Originally created 09/22/99

Actions are defended



Augusta Commissioner Stephen Shepard proposed sending the new Richmond County grand jury "a pro-active and responsive message" Tuesday that would counter claims of waste and misappropriation of taxpayer money in city government.

The message -- approved by Augusta Commission -- will be aimed at allegations in a report released Friday by the previous grand jury.

Commissioners voted to direct City Administrator Randy Oliver and department heads to respond in the four areas of government targeted by the grand jury.

The previous grand jury called for a "citizens alert" in its scathing report targeting personnel, procurement, long-range planning and grants.

Mayor Bob Young and Commissioner Ulmer Bridges, the city's finance committee chairman, asked the new grand jury Monday to confirm the alleged malfeasance and punish the culprits -- or clear the air of suspicions raised by the previous grand jury.

"I think it's important that we do indicate we are citizen representatives just as the grand jury are citizen representatives picked out by a different process to engage in oversight," Mr. Shepard said.

"We engage in oversight day in and day out," Mr. Shepard said. "We have consistently adopted policies which have placed professional full-time personnel within the area of personnel administration."

On the procurement issue, Mr. Shepard said the city has systems for purchasing and will soon draft a response to the current grand jury about concerns in this area.

The grand jury stated that "misappropriation of funds exists" in the city's contracts, bids and purchasing.

Mr. Shepard said the city has many long-range plans in place, such as the unpaved roads priority list and a water-system master plan.

Grand jurors criticized city officials for not fully implementing results of a $167,000 efficiency study. But Mr. Shepard said that is a work in progress.

"I recall that a few months ago we passed an amendment to the budgetary process that said we would consider the efficiency study, either approve it, reject it or modify it in the budgetary process this coming fall," he said. "We're about to do that."

The commission has amended its policy manual governing city personnel, he said.

"Here again, I'd like to stress to the grand jury and put it on the record we're not totally without master plans," he said. "We have different master plans for different subject matter areas."

Commission seats are subject to change, different elected officials have different agendas and it's difficult in political organizations to have master plans, Mr. Shepard said.

"We have in certain areas gone to great lengths to establish policies and procedures," he said. "There is a lot that does not meet the eye when you are a two-month grand juror."

Commissioner Henry Brigham said he hoped city officials would put more effort into making the community understand the commission has not mismanaged money.

Mayor Pro Tem Lee Beard said he wanted to speak concerning the grand jury's questions about why the company that got the contract to manage the city's sewer plant advertised on his family-owned radio station, but changed his mind.

"And I had decided at one point that I wouldn't say anything because it looks like what I say doesn't get over anyway," Mr. Beard said. "Maybe that's just my poor delivery. ... I've been painted all week as somebody who has had many conflicts of interest with OMI."

nMr. Beard said radio station WRDW contracted with Operations Management International for radio ads Feb. 18. Commissioner J.B. Powell appointed a subcommittee to seek requests for proposals Feb. 22 and the city signed the contract with OMI on April 20, Mr. Beard said.

City Attorney Jim Wall said that based on the dates Mr. Beard gave, there was no conflict in Mr. Beard's voting on the OMI contract.