After a spate of arguments and public criticism hurled at the city attorney prompted Augusta Commission members to call for improved decorum and civility on the governing body, we asked readers what they think should be done.
The most frequent response, among Facebook users and readers who submitted answers via The Augusta Chronicle’s Web site, was a resounding “RESIGN.”
“Clean house!!” wrote hospital employee Sherry Tanner, of Augusta. “They are just there to listen to themselves talk, a lot like our Congress.”
Augusta musician Sean Sellars took things further. “Disband that corrupt Augusta commission … Biggest collection of crooks this town has to offer.”
Since the 1996 consolidation of Augusta and Richmond County into a government now legally named “Augusta, Georgia,” no commissioner has been indicted or even charged with a crime beyond misdemeanor domestic violence, but the 10-member commission, guided at meetings by a mayor with a limited role, is often viewed as unwieldy and inefficient.
“Break up the Augusta and Richmond County merger,” suggested Grovetown Web developer Keith Pickett. “Let each community incorporate and govern themselves.”
Hephzibah Savannah River Site technician Bob Buckner suggested replacing the government with a private company.
“Maybe we should do away with the commission and subcontract running the city to a competent management company,” Buckner said.
Augusta resident Linda Kight suggested commissioners do their research before meetings to save time and taxpayer money.
“There should be total consideration for what is best, who needs it worst and how much it costs before anyone resorts to name calling and negative attitudes!” Kight said.
Others suggested the group look elsewhere for role models. Jay Lewts, of Thomson, said they could learn a lot from Aiken City Council; Susan Davis, of McBean, suggested observing a kindergarten classroom.
One of the more detailed suggestions came from The Chronicle’s anonymous Hephzibah commenter nocnoc, who declined to provide a name. Nocnoc recommended the mayor impose a $100 fine, with proceeds going to a local charity, each time someone breaks the code of conduct.
“To be fined requires 50 percent of commissioners present and the mayor to agree … The infraction and the vote published on the official county Web (site) and become part of the official record. This way, voters get to see what they elected, and how they act.”
Still others pointed to a common theme on the commission, where the body’s white members and black members are known to take opposing sides on an issue.
“Grow up!” said Augusta’s Carol Irwin. “Act like men instead of two-year-olds, and for God’s sake, get over the race issue. We are tired of it!”
Deron Lillard agreed: “End the race war inside the commission, for starters!”
“Stop making decisions based on race; research what you vote on,” offered Martinez firefighter and EMT Mark Smith.
Mike Mixon, of Martinez, offered specific advice involving certain officials, Commissioner Marion Williams and City Administrator Fred Russell: “Marion Williams dominates the agenda far too often, thus unnecessarily prolonging the meeting time … City administrator frequently leaves chamber and chats with commissioners while exiting. General disorder observed during meetings.”
Commissioner Bill Lockett, whose protracted questioning of the attorney Aug. 6 prompted in large part the call for civility and his own commitment two weeks later to improve decorum, said some of the suggestions were worthwhile, particularly the call for advance preparation and behaving like adults.
“Just like an alcoholic or a drug addict, sometimes you’ve got to hit rock bottom,” Lockett said. “It’s a wake-up call for all of us. I do believe it’s going to work.”
He disagreed, however, with suggestions the commission was too concerned with race or skin color.
“Our districts are just so different,” Lockett said. “District 3 and District 7 are in pretty good shape compared with the rest, and their needs are going to be somewhat different. What we need to do is look at the city as a whole instead of just narrowly looking at our district.”
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