Originally created 01/08/97

Board fails to name fire chief



Augusta-Richmond County is still without a permanent fire chief after commissioners failed to decide between three finalists Tuesday.

The issue will be on the agenda at the next commissioners meeting Jan. 21, giving commissioners two weeks to reach a consensus on the candidates, said City Administrator Randy Oliver.

"Obviously, we need a fire chief," he said. Dennis Atkins, acting fire chief and a candidate for the permanent position, will remain acting chief until a permanent chief is chosen.

The three finalists are Mr. Atkins, Ronnie Few, fire chief of the East Point, Ga., Fire Department, and L. Charles Smeby, Jr., executive director of the National Fire Protection Agency and a former battalion chief for Prince George County Fire Department in Maryland.

Mr. Few received the most votes, five, but Mayor Larry Sconyers cast the deciding vote against him. Mr. Atkins received four votes and Mr. Smeby three.

Commissioners Lee Beard, Henry Brigham, Freddie Handy, Willie Mays and Moses Todd voted for Mr. Few. Commissioners Ulmer Bridges, Jerry Brigham, Bill Kuhlke, and J.B. Powell voted for Mr. Atkins.

Mr. Todd made a motion at the end of the two-hour meeting to take another vote on the chief. Mr. Sconyers refused and adjourned the meeting, and commissioners prepared to leave.

But Mr. Todd and Jerry Brigham loudly protested that no vote had been taken to adjourn. Commissioners again took their seats, but voted against another vote for a fire chief.

Mr. Sconyers said the board will be able to decide on a candidate in the next two weeks. "We're going to come to the right decision," he said.

Commissioners also failed to elect a mayor pro tem. That issue, too, will be on the Jan. 21 agenda, Mr. Sconyers said.

Mr. Handy and Mr. Kuhlke were nominated, but neither received the required six votes.

Commissioners voted 5-4 to approve Mr. Handy and then 5-4 to approve Mr. Kuhlke. Mr. Mays abstained from both votes. The deadlock was an example of why legislators should give the mayor a vote, Mr. Sconyers said.

"It's totally frustrating," he said. "They shouldn't be allowed to abstain unless they are in direct conflict."

Sen. Don Cheeks said last week he will introduce legislation this session that would give the mayor the right to vote on all commission issues. Sen. Charles Walker said he would not sign the proposal.

Also Tuesday, commissioners voted to look into establishing an in-house law department. Commissioners agreed to retain city attorney Jim Wall for the rest of the year while Mr. Oliver determines if an in-house department would save taxpayers money.