Originally created 05/18/99

Panel pushes sheriff for advisory board



The Augusta Human Relations Commission isn't happy with Sheriff Charles Webster and is about to let him -- and everybody else -- know it.

The commission has called a news conference for 4 p.m. Wednesday and has invited the Richmond County sheriff to hear their complaints about his failure to select a citizens advisory board.

The commission gave Sheriff Webster a list of finalists for the board two months ago.

But the move could backfire and scuttle the plan for the advisory board that was to have been in place by the first of the year.

"Let 'em call it if they want to," Sheriff Webster said. "I'm going to name 'em. If they fool with me, I won't name nothing."

Human Relations Director Frank Thomas and commission member Nadine Horne said that's what the sheriff really wants to do anyway.

"He's going to kill it all," Mr. Thomas said.

"There's always an excuse," said Mrs. Horne. "It was Masters. Three weeks ago, he had the eye surgery. But I know he's been in and out of his office because friends that I know are down there."

Sheriff Webster had surgery for a detached retina. He said Monday was his first day back in the office.

The proposed advisory committee was triggered by the fatal shooting of Alfaigo Davis, an Apple Valley resident who was fleeing from deputies Feb. 21, 1998.

The sheriff and the human relations commission have disagreed about the advisory board from the start. The commission wanted it to have more power than the sheriff agreed to. And he made it clear Monday he resents the commission pushing him.

"They're wanting to do this and do that," he said. "All they're going to be as far as this thing is concerned is an advisory board, and that will be after we've completed the case completely. They can look at and then they can make recommendations. But that's all the power they've got. No subpoena power. No nothing."

Mr. Thomas said the commission will have the power to speak to the community.

"If those citizens speak, they have the respect of the community, and if they speak the community will listen," Mr. Thomas said.

The commission spent weeks interviewing and scoring applicants. They sent the results to the Georgia Human Relations Commission for ranking and then gave the sheriff 30 names from which to choose 10 as agreed on. But they highlighted the top 10 candidates, which was not agreed on.

And Sheriff Webster took offense.

"They come in here telling me the 10 they highlighted was the 20 they wanted," he said. "That wasn't part of it. I put 'em in the road. I said, `You can come back now and give me the 30 names."'

The commission gave him the 30 names March 15.

The sheriff denies trying to scuttle the proposed board.

"If I didn't want to do it, I wouldn't do it at all," he said.

Maybe not, but Mrs. Horne said he's holding the citizens review board hostage.

"It's all in his boat. And I realize this is nothing we could have erected without him except by legislation because he is a constitutional officer," she said.

"No one can tell him what to do. But he's so out of sync with the era we're living in. But we are going to have the press conference, and maybe perhaps he'll have all those names picked and ready to fly on Wednesday. I think if he's smart, he will. I feel like he's just committing political suicide not to."

Sheriff Webster said he wanted to interview and do background checks on the finalists himself even though the commission had already interviewed them. And that takes time, he said.

"But you just let them go ahead and have the press conference," he said.

Citizens advisory boards have been proposed in the past following controversial incidents involving police and residents in Augusta, but none have ever came to fruition.

Sylvia Cooper covers Richmond County government for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.