ATLANTA - The 1997 General Assembly ended as it began for the Augusta legislative delegation: with members at each other's throats.
Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta, was at the center of Friday's controversy, blocking Senate passage of House-approved pay raises for local government officials.
He also fumed over the loss of a bill relieving members of the delegation from the job of filling seats on the coliseum authority and other local boards.
One version of the bill languished all session in the Senate without action. Another version was sent over to the Senate from the House too late to be taken up; under Senate procedures, Thursday was the last day for votes on new House bills.
Mr. Cheeks blamed the problems on House Speaker Pro Tem Jack Connell, D-Augusta, the delegation chairman.
Virtually the entire package of local bills introduced by the Augusta-Richmond delegation was saved for the session's end, and several were in peril of being killed by the clock as the hours wound down.
One that did survive was a bill making technical changes to the Augusta-Richmond charter that affirms "Augusta" as the name of the consolidated government.
That bill is on its way to Gov. Zell Miller's desk, as is compromise legislation creating a new State Court judgeship to handle some of the cases now sent to Augusta Municipal Court.
Disagreements between the House and Senate versions of the legislation required the bill to be put in a conference committee - a rarity for local legislation, which normally is worked out among representatives from the affected area.
Some legislators want the judgeship to be filled by the presiding Municipal Court judge, but the bill passed Friday calls for a gubernatorial appointment.
An early draft of the bill specified that the Municipal Court judge would fill the new position, but Mr. Cheeks refused to sign it, saying it was not legal. He revised the bill to allow an appointed judge, but House members refused to sign it.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta, said he hopes the Municipal Court judge is transferred to State Court and appointed to oversee traffic cases, currently clogging the State Court docket.
Mr. Cheeks slowed things by refusing to sign a bill giving the Richmond County Sheriff and others salary hikes ranging from $3,000 to $5,000, saying he never received a requested letter from local officials asking for the extra money.
Mr. Walker criticized Mr. Cheeks for politicking over workers' cost-of-living increases.
"I think it's asinine to deny the people who run our government," Mr. Walker said. "It's regrettable that he plays politics."
Citing controversy surrounding increases several years ago, Mr. Cheeks said without documentation, he would not make the same mistake again.
"After the first pay raise, I said never again would I sign a bill pay raise unless I had a written agreement ... and a letter from the county commission that has to come up with the money to pay for it," Mr. Cheeks said.
Mr. Walker, however, insisted the delegation has never demanded such letters before.