Originally created 08/27/99

Martin must return to court



Fired and rehired city employee Tony Martin -- an Augusta commissioner's son who pleaded guilty to stealing city property -- is headed back to court next month.

Richmond County State Court Judge Richard Allen Slaby will hold a hearing Sept. 10 to determine whether he should reconsider the probated First Offender's Act sentence he gave Mr. Martin on July 22.

Meanwhile, city offices have been bombarded with calls from people angry about the personnel board's decision, officials said.

"The calls here to this office today -- people are just flabbergasted at the action that was taken," Mayor Bob Young said.

"I said this just shows the need for character education in city government. It shows we're a city of characters, not a city of character."

And employees at the city's Trees and Landscaping Department, where Mr. Martin returned to his old job Thursday as an operations manager, were bitter and angry, said Director Barry Smith.

"It's just a bad time right now," he said. "How do we continue managing employees with this occurrence?"

Mr. Martin, the son of Commissioner Freddie Handy, pleaded guilty to a charge of misdemeanor theft by taking in connection with the theft of 10 city-owned azalea bushes.

City Administrator Randy Oliver then fired him, but the Augusta Personnel Board overturned the firing and reinstated him Wednesday. Mr. Martin's lawyer, John Long, told the board Mr. Martin could not be fired because he had pleaded as a first offender.

But before Wednesday's hearing -- and not made public until afterward -- the Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued an official report stating that the fingerprints taken from a theft suspect in January 1987 matched fingerprints taken from Mr. Martin in February. Upon learning of the fingerprints Thursday, Judge Slaby determined a hearing should be held, said Solicitor Sheryl Jolly.

Ms. Jolly previously had asked Judge Slaby whether he wanted to hold a hearing to reconsider Mr. Martin's sentence. The judge declined then, she said, because of the relatively low value of the January theft and because the GBI's Criminal Information Center would administratively remove Mr. Martin's first-offender status if he did have a prior conviction.

"All I can go on is the booking photograph and fingerprints and what the fingerprint experts tell me," Ms. Jolly said. She will present that evidence at the hearing.

Mr. Long, Mr. Martin's attorney, said Thursday that Mr. Martin may have been arrested, but he did not plead guilty in 1987, and it is not Mr. Martin's signature on court documents.

Mr. Martin's brother, Freddie Handy Jr., had used Mr. Martin's name when arrested before, and Mr. Long said Mr. Handy Jr. was the person convicted in 1987 and that he signed the official court document as "Tony Martin."

Calls to Mr. Martin's residence were unanswered.

Mr. Young said the board's decision "defies logic.

"Who were the six people who voted to put him back to work?" he asked.

Al Ferguson, Colis Ivey, Venus Cain, Charles Walker Jr., Mike Brockman and Charles McCann voted for reinstatement. Mr. Brockman and Mr. McCann abstained on the first vote, which upheld the dismissal.

Members Jon Winters, Ken Nimmons and Jerry Wayne Peloquin voted against the reinstatement.

Board members Billy Carroll, Verna Curtis and James E. Harrison III were absent.

Mr. Young said the board should be abolished.

"Maybe it's not relevant anymore," he said.

Mr. Smith said the Trees and Parks employees are very angry because when Mr. Martin was arrested, he told investigators everyone had stolen from the department.

"The sheriff's department totally investigated the department," Mr. Smith said. "They took 24 employees down and polygraphed and interviewed them, and it was nonconclusive of what Tony was saying."

Sylvia Cooper and Sandy Hodson can be reached at (706) 724-0851.