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Meeting attendance rate of Augusta commissioners varies

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Half the time over the last year, at least one Augusta elected official – a commissioner or the mayor – skipped a meeting, according to attendance records analyzed by The Augusta Chronicle.

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Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason's seat is empty at a July 30 committee meeting. The two-term commissioner and his colleague J.R. Hatney have missed numerous commission and committee meetings over the last year, with Hatney missing the most, at 18.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason's seat is empty at a July 30 committee meeting. The two-term commissioner and his colleague J.R. Hatney have missed numerous commission and committee meetings over the last year, with Hatney missing the most, at 18.

The worst offender was Commissioner J.R. Hatney, who is completing a second and final consecutive term representing Super District 9. Hatney was absent 18 times from August 2011 to July 2012, missing nine meetings of the full commission and nine commission committee meetings.

“Every time I can, I’m here,” said Hatney, pastor of Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church, declining to elaborate on his absences as he left a Thursday called commission meeting to set the millage rate.

The commission and its committees meet often, at least 142 scheduled times in the 12 months analyzed. In 71 of those meetings, at least one elected official was absent.

Five commission committee meetings and a called legal meeting are held consecutively on the second and last Mondays of each month and regular commission meetings are scheduled on the first and third Tuesdays.

Hatney’s fellow commissioners offered no excuses or explanations for his absences, but a few thought a commissioner who skips meetings might be missing out on something.

“You need to be present in order to make informed decisions,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said. Lockett, the only officially retired commissioner, has the highest attendance rate of them all, missing only a single commission meeting the entire year. That was when he was attending training for Georgia elected officials, Lockett said.

“If you’re not here, you don’t know what’s discussed,” he said. “New ideas, good ideas could be presented, and if you’re not there, you don’t have an opportunity to take advantage of that.”

Lockett saw three meetings of the committee he chairs, administrative services, canceled for lack of a quorum when two of the committee’s other commissioner members, Alvin Mason and Matt Aitken, didn’t show.

Absent from Thursday’s called meeting and out for a eighth consecutive meeting was Mason, who had 17 absences during the period examined.

Augusta City Clerk Lena Bonner said Mason informed her June 28 that he’d be out until Aug. 25 on “TDY” or temporary duty assignment connected to his job with the U.S. Department of Defense. By Aug. 25, Mason, who has talked of running for mayor, will have a string of 12 consecutive absences, and he has missed five meetings of the committee he chairs, Engineering Services, in 12 months.

Augusta political science professor and longtime government observer Ralph Walker said voters who keep re-electing absentee officials might just deserve what they get.

“If you run for the office, you should be willing to serve; you need to be there,” Walker said.

Hatney, Mason and the fourth-worst offender, Commissioner Corey Johnson, all are term-limited after completing their second consecutive term and can’t run again for at least four years.

No so for Aitken, who has made it known that his meeting absences, some 13 over the year, are largely due to his job, shift work at Olin Chemical. Aitken, known to bring his young daughter to meetings on occasion when he needs to, has missed five meetings this year and faces three announced opponents for his District 1 commission post in the November election.

Lockett, who is unopposed so far for his District 5 commission seat which comes up for election in November, said candidates ought to keep in mind the demands of the office on their time.

“One should take into consideration when he or she decides to run for office, that he has ample time for the job,” Lockett said.

Some officials have more opportunities to miss, as well. Unlike the rest of the commission, Johnson serves on three committees after Hatney decided he didn’t want to chair public services earlier this year. That gave the District 2 commissioner 21 more meetings to attend than his fellow commissioners. He missed a total of 12 through the year.

“It could be vacation, it could be illness,” Johnson said. “You just can’t bring that and expose (illness) to everybody. You’ve got to be here to at least know what’s going on.“

The commissioners aren’t required to attend by state or local laws, which specify only the numbers needed present to constitute a quorum that can take official action.

They are paid, however.

Each commissioner earns from $12,000 to $16,537 annually based on seniority and experience, plus expenses, most in addition to their full-time jobs. The current mayor pro-tem, Joe Bowles, draws $23,000 while the mayor earns $75,845.

Attendance demands on Mayor Deke Copenhaver are fewer, as he isn’t required to be at committee meetings. Copenhaver missed five of the 42 commission and called commission meetings he’s expected to preside over.

Bowles, who missed six meetings over the year, said attendance at committee meetings was important but not always for the reasons Lockett specified.

“It’s very valuable if you have concerns on pertinent items, but it’s not impossible to get that information outside committee meetings,” he said.

Bowles added that it’s sometimes tricky with a young family and a full-time career to make it to meetings, especially when the group gets late notice for meetings such as Thursday’s, which nine of the 10 commissioners, plus Copenhaver, attended.

Commissioners Grady Smith, Jerry Brigham and Wayne Guilfoyle each missed five meetings during the period. Brigham and Commissioner Joe Jackson, who had three absences, are term limited.

Brigham said being out meant a commissioner’s constituents were not being represented.

“You’re missing the input of their constituents if they’re not there,” he said.

COMMISSION MEETING ATTENDANCE RATES
NAMEDISTRICTRATEABSENCES
J.R. HatneySuper District 977%18
Alvin MasonDistrict 479%17
Matt AitkenDistrict 184%13
Corey JohnsonDistrict 288%12
Mayor Deke CopenhaverN/A88%5
Joe BowlesDistrict 393%6
Grady SmithSuper District 1094%5
Jerry BrighamDistrict 794%5
Wayne GuilfoyleDistrict 894%5
Joe JacksonDistrict 696%3
Bill LockettDistrict 599%1

Source: Minutes and other records from Augusta Commission and committee meetings, August 2011 through July 2012.

2012 COMMITTEES

ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES: Bill Lockett, chairman; Matt Aitken, vice chairman; Alvin Mason, Jerry Brigham

ENGINEERING SERVICES: Alvin Mason, chairman; Grady Smith, vice chairman; Joe Jackson; Corey Johnson

FINANCE: Jerry Brigham, chairman; Wayne Guilfoyle, vice chairman; J.R. Hatney;
Bill Lockett

PUBLIC SAFETY/INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: Joe Jackson, chairman; Grady Smith, vice chairman; Corey Johnson; J.R. Hatney

PUBLIC SERVICES: Corey Johnson, chairman; Matt Aitken, vice chairman; Wayne Guilfoyle; Joe Bowles

Comments (11) Add comment
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Shellman
623
Points
Shellman 08/04/12 - 08:57 pm
4
1
Bill Lockett
Unpublished

I have always found Bill Lockett to be one of the most responsible and detail oriented commissioners.. followed by Joe Bowles and Wayne Guilfoyle. The rest I don't have much use for.. though Grady has his moments now and then.. plus he's as funny as you know what. You can always count on Grady for a laugh. I love Wayne's south richmond county countrified vernacular and twang. I think I heard him say "Liberry" at the last commission meeting. How can you not like someone who says "Liberry"? he seems like good people.

Shellman
623
Points
Shellman 08/04/12 - 09:04 pm
7
0
Corey's vacations
Unpublished

Can someone explain to me how someone who seems to have no other job besides being an Augusta Commissioner, that pays a little more than $12,000 a year, is able to take so many vacations?

itsanotherday1
48306
Points
itsanotherday1 08/04/12 - 09:05 pm
7
0
It is a clear dividing line

It is a clear dividing line between those who represent their constituents and those who don't.

crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 08/04/12 - 09:12 pm
7
0
home owners
Unpublished

If you look at the addresses for these commissioners paired with the Parcels search on the augustaga.gov website, it appears some of the commissioners either (1) don't own their own home or (2) their homes appear to be given to them.

Willow Bailey
20605
Points
Willow Bailey 08/04/12 - 09:44 pm
9
1
No meeting, no check. That's

No meeting, no check. That's easy.

Little Lamb
49030
Points
Little Lamb 08/04/12 - 10:01 pm
7
0
Johnson

I have long wondered what Johnson's source of income is. Does anyone know if he has a job somewhere? Is he on assistance? What's the deal with Corey Johnson?

Little Lamb
49030
Points
Little Lamb 08/04/12 - 10:05 pm
8
0
Other Problems

From the story:

Absent from Thursday’s called meeting and out for a eighth consecutive meeting was Alvin Mason, who had 17 absences during the period examined. Augusta City Clerk Lena Bonner said Mason informed her June 28 that he’d be out until Aug. 25 on “TDY” or temporary duty assignment connected to his job with the U.S. Department of Defense. By Aug. 25, Mason, who has talked of running for mayor, will have a string of 12 consecutive absences, and he has missed five meetings of the committee he chairs, Engineering Services, in 12 months.

Mason has other fish to fry. What is the deal with his trial for domestic abuse? At first he wanted a speedy trial, but now the moss and weeds and cobwebs cover that little inconvenient item.

Little Lamb
49030
Points
Little Lamb 08/04/12 - 10:06 pm
7
1
Sanders

I guess if Freddie Sanders wins the sheriff's race in November, Mason will have to get another lawyer.

Shellman
623
Points
Shellman 08/04/12 - 11:51 pm
4
0
Wayne Says Sell It!
Unpublished

Maybe people don't realize it but Wayne Guilfoyle is Amerasian.... half caucasian and half chinese.. We always hear all of this talk in Augusta politics about white vs black and yada yada.. and sometimes we forget there are other people in this community who are not white or black, Just sayin

specsta
7137
Points
specsta 08/05/12 - 12:55 am
8
0
Who Would Miss Them?

They all can be absent from meetings. The same amount of work to get the city moving forward would get done - which amounts to NOTHING.

Shellman
623
Points
Shellman 08/05/12 - 12:55 am
5
2
Lamb I am
Unpublished

I like Freddie too.. I like his no-nonsense approach.. but if it is him and Peebles.. I have to go with Peebles. I mean when was the last time Freddie was active in law enforcement? I just think we need someone who has been active in law enforcement in this century as sheriff. If it was Roundtree or Silas vs Sanders... then I would gladly vote for Freddie. No contest! But The Peebs is the right man for the job.

HighSociety
1841
Points
HighSociety 08/05/12 - 01:55 am
4
2
Shellman, I agree 100%!!

Shellman, I agree 100%!!

seenitB4
97407
Points
seenitB4 08/05/12 - 03:06 am
5
4
Really

I don't agree......go republican all the way in November....

soapy_725
44111
Points
soapy_725 08/05/12 - 08:19 am
0
0
priorities are apparent and it
Unpublished

is not the citizen taxpayer of ARC. Bring in the clowns. Bring in the clowns. The head clown is running for President, the assistant clown is running for head clown, the ring master is running for his own ego, and the other ten just pack the VW Bettle on occasion. This is what you get in the ARC of the South. My job won't allow me to attend. So much for you planning skills. Why did you run? My church comes first. Why did you run?

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 08/05/12 - 08:58 am
10
0
Richmond County Citizens are pretty forgiving.

because if a person in the real world missed over 10% they'd get canned.

Surely if a person can't make it to work 80% of the time it is clear they are NOT doing their job, doesn't like their job, or is not interested in meeting their elected obligations.

Yes, there should be some reasonable exceptions, but the same ones that apply to all county employees.

But missing almost 30% of the meetings it is clear one commissioner has Retired On Active Duty at taxpayer expense.

Expenses.
Since expenses are a public record, it would be interesting to see if those that cannot attend at least 85% of the main meetings are still billing the county for travel related expenses for the the days they just cannot attend?

Either way maybe it is time to amend the rules covering attendance, pay, and reimbursement of related expenses, if not attending a main meeting date?

Conservative Man
5578
Points
Conservative Man 08/05/12 - 09:50 am
4
0
Wondering as well.

I've wondered the same thing about Johnson as well. I've also heard others wonder the same thing. Interesting. Also agree with Shell's first assessment of the Commishes. Lockett, Guilfoyle , and Bowles seem to be the most engaged and prepared. On the list of most ill-prepared would be "Dear in the headlight's Aitken". Hopefully District 1 will wise up and show him the door in November....

madgerman
236
Points
madgerman 08/05/12 - 06:41 pm
0
0
I would rather cut my hand
Unpublished

I would rather cut my hand off than use it to cast a vote for another lawyer.

tl-bro
180
Points
tl-bro 08/05/12 - 08:59 pm
0
0
Get a grip...

All of these guys are more or less volunteers. $1,000 per month? Cut them some slack. All in all, I think the attendance records are pretty good. They all have full time jobs I believe and have lives outside of the commission. Grady was out back in the spring for surgery on his foot and he's only missed 5 meetings in a year! Let's put it in perspective and worry about other things going on, like balancing the budget, etc.

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