25 years ago, Justice Department halted Augusta consolidation

Twenty-five years ago, the Justice Department interrupted an effort, approved by both the Augusta City Council and Richmond County Commission, to place consolidation of the two governments on the July 19, 1988, ballot just a few days before the referendum.

Moved to the Nov. 8, 1988, general election ballot, the consolidation referendum and a referendum on abolishing the Augusta city charter passed, with heavy support from majority-white voting precincts.

The Justice Department wasn’t done with Augusta’s efforts to consolidate, and it took heed of the effort’s critics.

“The Justice Department is interested in knowing what impact this issue has had on the minority community,” then-City Councilman-elect A.K. Hasan said at a town hall meeting days after the 1988 referenda passed.

The department decided the consolidation plan would dilute minority voting strength and it was discarded, only to resurface a few years later in the Legislature, which approved a new plan to consolidate the two governments.

The Justice Department again reached out to black members of the city council and county commission in the days after a 1995 referendum – the city’s fourth – on consolidation of the two governments. That year, consolidation passed with 67 percent of the vote and both black and white support.

“That’s between me and Justice,” then-city councilman J.R. Hatney said of conversations he’d been having with the Justice Department in August 1995, prompting fears that the effort, set to begin Jan. 1, 1996, might again be in trouble. But that time, it passed muster.

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