Originally created 01/27/99

Cowardly raises 012799 - The Augusta Chronicle



Let's get this straight: A majority of Augusta commissioners just can't sign a letter in secret to give local judges' secretaries (or anyone else) a pay raise until a vote is taken during a public meeting.

The Jan. 14 letter agreeing to hike the secretaries is one of the sneakiest raises in memory. The letter circulated by City Attorney Jim Wall -- often a foe of the public's right-to-know -- "approved" the supplemental salary increases and was signed by eight of the 10 commissioners.

Commissioners Freddie Handy and Henry Brigham are to be commended for not climbing aboard. But for sheer confusion it would be hard to beat Commissioner J.B. Powell's response. He hadn't seen the letter and couldn't remember signing it. "I'll have to see what you're talking about ... I sign so much stuff."

If Powell can't remember what he's doing as a commissioner, then should he be one?

Commissioner Jerry Brigham's reason for signing is nonsense. He was "just trying to keep the judges happy" because they can order the city "to empty the jails."

Does Brigham really mean to suggest the judges should get whatever they want, lest they unleash the criminal population to pillage and plunder our good city?

To be sure, it's not the wage hikes that deserve condemnation, it's the cowardly way they were granted. The secretaries may very well have earned the raises, but that case should be made in public as the open meetings law requires. The secret letter is just one more tool Wall thinks he has to evade the law.

But this scrap of paper with signatures means nothing! The letter was to have been ratified at the last Commission meeting -- but wasn't. So until the raises are publicly OKed by a vote, it is illegal for them to be implemented.