Originally created 11/30/97

Legislators ponder giving mayor authority over administrator



Augusta Administrator Randy Oliver has sailed through a year as the consolidated city's top hired hand with little turbulence and high marks from most of his bosses, but plans are afoot to clip his wings.

Local legislators have discussed amending the consolidation law to make the administrator and the city attorney answerable solely to the mayor, who could then fire them if he so desired. They have also talked about giving the mayor veto power.

"I have talked to both the mayor and Senator (Charles) Walker about veto power for the mayor and some reorganization of the charter," said Rep. Robin Williams. "I have told all parties I'm going to look at everybody's proposal and vote the way I think will best serve Richmond County.

"I've always been a supporter of giving the mayor more power. I was back when we were trying to consolidate this government. I felt like we were not giving the mayor - regardless of who the mayor is - any power.

"What we ended up with is a mayor with no power. I think we should resolve that."

Mr. Williams said he envisions the mayor as being the chief executive officer with veto power that could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the commission.

Mayor Larry Sconyers favors the plans.

"I think everybody ought to have to answer to somebody, and it should be one person," said Mr. Sconyers. "You can't have a person answering to 11 people - if that's what you're saying. ...

"You hear all kind of rumors running around, but there's nothing concrete. But I can see that as a possibility. I think in other cities that's the way it's done."

Mr. Sconyers said he would rather have veto power than a vote.

"I think there's been too much made out of the vote," he said. "If you look at the way the vote is set up now, they learn real quick how to neutralize a tie vote, where the mayor can only vote in case of a tie. But I think veto power would be a much greater leverage than the vote itself."

But any changes to the consolidation law would have to be signed by the delegation's other state senator, Don Cheeks, D-Augusta, who favors giving the mayor a vote, not veto power.

Mr. Cheeks also said he does not favor making the administrator answerable to the mayor and giving the mayor the power to fire the administrator, which some say privately is the real reason for the proposed change.

Mr. Walker said the delegation plans to revise the charter during next year's legislative session, but he doesn't have any specific plan.

And as far as rumors that he wants to give the mayor more power and then run for the post himself, Mr. Walker said, "I wouldn't run for mayor for all the tea in China."

Meanwhile, Mr. Oliver, who has heard of the proposed changes, plugs away at his office, espousing his doctrine of focusing on issues instead of personalities.

"The local legislative delegation is even more unpredictable than the commission," he quips. "We asked for one State Court judge and wound up with three."

But seriously, he sees drawbacks to being answerable solely to the mayor.

"One of the things that happens in a reporting relationship like that is the mayor's agenda becomes the agenda for the government," he said.

"If you go to the person you work for, and you say, `Here's option A and here's Option B, and I suggest Option A,' and the person you work for says, `Option B is the one we want to go with,' then you have to play the party line and support Option B, as long as Option B is legal. The commission, under that scenario, may not get the benefit of all the input.

"And remember, when things are put together, there are different ways of packaging things, and you can package things in a certain way so you can influence the outcome."

Asked if he would work under those conditions, Mr. Oliver paused significantly, sighed and then said, "You have to work sometimes with what you're dealt. The question is for what period of time you want to work with it.

"One of the things I believe in open government is all the elected officials get the same information and have the same ability and access to that information to make the decision rather than the information being filtered or put in any given form that may inhibit their ability to make a decision."