City positions conflict with consolidation blueprint

Another piece of unfinished business from the 1996 consolidation of Augusta and Richmond County resurfaced last week, and like most, it does not appear an easy fix.

Georgia House Bill 805, which set the rules for Augusta’s system of government, called for the city to hire a single department director to preside over equal opportunities, both in city employment and in the award of city contracts.

“The commission-council shall employ a person to serve as equal opportunity director and as director of minority and small business opportunities,” states the city charter.

Seventeen years later, however, city Equal Employment Opportunity Officer Jacqueline Humphrey’s title of “director” remains in dispute, while a separate hire – Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Coordinator Yvonne Gentry – has done little to assist specifically minority- or women-owned businesses since a federal judge in 2007 barred Augusta from using race- or gender-based criteria in the award of contracts.

Augusta Commissioner Joe Jackson claimed he was not trying to aggravate his colleagues when he slipped the hire of a single new EEO and DBE “director” onto the June 10 administrative services committee agenda.

“It’s not about them,” Jackson said of Humphrey and Gentry, whose jobs would undoubtedly be impacted if a new director was hired.

It was a sore subject, however, with Commissioner Bill Lockett, who insisted the move targeted Humphrey, who uses the title “EEO Director” on her work.

City documents vary. A 1998 job description lists duties of an “Equal Opportunitiy Coordinator,” reporting to the mayor and commission, to include both EEO and DBE functions such as informing minority business groups of future bid openings.

Eleven years later, however, when the position remained open, the city advertised for an “EEO Director” to oversee employment opportunity-related issues, with no mention of other duties Gentry by then was prevented from performing by the injunction. Humphrey and several others listed “EEO Director” on their applications for the job.

Commissioner Alvin Mason denied the commission had authority to hire “coordinators;” only the directors that report directly to them. Yet, former employment manager Moses McCauley’s recommendation of Humphrey for the post, and a Nov. 5, 2009, commission motion to hire her listed her title as “coordinator.”

Former City Attorney Jim Wall called it “an unusual situation” for a single director to oversee both DBE and EEO, “but that’s the way the consolidation bill was drafted.”

Wall said during his tenure as city attorney, a subcommittee made the decision in 2003 to create two “coordinator” positions to handle EEO and DBE responsibilities, with the EEO coordinator as first priority.

“It was to be a single director who would be over both departments,” Wall said. “The coordinator title has been carried through because there was never the appointment of a director.”

Titles or not, the women earn salaries in the $75,000 range and are included in a 2007 severance plan for department heads that guarantees them six months’ pay and benefits if fired without cause after five years on the job.

Since the 2007 court order, Gentry, who had proposed participation goals and ways of attracting and tracking women and minority involvement in city contracts, has converted her office to focus on “local small business” and ceased collecting disparity data until recently. City Administrator Fred Russell, who, like most commissioners and the mayor, was attending a Savannah conference of local elected officials on Monday, said in 2010 that the court order may have eliminated Gentry’s primary function.

Copenhaver suggested the commission take up the conflicting statuses at an upcoming committee meeting while a vote to have “outside counsel” review them failed.

“Just because it was done wrong in the past, doesn’t mean this commission needs to do it again,” the mayor said.

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