After a nationwide search conducted by the Mercer Group, commissioners voted 7-1 Wednesday on a motion from Donnie Smith to take no action and discontinue the search after nearly two hours of discussion behind closed doors. Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson, who lost a Tuesday runoff bid for state Senate, and Joe Jackson were not present for the vote.
The three finalists were Janice Allen Jackson, the former city manager in Albany, Ga., and a general manager in Mecklenburg County, N.C.; Steve Layson, the former chief administrative officer for Bibb County, Ga.; and Oscar Rodriguez, the former town manager in Taos, N.M.
The vote likely pushes the decision to next year, when Mayor-elect Hardie Davis and three new commissioners take office. The unsuccessful search has cost taxpayers $15,000, plus up to $4,000 in expenses.
Wayne Guilfoyle was the only member to vote against stopping the search.
“It bothers me that we go through the process, hire a headhunter, each of us gives the requirements of an administrator we want and then they say, ‘No, let’s wait until the end of the year,’ ” said Guilfoyle, who supported Rodriguez.
Several commissioners said they believed Copenhaver had garnered sufficient support ahead of the meeting for his choice, Rodriguez, and were surprised at the disagreement behind closed doors.
Educated at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rodriguez has a 25-year career in local government, including positions in Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., and with the International City-County Management Association.
“We thought we had a consensus today,” Commissioner Mary Davis said. “The mayor doesn’t just call a meeting to call a meeting.”
MARY DAVIS AND Copenhaver blamed the failed search in part on Augusta’s system of government, a 10-member strong commission with a weak mayor and administrator, and said the system and the failed search likely will discourage applicants.
“I have said for a long time that we should use the form of government that Columbus (Ga.) has, where the administrator and the attorney are underneath the mayor’s office. Had that been the case today, we would have an administrator. But they couldn’t get to consensus,” Copenhaver said. “We had three good candidates.”
Commissioners said Rodriguez had five votes behind closed doors, one short of the six needed for approval, while Jackson had four. Layson was eliminated because he lacked a master’s degree and experience with a government the size of Augusta’s, according to Commissioner Bill Lockett.
REACHED BY PHONE, Rodriguez said he regretted the decision but understood it.
He disagreed that Augusta’s form of government was faulty or the cause of the failed search.
“I have worked with places that are bigger than that,” he said. “Whatever number that you have is for there to be consensus on, that’s what the county manager or city administrator is supposed to do.”
Rodriguez said if he hasn’t found a new position by next year, he would consider reapplying.
Lockett called the closed-door discussion “amicable” but wished the commission had been more involved in the search and vetting of candidates.
He said he had questioned using the Mercer Group
after the résumé packets prepared by the firm were missing pages.
“If they could miss that, my question is, did they miss anything in the course of their investigation of the applicants?” he said.
Mercer’s John Maxwell provided the missing pages Friday.
LOCKETT SAID HE didn’t believe the failed search or form of government would discourage applicants, and believed the government remained steady under the two interim administrators.
“The word is out there that nobody wants to come to Augusta, I don’t buy that one bit,” he said. “We’ve got the Cyber Command coming, the expansion of Georgia Regents University.”
Commissioner Alvin Mason called the action “unfortunate” but one that allowed those who will be in office next year to take the lead.
“Perhaps this new commission, the new mayor-elect will get an opportunity to weigh in and be a part,” Mason said.
Hardie Davis maintained he had no involvement in the search process, although he prefers the decision wait until he takes office.
“If it was my choice, I would ask them to do that and I think I’ve shared that with everybody,” Davis said. But, “I have made it my business to stay out of that process.”