An analysis of Augusta's system of 30-plus advisory boards and governing authorities finds few that are fully functional and some with members serving in violation of the city code.
Most of the boards, from the 12-member Augusta Ports Authority to the Sheriff's Merit System Review Board, have one or more members serving with expired terms.
Other boards have members violating rules against serving on more than one city-appointed board at once, or have several vacant seats. Others are in violation of city rules against absenteeism.
The often-overlooked laws require members to live in Richmond County and to step down after three unexcused absences.
Records of board appointments, compiled by the city clerk's office and obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, reveal at least 19 board members who have held their post, at least on paper, for more than a decade, including three on Augusta Canal Authority who have served for 20 years.
Longevity can be an asset, said Richard Isdell, who has served a combined 20 years on the canal authority, Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority and the General Aviation Commission, which governs Daniel Field. He has served as chairman on all three and now leads the canal authority.
On the canal authority, Tom Robertson, Bob Woodhurst and Jeannie Allen have each served since 1993. Isdell said their skills are an asset.
"We get a lot of free advice because we have an architect, we have an engineer," Isdell said.
At Isdell's first meeting as chairman of the coliseum authority in 2008, an attendee and an authority member get in a violent altercation. Not long after, Augusta legislators remade the board, which hired a private management company to manage the facilities. Four years later, the entire panel hold appointments that expired in 2009, 2010 and 2012.
Many department directors and board staff members will say it’s fine that members hold expired terms. That indicates the commission, legislator or other entity making the appointment is satisfied with the member's performance, while the appointee can continue to legally serve until reappointed or a replacement is named.
In Augusta, some 130 of about 300 appointees hold expired terms, even among the county's most important boards, such as the Board of Elections. Two members appointed by the local Democratic Party continue to serve in apparent excess of their eight-year term limits.
The five elections board members garnered $9,520 in fees for service last year.
Republican Party appointee Chip Barbee serves on the elections board and leads Augusta's personnel board. That panel’s members are paid a minimal stipend per meeting and convene rarely, when an employee challenges a disciplinary ruling or termination. The board carries a steep learning curve for members with no legal or human resources background.
"This is a politically appointed board, which has a fairly important responsibility," Barbee said. Six of its 12 members, including Barbee, hold expired terms.
Augusta Commission member Bill Fennoy hasn't replaced four board members with expired terms. Two are on boards that are dormant or rarely active: the Housing and Community Development Board and Planned Riverfront Development Review Board.
All but two of Commissioner Alvin Mason's appointments hold terms that expired in 2011 or earlier, while Marion Williams, Grady Smith, Corey Johnson and Bill Lockett owe nine or more appointments, though many expired March 31.
Former Augusta Commissioner Jerry Brigham, recently appointed by successor Donnie Smith to serve on the Board of Zoning Appeals, said appointments aren’t always easy to make.
“You have to find someone who’s willing to say yes,” he said. "I always wanted to send someone I knew; I didn't want to just appoint someone."
Brigham said he preferred choosing a board member to simply approving the board's recommendation, a common way some boards stay together.
Other boards have outlived the reason for which they were created, he said. Development groups such as the Downtown Development Authority and Public Facilities Inc., created to issue bonds to construct buildings, have had their functions limited by the Legislature, he said.
Columbia County has panels that Augusta doesn't have, such as a recreation board, community events committee and drainage basin advisory council, county clerk Erin Hall said. Unlike Augusta's boards, Columbia County panels use the same set of bylaws, and none is paid.
Augusta has not disbanded a board recently and has created several more, to oversee bond-funded projects or property acquisition.
"The theory is to let people get involved in their government," city Administrator Fred Russell said.