his support, Mayor Deke Copenhaver said Wheeler had a “proven track record” with redevelopment initiatives in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods. But Mr. Wheeler makes a boneheaded move like hiring people without authority to do so. I can see another fiasco coming around the bend.

TrulyWorried
16509
Points
TrulyWorried 03/21/12 - 06:23 am
0
0
raul - the fiasco started a

raul - the fiasco started a very long time ago - I wonder how many generations have lived in the Hyde Park area since it was declared contaminated - "cleaned up" (sort of) and the folks are still there.
When it comes to the Augusta/Richmond County area nothing can be accomplished in a smooth and proper manner. Sad, very sad, but oh so true!!

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 03/21/12 - 07:00 am
1
0
I am surprised that the

I am surprised that the Housing Authority Director works under Fred Russell's management. I thought those authorities were quasi-governmental entities that did not report up through Fred. But what do I know?

I do know this — SPLOST money is not to be used for salaries. If Chester Wheeler or Fred Russell or the Augusta Commission approve SPLOST money for salaries, they are breaking the law (but what else is new?). Notice how careful Susan McCord is in the article above. She does not use the term "SPLOST" but instead says "sales tax revenue."

It was a bad thing for Chester Wheeler to hire these three people before he got permission from the commission. Since we learned in the earlier story that the re-locations are two to four years away, hiring these relocation assistance people today just to twiddle their thumbs for a couple of years is wrong.

Jerry Brigham has a good point — just contract the re-location assistance people when you actually have someone to re-locate. Even better is to tell the Hyde Park residents, “You are an adult. Go find yourself a place to live. The city is not your nanny or your parent.”

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 03/21/12 - 07:50 am
0
0
LL, SPLOST $'s are used for

LL, SPLOST $'s are used for salaries. They CAN'T be used for maintenance; only on capital projects.

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 03/21/12 - 07:54 am
0
0
Setting up a bureaucracy to

Setting up a bureaucracy to help people move from one house to another does not sound like a capital project.

And when you used the term "maintenance," I believe the proper term would be "operations or maintenance." This re-location assistance program surely sounds like operations to me!

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 03/21/12 - 08:06 am
0
0
To Commissioner Bowles, thank

To Commissioner Bowles, thank you for commenting on these articles and for responding to commenters. If you come back on this thread, could you clarify something for me?

What are the plans for compensating property owners in Hyde Park who are delinquent in their property taxes?

What are the plans for taking the property where no property owner can be located?

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 03/21/12 - 09:30 am
0
0
LL, I gave up posting

LL, I gave up posting onlinefor Lent, but had to on this one. This project is so full of holes there are very few answers.

My question is what is (to add to your list) wat is compensation of homeowners vs landlords.

No one has any of this information to my knowledge..

Also, why did the City refuse the donation of my family's 5.5 Acres on 2 occassions over the last 7 years??????????????

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 03/21/12 - 09:43 am
1
0
Now I am really getting

Now I am really getting worried. Mayor pro-tempore Joe Bowles is the most knowledgeable man on the commission. If he doesn't know the plan, we are sunk.

But you can bet that Fred Russell is not worried.

double_standard
166
Points
double_standard 03/21/12 - 12:51 pm
0
0
Since when did splost not pay

Since when did splost not pay for workers salaries the recreation dept has splost funded employees.

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 03/22/12 - 07:58 am
0
0
We learned from this story

We learned from this story that the three employees were hired. Then we learned that Fred (What, me worry?) Russell placed the commission meeting agenda item to approve the hirings “out of an abundance of caution.” Then the commission decided not to approve the hirings. My question is, what happens next? The answer to that question could not have been known when this story was published, but I hope intrepid reporter Susan McCord will snoop around the marble palace and get the answer.

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 03/22/12 - 12:32 pm
0
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Here's another thing to think

Here's another thing to think about. Since the Commission has not decided the degree to which they are going to compensate and who they are going to compensate, then they have no clue what the total overall cost of this boondoggle is going to be! Hold on to your wallets, folks.

Little Lamb
49036
Points
Little Lamb 04/02/12 - 08:33 am
0
0
Here's a story from the

Here's a story from the Georgia wire:

MACON — Some Bibb County commissioners are expressing concerns about taking ownership of a potentially contaminated city park. The Telegraph of Macon reports that South Macon Park could soon become part of a proposed Superfund site. As part of an agreement finalized a year ago, the county in July will own and operate South Macon Park and several others now owned by the city of Macon. Authorities say another park the county would take over from the city, Freedom Park, is next to the Southern Wood Piedmont hazardous waste site where Norfolk Southern Corp. is cleaning up creosote pollution. Environmental regulators have not identified either park as unsafe for children, nor have they recommended reducing public access.

These politicians seek to stir up fear in their subjects in order to maintain their power. Here you have scientists telling you there is no reason to fear, but the politicians drum up the fear nevertheless.

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