Ministers' suit fights city's plan

Group claims charter ignored

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A ministers group has filed a lawsuit to stop Augusta officials from reorganizing city departments.

The Augusta Baptist Ministers Conference filed suit Friday in Richmond County Superior Court, challenging efforts by members of the Augusta Commission to restructure city government.

In a vote divided along racial lines Wednesday, the commission authorized a reorganization that includes a reduction in force and the elimination of two departments: the Public Service and Licensing and Inspections departments.

The ministers argue that City Administrator Fred Russell, along with the white members of the commission and Mayor Deke Copenhaver, have moved forward with a plan to institute a new personnel, policy and procedures manual "despite concerns that their plan violates provisions in the city charter," they wrote in a news release.

"It is the plaintiffs' contention that certain provisions in the manual have the effect of changing Augusta's form of government, and that such changes effectively constitute a change to Augusta's charter requiring a two-thirds vote of the commission," wrote their attorney, Serena Sparks, who is described as being a former deputy city attorney for Atlanta.

Black commissioners opposed the restructuring. They believe the document changes Augusta's form of government and therefore requires eight votes to pass.

Conflicting legal opinions -- one from the city's general counsel and one from the Office of Legislative Counsel -- are in the office of Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, awaiting his opinion on how many votes are required to give Russell hiring and firing authority, along with other matters. Olens' office has said he will provide a courtesy opinion soon.

Friday's lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, but not damages. A declaratory judgment seeks an official declaration of the status of a matter of controversy, and injunctive relief requires an individual or group to take a specific action or forbids them from doing something.

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Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 04/02/11 - 12:15 am
0
0
It's not surprising that

It's not surprising that someone is suing the city over this.

It is surprising that the ones doing the suing are a group of preachers.

How does suing the city furher a religious cause? Do their parishioners know that their donations aren't using to spread the word or do charity, but instead being used to pay an attorney? And, does this jeopardize their tax-exempt status?

alinfun
24
Points
alinfun 04/02/11 - 05:27 am
0
0
These ministers may need to

These ministers may need to go back to the Book they are preaching from. "1 Corinthians 6:1-7". Jesus is refered to as the King of Kings yet he stayed out of politics, maybe its time our local ministers and clergy learn a lesson from the real King.

augustarookie
300
Points
augustarookie 04/02/11 - 06:56 am
0
0
So much for separation of

So much for separation of church and State. Guess they are also ready to pay taxes at their churches.

DuhJudge
206
Points
DuhJudge 04/02/11 - 07:56 am
0
0
The whole argument is about

The whole argument is about maintaining parity at the top. It took a lot of court judgements to create the stalemate system, a process that robs the top of its common sense. And it treats democracy as if it is a disease. Always trying to cure it with new rulings.

seenitB4
87116
Points
seenitB4 04/02/11 - 08:09 am
0
0
Some wonder why Augusta isn't

Some wonder why Augusta isn't growing.......1step forward with 2 steps back.........this is how tax money is wasted all over this nation.

maandpa
338
Points
maandpa 04/02/11 - 09:02 am
0
0
Please help me to understand

Please help me to understand this. The city is trying to reduce its bloated bureaucracy and to save taxpayer's money. And a group of minister's are suing because of this! And the vote TO SAVE MONEY is down racial lines. Hmmm! I will say no more because this action speaks volumes.

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 04/02/11 - 09:30 am
0
0
This is not any of the so

This is not any of the so called preachers business. I am tired of paying my taxes on time and the amount I am paying while some never pay on time or at all. They skate by on the taxpayer. Why don't the preachers worry about this and by the way, start taxing the church they preach in because they are now mixing it up with politics.

seenitB4
87116
Points
seenitB4 04/02/11 - 09:43 am
0
0
So many minority kids are

So many minority kids are falling through the cracks......drugs-babies w/o daddies---poverty----too bad they can't put more attention on the most obvious problems..

404Law
226
Points
404Law 04/02/11 - 12:47 pm
0
0
FOR THOSE WHO QUESTION

FOR THOSE WHO QUESTION religious organizations right to file suit against local, state, and federal government, you know absolutely nothing about the U.S. case law. If you did, then you would realize just how uninformed your comments really are. That says a lot...

I AGREE that the ministers did not need to invoke race in this matter (as read in their lawsuit). That is a bit unfortunate, and unnecessarily fuels race-based tensions in this city. I blame their attorney. They could have simply named the defendants and left race "up to the imagination."

ON THE OTHER HAND, it is important to know that the MAJORITY of those who are receiving layoff notices are NOT BLACK. So, your theory that so-called Black commissioners are trying to "protect their own" is off base. It is also important to note that the so-called Black commissioners do not oppose efforts to save the city millions of dollars. What the so-called Black commissioners oppose is RESTRUCTURING the government to ostensibly save the city money -- because in effect, (1) the amount of savings realized from restructuring is less than 10% of what is needed to actually "balance the budget"; and thus (2) is perceived as a backhanded way to make city government run like a private business (which can ultimately affect the handling of city contracts, personnel decisions, et cetera).

IT IS SAD, that once again many of you are arguing against something that could ultimately benefit you. The AC and news media have you seeing race, race, race...when in fact, this is about money, money, and more money for well established enterprises (such as contracting companies owned by the AC). Running the city like a private business will not be good for small business owners; city workers who depend on retirement benefits; and other city services and service providers. Sure, every other day you read an article about city wastes, but the fact of the matter is the real wastes are the result of folks in our city government offices who are playing accounting tricks to cover past mistakes (i.e., the waste resulting from good ole boy city contracts that never materialized; and, oh did I mention lawsuits.).

ALL I ASK is that we take a moment to look beyond the printed page. The AC has a vested interest in all of this as well. If you conduct a content analysis of their articles since Sept 2010, you will be amazed how this race narrative was generated right here on these supposedly unbiased news pages. Even more amazing is how many of you have bit "hook, line and sinker." It seems that race is good for business. Sad.

rmwhitley
5547
Points
rmwhitley 04/02/11 - 10:25 am
0
0
I'd be interested in seeing
Unpublished

I'd be interested in seeing their ( minister's) credentials. Which theological college they graduated from.

Bonk
8
Points
Bonk 04/02/11 - 10:43 am
0
0
When are going to start

When are going to start taxing religion? They have getting away with crap like this too long

Austin Rhodes
2862
Points
Austin Rhodes 04/02/11 - 12:56 pm
0
0
The AC needs to publish the

The AC needs to publish the press release as written...the race card is played, trumped, replayed, and retrumped throughout.

Aside from the fact that it appears to have been written by a middle school student (several of us in the media thought it was an April Fool's Day joke) it is clear that someone doesn't understand what constitutes "changing" government. The GOVERNMENT is not changing at all, just the way employees are handled, which a simple majority of commissioners can do all day long if they want.

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 04/02/11 - 02:02 pm
0
0
Remove their exempt status

Remove their exempt status immediately, period. Furthermore, this is about employees, not commission or government changes - they need to do a better job of bringing people to Christ and stay out of the day to day operations of city government.

It is amazing (well, not really) how some of these so called preachers and commissoners are so afraid of no long being able to get people hired they want hired and prevent the firings of those who don't do their jobs.

An enabling society mentality at its best.

And, 404Law, you can't possilby think that our city government runs better than any/most businesses - that must be the joke of the year. Commissoners should vote to hire an administrator, allow him/her to run the city, and stay the heck out of the day to day operations - it NEVER works to have a group run a business or city - input is fine but medling, being a busy body, micro-managing, pushing for some to get hire, others not to get fired, etc. are NOT the jobs we elected our commissoners to do. Just look how far better the city of North Augusta runs with a Mayor in full control and an administrator running the city, not the commissoners.

Im just glad 6 of hours are power hungry politicians and have voted in what is best for Augusta.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 04/02/11 - 03:24 pm
0
0
404law, the IRS has some

404law, the IRS has some interesting reading about how a church can jeopardize its tax-exempt status.

The IRS devotes a big chunk of its discussion to lobbying, which it defines as any attempt to advocate for or against legislation at any level of government. The church's tax-exempt status will be yanked if a "substantial" portion of its activities are dedicated to lobbying.

Considering the series of press conferences, preaching, gathering at commission meetings and now the lawsuit, you could argue that is "substantial."

http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf

mike1sc
217
Points
mike1sc 04/02/11 - 03:35 pm
0
0
The Augusta Baptist Ministers

The Augusta Baptist Ministers Conference has filed suit....now if that's not just the most interesting reading in this morning's paper. Hey ABMC..just how many "white" ministers do you have in your "conference"?

The double standard is oh so prevelant and this is just another prime example of its use. It should anger everyone who takes score....the newspaper and/or tv channels are "racist" if they identify a robbery suspect as "black" but a group consisting of 100% blacks can bring a lawsuit like this and we are to think it is not "racist"?

My my......poor Augusta. It seems everytime an attempt is made to move the city forward for EVERYONE, so many obstacles get placed in the way. And Richmond County continues to see an ongoing reduction in the population while other counties around it continue to grow.....and that decline will obviously continue as the politics seem to be mired in the past instead of the present and future. Poor Augusta.....

mike1sc
217
Points
mike1sc 04/02/11 - 03:49 pm
0
0
So 404Law, you say it was "a

So 404Law, you say it was "a bit unfortunate" that this group used race in their lawsuit, and then further down in your comments you alleged it was this newspaper who was at fault with their "race narrative".

Sure thing............

404Law
226
Points
404Law 04/02/11 - 04:48 pm
0
0
THANKS FOR ALL YOUR

THANKS FOR ALL YOUR COMMENTS...This is turning out to be a very interesting and insightful discussion.

To the Honorable Austin...I respectfully disagree with your comments that what has happened over the past few weeks doesn't constitute changing city government. "Delegation of powers" is at the heart of this debate...simple and plain.** However, I must agree with your critique of the filed suit -- amateurish at best. And, yes, they did play the race card. Shame. I could have helped them to articulate this matter. Oh, how I sit on the sidelines and complain! :) Soon...

To As-it-is-in-AUG... :) As much as I would like to agree with you, having the city government function like a private corporation does not mean that the city will run more efficiently; become profitable in the next three years; et cetera. However, what it may mean is that little people (i.e., small contractors and business owners; city workers; homeowners) will get the short end of the stick in terms of taxes and other private corporation revenue-building schemes that imposition the lower and middle class; veterans; and the elderly. KEEP IN MIND, if you want the city to be a private corporation, then who will become the consumer? The ordinary citizens, of course. And, do we really want the Corporation (City) of Augusta in all its ineptitude in financial matters to pass its costs down to the consumer (ordinary citizens?). And, the costs are almost NEVER evenly distributed among the people (i.e., consumers); even less so than what we see in government today. Some consumers get discounts (the brother-in law; the guy with Masters passes; the one who owns that snazzy restaurant on Broad), whereas others get surcharges (i.e., the mass transit riders; the small business owner who needs to apply for an alcohol license). Is this what you really want?!? This is my worry folks. Fault me if you wish, but this indeed is my worry.

To Insider Information, thanks for the reading. I think it is important to distinguish "the church" from a "not-for-profit" organization comprised of Baptist ministers. They can be as involved as they want to be. That's just how it is...

To Mike1sc...Point well taken...I think the major theme of my "narrative" was that both sides are playing race (either for public sympathy, or for profit). I tend to hold our illustrious paper to a higher standard because they are supposed to demonstrate something we call "journalistic integrity." I will be sure to make clearer points in the future.

Sweet son
10397
Points
Sweet son 04/02/11 - 05:01 pm
0
0
You don't think that any of

You don't think that any of the so called black ministers violate the church and state thing by preaching about this topic from the pulpit, do you? Send a few moles to find out. Oh, the mole would stand out like a grain of rice in the pepper shaker!

JimCox
7
Points
JimCox 04/02/11 - 05:17 pm
0
0
Does the Black Ministers

Does the Black Ministers Conference have the standing to file the lawsuit? Which if any of them have been directly affected by reorganizing city departments? With the change that was approved last Wednesday, the black commissioners lost the power to get jobs for their friends and family and the ability to protect them when deemed necessary. They have always looked at Augusta's government as a jobs program, now maybe the taxpayers can begin to receive the benefits they were promised when consolidation passed 15 years ago.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 04/02/11 - 05:35 pm
0
0
404, you must be a lawyer.

404, you must be a lawyer. Anyone who can distinguish between a church and a group of church representatives has to be a lawyer. That's analogous to saying the Richmond County School System has no students. It just has schools, and those schools have students. The minsters group isn't a religious organization, it is just a group of religious organizations. Ha. You remind me of Chiquita Johnson. What is a group if not a sum of its parts?

404Law
226
Points
404Law 04/02/11 - 05:56 pm
0
0
Insider Information...Too

Insider Information...Too funny. :) Ha. Chiquita Johnson?!? Come on..That's cold. By the way, "The whole (group) IS greater than the sum of its parts (members)." Aristotle, Metaphysics.

bettyboop
7
Points
bettyboop 04/02/11 - 07:22 pm
0
0
//

//

404Law
226
Points
404Law 04/02/11 - 06:07 pm
0
0
Jim Cox, really?!!? To all of

Jim Cox, really?!!? To all of you making these claims of cronyism, please list the commissioner and the favored persons or companies who received a job or contract (deservedly or not deserved) due to a position of influence. And, please do not send a list of board appointments -- all commissioners, regardless of skin color, appoint from within. But seriously, list dates so we can keep track of election year and date job or contract was received.

Honestly, stop being a bitter soul. If you are dissatisfied, get up and run for office yourself. Help make our government better. In the meantime, just stop with the pretense and lies.

Riverman1
83843
Points
Riverman1 04/02/11 - 06:32 pm
0
0
Actually, Jim Cox said the

Actually, Jim Cox said the Commissioners used the position to get jobs for people they wanted hired. That's completely accurate. 404Law, if you don't think some of the Commissioners are using their position for nepotism and cronyism, you are either unknowledgeable or being dishonest. We should change your name from 404Law to 101.

Kenneth
0
Points
Kenneth 04/02/11 - 06:31 pm
0
0
As usual the blog debate is

As usual the blog debate is reduced to kill the messenger and ignore the issue. Browse back up and note the comments directed on the issue and you will see they are few and in between. The issue seems to be centered on whether the new policy manual which gives the administrator final authority on firing is a change in the charter or a change in the form of government intended by the writers of the charter. The final authority that once went through a process now belongs to the administrator whoever he or she may be with final authority, that's a fact. It does not come back to the full commission and if the personnel overrule his decision he can overrule their decision. This does not seem what the Law on the books intended. It may be the best move for the city and may make the government run more efficiently but in America we don't circumvent the law to get to a desired place; we debate the issue and if your debate succeeds the law on the books are amended and changed legally. When anything is done to the contrary thank God the courts has to make a decision as to what the Law says. Regardless who brings this to court it is as American as apple pie, Atlanta Braves and Augusta National.

Riverman1
83843
Points
Riverman1 04/02/11 - 07:32 pm
0
0
What the "FOUNDERS" intended

What the "FOUNDERS" intended he said. I find that hilarious. Charles Walker, Robin Williams and others meeting in Don Grantham's office forming this magnificent (g) city government sounds like the signing of the Declaration of Independence. If we want to find out what they wanted we will have to go to the prison during visiting hours and ask them. Who cares what they wanted? They are not Jefferson and Adams. Let Fred kick some....

404Law
226
Points
404Law 04/02/11 - 09:02 pm
0
0
Riverman1, thanks for

Riverman1, thanks for engaging the debate...I was hoping you would at some point this evening! :) All I am asking for is evidence that members of the current commission have engaged in such practices. Maybe they have?!? I just want to know. Many a people on this discussion forum have made these claims, and in many ways have either denigrated or questioned the integrity of folks serving this city. I simply want evidence of this, so that I can join this very vocal, but perhaps off-key, chorus of malcontents. Do-Re-Me...

On a totally different note (no do-re-me pun intended), some on this discussion forum question the intelligence of the African American commissioners. We live in a city where there are more African American commissioners (past and present) with advanced degrees than White commissioners with post-high school degrees (past and present). If anything, you should question whether the White commissioners (most, past and present, without advanced educational training in any field) are able to read and interpret critical legislation that comes before the commission?!?! Whooaa. Now, here is a racialized comment based on fact.

Just kidding guys. I just wanted to demonstrate how silly these race comments really are. Let's stay focused on the issues. :)

Have a nice weekend! Until Sylvia's article...when we meet again! Ha.

Riverman1
83843
Points
Riverman1 04/02/11 - 09:39 pm
0
0
404Law, I don't denigrate the

404Law, I don't denigrate the intelligence of the black commissioners in any way. I also know they have some legitimate complaints when I see the cabal that runs Augusta runs roughshod over others to build the TEE and so on. The black commissioners are right to question many of the practices. I just happen to believe they are wrong on this matter.

Now as far as the cronyism with jobs and so on, who even says it's illegal? It is simply a widespread practice that's wrong although not illegal in most cases.

You want charges made against commissioners if they got a friend a job and have protected him, but it's simply a common practice by MANY commissioners black and white. No one is going to be charged with anything unless it's David Frye and those who put him up to his attempted bribery. Mason and Johnson have not received nearly enough kudos for their coming forward on that matter.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 04/02/11 - 09:46 pm
0
0
404, I will give you 2

404, I will give you 2 examples of many:
1. Marion Williams relative in the Recreation Dept. and 3 DUI's- Result was a witch hunt to fire Tom Beck
2. Betty Beard having a position created for her friend Thelonias Jones at the Highland Ave water plant

JimCox
7
Points
JimCox 04/02/11 - 10:18 pm
0
0
How about Betty paying for

How about Betty paying for bariatric surgery? Marion pushing for a drag strip and his son-in-law establishing drag snacks.

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