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Planning and Development Director Melanie Wilson proposes sweeping changes to department

Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 10:23 PM
Last updated Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 10:29 AM
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As Augusta’s first female and first black planning and development director, Melanie Wilson has turned a few heads since she took the job in August, training for a month with retiring longtime director George Patty.

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Planning and Development Director Melanie Wilson addresses Augusta Commission members. Wilson wants to spend $1 million more for additional positions and raises.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Planning and Development Director Melanie Wilson addresses Augusta Commission members. Wilson wants to spend $1 million more for additional positions and raises.

“I’m a Southerner, from North Carolina. That helps tremendously,” said Wilson, who was planning director for Wake County, N.C., home of Raleigh, for seven years.

Backed by a consultant’s critical analysis set in motion before she was hired, Wilson proposed to the Augusta Commission on Thursday a sweeping reorganization of the department’s planning side, to include requiring a dozen employees to reapply for reclassified jobs, and the addition of 10 new positions.

Augusta, despite being Georgia’s second-largest city, has only two certified planners – Wilson and Planning Manager Paul DeCamp – far fewer than the nearly 20 planners the city once had, Wilson said.

The shortage effectively hamstrings the department, responsible for 305 square miles, making it strictly reactive, with little time for land use, long range or other types of advanced planning, she said.

Though the city commission recently approved a bare-bones 2014 budget that requires all departments to cut 2.4 percent, Wilson reminded commissioners Thursday of the revenue her department manages to generate, despite operating on limited funds.

“A lot of people forget just how much money this department generates, versus how much money they are budgeted,” she said.

Planning and Develop­ment, to which the city’s licensing and inspections department was added in 2011, took in $13.7 million in business license and related fees in 2012 on a budget of $1.8 million that included $436,000 for demolitions, she said. Revenues this year are at $13.8 million. Even the small planning side has generated nearly $917,000 this year, she said.

“We are a donor department,” said Wilson.

Wilson proposed that her department not be required to make the 2.4 percent cuts and instead be allowed to spend $1 million more for the additional positions and a handful of raises, including increasing an effective, 25-year construction manager’s salary to $70,000. “He gets offers a lot,” Wilson said.

Most of Wilson’s recommendations for reorganization came from consultant Malik Watkins of the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. The commission hired Watkins to analyze the department in early 2013.

Other changes include adopting a set of values for the department with a focus on integrity, ethics and customer service, she said.

Commissioner Marion Williams said the idea of making staff reapply for jobs gave him heartburn, while Commissioner Bill Lockett, who was complimentary of the proposal, asked whether it was the staff’s fault their skills might be lacking.

“That’s a loaded question,” said Wilson. “In other cities … other MPOs (metropolitan planning organizations), you would not be in a position of having so many people not having the professional training that you needed. You just wouldn’t.”

Employing skilled staff would cut back reliance on consultants and provide the opportunity for more revenue. Incoming businesses will pay for data, while the city is missing out on grants or not putting them to best use, she said.

Wilson said she was unaware she’d missed a Wednesday deadline to get the proposal on the agenda for next Tuesday’s regular meeting. The commission could add the item with unanimous consent.

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PUPPYMOMMA
1367
Points
PUPPYMOMMA 12/12/13 - 11:53 pm
4
3
Welcome to Augusta, Mrs.

Welcome to Augusta, Mrs. Wilson. Give Commissioner Williams a Rolaids for that heartburn. The taxpayers payed for a consultant, got some good advice and there is always one person who likes it the way it has always been. It's refreshing to see someone with some new ideas and common sense.

bubbasauce
22194
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bubbasauce 12/13/13 - 05:10 am
11
5
Doesn't sound refreshing to

Doesn't sound refreshing to me. She wants to come in, add jobs and give raises, misses a deadline, spend $1,0000.00 more. I am totally missing something here. Sounds like the same old BS to me. Where do we find these people? I cannot wait to hear all the comments later on this matter. Its ground hog day again and I am truly amazed.

bubbasauce
22194
Points
bubbasauce 12/13/13 - 05:30 am
9
4
I had to read this whole

I had to read this whole article over for the second time just in case I missed something here. I am still dumbfounded reading this article and Susan McCord sure put it together well to make it sound like a great idea she has.
As for values, integrity, ethics and customer service? Are you kidding me? What a joke!

my.voice
4927
Points
my.voice 12/13/13 - 07:41 am
5
1
20 PLANNERS? Are you kidding

20 PLANNERS? Are you kidding me? What exactly are you going to be "planning"?

flcracker
137
Points
flcracker 12/13/13 - 08:09 am
6
0
Reoganizing again?

So reorganizing once already wasn't enough to get the department in tip-top shape? If I was asked to reapply for my job I would be insulted. If they're not qualified for the job, how did they get hired?

raul
5334
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raul 12/13/13 - 09:28 am
5
0
I predict a rocky future.

I predict a rocky future. Your bosses,(the commission) give direction for all department heads to come up with budget cuts of 2.4 percent and you come in with a proposal to add one million dollars. Really?

soapy_725
43772
Points
soapy_725 12/13/13 - 09:14 am
1
0
The purpose of government is to grow government.
Unpublished

The purpose of government is to grow government.

soapy_725
43772
Points
soapy_725 12/13/13 - 09:16 am
1
0
Just another career bureaucrat. Same genes, same appetite. $$$
Unpublished

Just another career bureaucrat. Same genes, same appetite. $$$$

Little Lamb
47042
Points
Little Lamb 12/13/13 - 11:03 am
6
1
Nervous?

From the story:

“I’m a Southerner, from North Carolina. That helps tremendously,” said Wilson.

That is a boneheaded statement. Being from North Carolina does not help someone. It does not hinder someone. Being from any particular state does not equip someone to head a department of a medium-size consolidated government. If that statement shows the depth of her understanding, then Augusta is in trouble.

grinder48
2019
Points
grinder48 12/13/13 - 12:09 pm
0
0
Smelly
Unpublished

I agree with bubbasauce, where do we find these people? How come Augusta hires these people who are rejects from other places? Something stinks ... as is often the case with ARC hiring practices.

countyman
20631
Points
countyman 12/13/13 - 12:40 pm
1
7
Facts

The same people who bash Augusta everyday also don't want the city to make any significant changes..

Cocomommy... George may have been able to proceed but it doesn't mean the department isn't lacking extra workers... Are you satisfied with the current shape of Augusta? I know you live in Columbia County but every suburban county of a small to medium size city is growing. What is Columbia County doing on it's own? If you go to metro Atlanta the entire metro has grown so much were the suburbs now have their own new large employers for example.

Little Lamb... Raleigh is one of the most attractive metros in the entire country. The number of highly educated people and growth is tremendous... Do you really want to compare Raleigh versus Augusta? Our media hypes up Columbia County for their growth in the last decade but many of those people were former residents of South Augusta. The metro area of Raleigh is attracting people from all over the US...

dichotomy
34497
Points
dichotomy 12/13/13 - 02:06 pm
5
0
"So what we did was offer her

"So what we did was offer her paid administrative leave so that on a full-time regular basis she could search for new employment before the reduction took place. So, basically, we are going to pay you even though you won't be working here on the premises"

Oh yeh, they REALLY wanted to get rid of her....without a lawsuit.

"Wilson's relationship with some developers and elected officials had sometimes been rocky. In her position as planning director for the unincorporated areas of the county, Wilson held sway over policy interpretations that could influence the growth of small towns."

Living in a rural area that needs development, and having her in an office that has a "study" stuck on a shelf somewhere that says "discourage development south of Spirit Creek"....well that really gives me a warm fuzzy.

"Tony Gurley, a county commissioner, said some found her difficult"

And yet WE just couldn't wait to scoop her up. Wonder why???? Her and Marion ought to get along great.

triscuit
3157
Points
triscuit 12/13/13 - 02:14 pm
6
1
Of course she will get what

Of course she will get what she wants. She's a black female in RC Govt.
“In other cities … other MPOs (metropolitan planning organizations), you would not be in a position of having so many people not having the professional training that you needed. You just wouldn’t.” Well, welcome to RC...where everyone can get a job, no matter how unqualified, as long as you 1) are related to; 2) attend church with; or 3) having something "on" those already in charge.

PUPPYMOMMA
1367
Points
PUPPYMOMMA 12/13/13 - 04:32 pm
2
0
I don't see a comment from

I don't see a comment from Cocomommy on here, countyman. To whom were you referring?

KSL
134766
Points
KSL 12/13/13 - 06:22 pm
3
1
Cocomommy posted a link to an

Cocomommy posted a link to an article regarding former employment of Ms Wilson.

dichotomy
34497
Points
dichotomy 12/13/13 - 06:50 pm
6
0
"hypes up Columbia County for

"hypes up Columbia County for their growth in the last decade but many of those people were former residents of South Augusta."

Yep.....former residents of South Augusta.....fleeing what they foresaw as a government that would eventually only elect black officials, only hire black directors, superintendents, and department heads, and that would spend all of their tax money in the "old city". Go figure.

"Raleigh is one of the most attractive metros in the entire country. "

That is because it is populated by mostly working people who contribute to the tax base....easily explained by the demographics.

Gage Creed
17889
Points
Gage Creed 12/13/13 - 07:41 pm
2
0
FACTS are pesky things!

Q: What is Columbia County doing on it's own?
A: Being one of 100 fastest growing counties in the US

Oy Vey!

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