In a move that surprised some on the panel, Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith took the matter of the commission's conflict of interest policy in a new direction Tuesday.
In the absence of commissioners Bill Fennoy and Bill Lockett, who have championed tougher penalties for their colleagues who violate the ordinance, Smith motioned Tuesday that a subcommittee including himself, Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson, commissioners Mary Davis and Alvin Mason and the city attorney study the ordinances in place in other Georgia jurisdictions and return with recommended revisions within 45 days.
Smith said his plan, which passed 8-0, will allow the commission “to compare apples to apples,” the conflict provisions in effect in similarly-populated Georgia cities and counties, to see what other jurisdictions consider a conflict and how they penalize violators.
“Currently it's very vague about when you're doing business with the government,” he said. “That's the whole purpose, to examine the entire ordinance.”
In effect for 13 years, the policy ensnared three commissioners earlier this year who admitted their companies had performed work either as contractors, subcontractors, or sub-subcontractors under city contracts. The policy appears to prohibit any direct or arms-length transaction, and the commission imposed the stiffest penalty available – a censure, or warning – against the three.
Throughout the process and afterward, several commissioners complained that the punishment wasn't severe enough, including Marion Williams, who called it meaningless and Fennoy, who returned it to the commission agenda. Fennoy and Lockett were in Chicago on Tuesday attending an American Planning Association conference where the city is receiving an award for its redevelopment efforts in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem communities.
“I'm thinking it's a step in the right direction,” Williams said after the meeting. “Employees who do that, they're terminated.”
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said he trusted the subcommittee, which includes two newly-elected commissioners and two in their second terms. “I think they'll come up with the right decision,” he said.
Another surprise item for several commissioners Tuesday involved renewed requests from Richmond County Probate Judge Harry James and Clerk of Court Elaine Johnson, who also was honored Tuesday for 40 years' service to local government, for the city to increase the locally-funded portion of their salaries.
Each sought an increase of more than $10,000, but both requests failed. James’ request saw only two supporting votes, from Mason and Williams, while the clerk of court's request was supported by Mason, Williams and Guilfoyle.
In other action, the commission heard the entreaties of former Super C’s dance hall owner Charles Cummings and Pastor Christopher Johnson for increased bus service throughout Richmond County and the need to improve upon Mobility Transit, the private firm that has the city bus and paratransit contract for a few more months.
Both speakers’ comments were accepted as information, but the commission appeared to agree that a plan already was in place. The group recently decided to give Mobility notice of its intent to terminate the bus contract and develop a transit plan.
“I need for you to know with some confidence that these are things we are addressing very, very seriously,” Mason said. “I don't want anyone to leave from here thinking that this has not been addressed at an extensive level.”