Originally created 09/15/99

Grand jury proceedings offer little



Augusta commissioners spent Tuesday afternoon waiting their turns to be called before the Richmond County grand jury.

One by one they followed City Administrator Randy Oliver who was questioned first and longest -- an hour and 35 minutes -- under oath and in the presence of a court reporter.

They were instructed by the grand jury not to tell anyone anything about the proceedings, they said.

City Attorney Jim Wall was not subpoenaed to appear but waited in the hallway with commissioners and conferred with each one after they emerged from the grand jury room.

Tuesday's appearance was the second time in the past 12 days commissioners have been called before the grand jury, which has the city buzzing with questions and speculations about the purpose of the grilling.

The first appearance was described by one commissioner as a "fishing expedition," and Tuesday's session seemed to be more of the same with no clear direction of where the grand jury was going with its questions, said two sources who did not want to be named.

However, some of the questions concerned city contracts, sources said.

Commissioner J.B. Powell testified after Mr. Oliver for about 20 minutes, then commissioners were called in this order:

Bill Kuhlke, about 40 minutes

Lee Beard, about 25 minutes

Ulmer Bridges, about 25 minutes

Henry Brigham, about 25 minutes

Jerry Brigham, about 40 minutes

Willie Mays, about 15 minutes

Freddie Handy, about 25 minutes

Stephen Shepard, about 30 minutes.

Commissioner Richard Colclough did not appear before the grand jury because he was in the hospital with a blood clot in his leg, said Mr. Handy and other commissioners.

Commissioners, except for Mr. Powell, who said he had to work and did not show up, met with the grand jury for more than two hours Sept. 2, answering questions in a group. They were not subpoenaed for that appearance and were not put under oath. Mr. Handy and Mr. Kuhlke and Mr. Oliver were also questioned individually at that session.

In the previous appearance, jury members questioned Mr. Handy about allegations of theft by city employees at the trees and landscape department. His son, Tony Martin, had been reinstated as a manager at the department after being fired for stealing azaleas. Mr. Martin resigned Friday.

On Tuesday, while waiting to testify, Mr. Powell said the grand jury had him so "shook up" he almost went into the women's restroom.

Also, the use of a court reporter in the grand jury room Tuesday was somewhat unusual although Richmond County District Attorney Danny Craig said court reporters may be used in Georgia counties with populations of 150,000.

"And we have used a court reporter," he said. "It's customary in those cases where the grand jury feels the need to use one."

Grand jury presentments are scheduled to come out Friday.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.