Grady Smith's 'yes' vote on sheriff, solicitor raises upsets some

The board of directors and members of McDonald’s Coffee Club on Peach Or­chard Road are so upset over the big raises the Au­gusta Commission voted to give Richmond County Sher­iff Richard Roundtree and State Court Solicitor Kellie Kenner-McIntyre last week that they’ve talked of little else.

They take issue with Commis­sioner Grady Smith for casting the deciding vote for the racially motivated raises, much more so than with the news that his company has done business with the city.

Do not be deceived by all the talk about the raises not being raises, but “salary adjustments,” Roundtree’s master’s degree from Troy Univer­sity and such.

If there were a new white sheriff with the morals of an alley cat, a disregard for the integrity of investigative files and the possible loss of government-owned guns and ammo, and praising himself online under the name “Grateful Mother,” he wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a $16,500 raise two months into the job, especially if his deputies hadn’t had one in four years.

 

HE SHOULD HAVE LET SLEEPING CODES LIE: Commissioners Smith, Joe Jackson and Wayne Guilfoyle have acknowledged billing the city for goods or services in violation of the city’s ethics code.

Ironically, the violations surfaced after Smith proposed revising the city’s conflict-of-interest policy to allow commissioners and employees to bid on projects and do business with the city.

So Smith not only faces scrutiny and criticism over the violations – along with Jackson and Guilfoyle – but also has to deal with continued phone calls from irate constituents.

A public airing of the conflicts is expected when the proposed ordinance revision comes up at Monday’s Admin­istrative Services Commit­tee meeting.

Commis­sioner Marion Williams rejected the notion of a commission censure and said the violations should be investigated by an ethics committee of an outside agency, such as the Georgia Municipal Association.

“As far as censure by the commission, that don’t do anything,” Williams said. “I think we should talk about it, and we have to talk about it on an open floor.”

He said city General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie “had no right” at the request of one commissioner, Smith, to draw up a proposed ordinance change that would allow employees and public officials to participate as subcontractors in city projects if they operate or have a legal interest in an established business enterprise.

Williams also contends such a change would “open up a box” whose contents would spill out and never be put back in.

 

ONLY THE TAXPAYERS LOSE IN THIS GAME: As for Smith, the perpetual athlete reliving his glory days, he said he can take the heat.

“I’m an ex-baseball player for Richmond Academy,” he said. “When you’re on the mound, you’re used to being called names. I really don’t let stuff like that bother me. I was sent down there to vote my conscience. If people don’t like the way I vote, vote for somebody else next time. If they’re real good, I’ll vote for them. I’ll even vote for Jerry Brigham.”

Smith, who is white, said he joined the five black commissioners - Williams, Bill Lockett, Bill Fennoy, Alvin Mason and Corey John­son – in voting for the raises to show some of his colleagues that somebody has to reach across the aisle.

“Everybody else is worried about my vote,” he said. “We’ve got to send a message and stop this black-white thing.”

He said his vote was not influenced by the fact that Roundtree created a division in the sheriff’s office and put his nephew, Lewis Blanchard, in charge.

“I can put my hand on the Bible to that,” he said.

Smith continued with another sports analogy, likening the commission to a football team of 10 players and city Administrator Fred Russell as quarterback.

“He’s in charge,” he said. “I was told that Ronnie (Strength) had signed off on it, and I was assured Russell thought so, too. I listened to Fred, and I don’t regret it.”

 

IN THIS CASE, PERCEPTION IS NOT REALITY: The story that Strength approved Roundtree’s raise because Strength signed off on a copy of last year’s budget that listed his annual pay and those of other department employees is false, Strength said.

“Anybody with two nickels worth of sense would know I cannot give an elected official a raise,” he said. “I did not and cannot approve a raise for him. What I signed off on was a human resources form for him to be put on the payroll. I was the sitting sheriff and department head, and someone had to sign off on it.

“The amount on there was the amount that I was making. It was put in there for whatever reason. It could have been 5 million, but that was not his salary. His salary was $110,000 set by the Legislature. My increases came from cost-of-living increases. My increases were over 12 years.

“That form was nothing more than to get his name on the payroll before Jan. 1. I can’t recommend any elected official’s salary. If that was so, I’d have a lot of sheriffs calling me. I had no conversation with anyone.”

 

GRATEFUL MOTHER WOULD BE SO ASHAMED: Roundt­ree’s “inappropriate language” offended some members of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Asso­ciation and their wives who were on a bus with him during a trip to an Atlanta restaurant in January, according to sheriffs on that bus.

Sheriffs attending the association’s annual conference were being driven to a restaurant in two buses for dinner hosted by a vendor.

One of the wives was so offended she said, “Watch your language! There’s some ladies on this bus.”

One sheriff and his wife were so upset by the cursing that when the bus stopped, they got off and onto the other bus. The sheriffs said Round­tree also got into a confrontation with a woman who was assisting the vendor in entertaining the sheriffs.

Apparently being urged to curb his enthusiasm during the trip to the restaurant didn’t alter Roundtree’s abhorrent behavior. One sheriff commented, “You should have heard him on the way back.”

Roundtree did not respond to a phone message and an e-mail outlining the allegations and asking for his response.

But then what could he say?

It is not known whether complaints concerning Round­tree’s behavior will be lodged with the association. But it is certain that if he behaves as described in public surrounded by his peers while representing Augusta, what his behavior might be when he thinks no one is watching has to be of great concern.

 

THE PRECEDENT HAS BEEN SET: Other Richmond County officials said to be seeking raises are Probate Court Judge Harry James, Clerk of Court Elaine Johnson, Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey and Assistant Executive Director Travis Doss.

No doubt there are others we just haven’t heard about.

 

POP QUIZ: What’s the real reason Smith voted to give Roundtree a $16,500 raise and Kenner-McIntyre a $10,000 raise even though they haven’t been on the job two months?

A. His nephew heads a division Roundtree created in the sheriff’s office.

B. He thought it would be good for business.

C. He thought it might keep Williams, Mason and Lockett from hanging him out to dry over doing business with the city.

D. He was having a flashback to his glory days on the baseball mound and forgot whose team he was on.

Answer: D

WHOEVER HEARD OF ANYBODY CALLED “TAT?” I did after I referred to Tat Thompson as “Pat Thompson” in last week’s column. So now I need to take the one word of advice I’m always giving Ernie: Beltone. Still, I could have sworn …

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