Somebody must have a hearing problem. That’s one thing I thought after Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s called meeting to recommend Taos, N.M., city manager Oscar Rodriguez for city administrator based on assurances from eight commissioners they’d vote to hire him was sabotaged.
When the meeting convened behind closed doors Wednesday, there were only five votes to hire Rodriguez, not the eight he said he’d been promised. Only Commissioners Mary Davis, Grady Smith, Donnie Smith, Wayne Guilfoyle and Joe Jackson were ready to vote for Rodriguez. Commissioners Bill Lockett, Bill Fennoy, Marion Williams and Alvin Mason wanted to hire Augusta native and former Albany, Ga., city manager Janice Allen Jackson.
The mayor said he wouldn’t have called the meeting if he didn’t think he had the votes. And later that evening, after no doubt fuming about it for several hours, fired off an e-mail saying he’d been lied to. Fennoy, reportedly one of the eight, said he told the mayor he supported Jackson but that if he already had the six votes to hire Rodriguez, he’d support his choice.
After rejecting the notion that a commissioner would lie to the mayor of all people, I’ve concluded this could be a case of the “Joe Rob Mathis Syndrome.”
Joe Rob Mathis was a county commissioner in Rome, Ga., in the late 1980s who during the election of a new commission chairman thought he heard someone nominate the Democrat he and two other of the five commissioners had agreed to vote for beforehand. So he seconded the motion and voted for the nominee who wasn’t the Democrat but a surprised Republican into whose hands the gavel fell on a 3-2 vote.
Another time during a discussion of improvements to the dog pound, a commissioner made a reference to the “installation” of the dog houses. Joe Rob thought he’d said “insulation” and proceeded to pitch a fit.
“Do you mean we’re spending tax money to insulate dog houses when there’s people in Floyd County that don’t have insulation in their houses?” he roared.
“Installation, Joe Rob! Installation! Not insulation!” the chairman shouted.
On the other hand, something else might have happened between the time the mayor had his votes rounded up and the special called meeting. Something that only the well connected insiders such as the Augusta businessman sitting beside me in commission chambers knew. “Nothing’s going to happen today,” he said repeatedly while we waited for commissioners to emerge from their closed-door meeting.
“You might as well go on home. Fennoy is not going to step over the line again and vote with the white commissioners because the last time he did, it didn’t turn out so good for him,” he said.
Fennoy, you’ll recall, voted for the doomed SPLOST 7 package after securing $6 million for Paine College on the list of projects.
The businessman said commissioners won’t hire an administrator until Mayor-elect Hardie Davis and three new members are on board next year.
“So why did they vote to immediately hire a firm to conduct a nationwide search for a new administrator in December, the day they fired administrator Fred Russell and waste $25,000 if they were going to wait until a new mayor was on board?” I pondered aloud.
“Maybe they weren’t at that point yet,” he said.
I think he meant they hadn’t yet decided to let the new black Mayor-elect Hardie Davis and three new commissioners hire the administrator.
Multiple Choice Test
Question 1: Why didn’t at least six commissioners take Deke’s recommendation to hire Oscar Rodriguez?
They wanted to stick it to an Iron Man who wears reflective sunglasses that make him look like a dragonfly.
At least three of them were afraid they couldn’t spell his name right.
They love to waste other people’s money.
Lockett is afraid somebody with degrees from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will look smarter than he thinks he is.
Corey Johnson wasn’t there to vote because he was stuck straddling a fence.
Commissioner Marion Williams doesn’t take anybody’s recommendation on anything.
Question 2: How could Deke have thought he had the votes and be surprised to find out he didn’t?
He thought wishing would make it so.
He got commitments to vote for Oscar too far ahead of time. Four minutes would have been better than four days.
He hasn’t learned anything about Augusta politics in eight years.
He thinks a man’s word is his bond.
He never read Julius Ceaser.
The Joe Rob Mathis Syndrome.
Answer to Question 1: All of the above will do, but number 3 is the best one.
Answer to Question 2: Also all of the above will do, but number 2 is the best one.
We Don ‘t Need No Stinkum Tough Guy
The mayor said he brought commissioners the most qualified candidate and thinks what they did Wednesday is a disservice to the community.
“In a city with 200,000 people, 2,700 city employees, plus growth coming from Fort Gordon, you have to have a point person people can go to,” he said. “Interim Administrator Tameka Allen and Interim Deputy Administrator Steve Cassell are doing a good job, but they’re wearing too hats. They’re stretched too thin.”
Allen is also IT director, and Cassell is Traffic Engineering director.
One of the biggest things in favor of Rodriguez is that he was city manager in Eagle Pass, Texas, a border town that had a corrupt police chief, so much so that federal agencies had pulled out, the mayor said.
“He fired the police chief and got the federal border agencies back. Anybody who’s got the backbone to do that would have no problem handling the commission.”
The rejection of Rodriguez has shown the mayor that a majority of commissioners don’t really want what they say they want – a truly professionally managed government, he said.
Alive and Well in Augusta
During WJBF TV’s recent four-part series on “Racism in Augusta Politics,” in response to a question about Augusta and Richmond County consolidation, panelist Terry Elam, Augusta Technical College President, said what everybody knows is true about Augusta government.
“What we designed was a 50-50 split of power,” he said. “That’s the way it was designed. If you want to know why it’s been ineffective is because we have two camps. It’s no longer the south versus the west. It’s the black commissioners versus the white commissioners.”
On the subject of trust, Elam said you have to build trust between people, and panelist Bob Young, former Augusta mayor, said, “Remember back when the Chamber of Commerce put together this trust initiative, and all these different segments of the community were going to meet privately. Whatever happened to that?”
“It died,” Elam said.
“How long did it take for that to die, Terry?” Young asked.
“Less than six months.”
“Because no one could trust anyone,” said panelist Barbara Gordon, Metro Courier Publisher.
“Nobody could trust anyone,” said Young.
Close to Greatness
I met the Godfather of Soul one time in Mayor Young’s office. He was as high as a kite. James Brown. Not the mayor.