The 8-2 vote, with commissioners Donnie Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle opposed, came in response to growing dissatisfaction about the ongoing $40 million renovations at Augusta Municipal Building that placed the clerk in 1,289 square feet behind the new commission chamber and without sufficient space for records, some of which clerk Lena Bonner said are more than 200 years old.
The current layout also has the 10 commissioners filing through the current clerk’s office to get from the nearest conference room, where a closed-door legal meeting was held Monday, back to the dais by way of a single restroom in the clerk’s area for men and women.
By comparison, the new law offices – located at the other end of the redesigned second floor across from the mayor’s suite – are 4,100 square feet, as General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie requested extra-large offices with space to meet with clients and review and store records. Replacing the county attorney system in 2009, the law office currently has five staff attorneys and a handful of clerks and secretaries.
The commissioners chose Monday to move the clerk but leave other decisions for later, such as where to put the law department and what potentially to change about a ninth floor space intended for the administrator. In the meantime, the law office will continue to occupy a small city-owned office building in the same 500 block of Greene Street as the municipal building.
Asked for her opinion, Bonner said moving to the law office met the commission’s requirement last week that no additional funds be spent.
“It will allow us opportunity for future growth,” Bonner said. “Keep in mind again, and I can’t stress this any more, this government is only 18 years old. Where are we going to go, where are we going to put the records?”
While she’s clerk of the consolidated government’s commission, the office keeps city records dating back more than 200 years, to Augusta’s founding.
“If we had Ed Cashin here, he spent numerous hours in our office researching materials for the many books he did on the glorious history of Augusta,” while former mayor Bob Young also researched the records for a book, she said.
Forrest White, the program manager for Heery International, the city’s agent which “programmed” the space allocations within the renovated space, said the firm hadn’t done “anything without prior approval from the county.”
White said his predecessor Lucy Williams had been told by Russell not to include a records vault on the second floor and that records might be stored in the basement.
White said he questioned not including a vault, “but I was overruled.”
Commissioner Bill Lockett said the next time Heery was uncertain about the clerk’s office, the firm should come to the commission.
“She’s our person. Don’t go to the administrator, come to this governing body,” Lockett said.
Commissioner Marion Williams said he’d sought e-mails or another paper trail but found little to document decisions made about the building by former Administrator Fred Russell or by Heery, to whom the city has paid nearly $13 million over the last decade.
“What bothers me is that certain things we did program in,” such as the spacious mayor’s suite and large commission chamber, “but other things we were short on. Who was the brains behind this?”
After considering suggestions from Guilfoyle and Donnie Smith about moving the administrator’s office from its intended location on the ninth floor to the second, and move law to the ninth, the commission held off on making further decisions about the building.
Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said that was probably the best course of action because additional issues raised by the chief Superior Court judge about the building have not been addressed.
Judge Carlisle Overstreet reminded city officials last week that as a designated courthouse annex, the building must include holding cells for defendants and other details left out of the design.