Originally created 11/17/99

Ethics probe ordered



Augusta's Chief Superior Court Judge William M. Fleming Jr. will impanel a special grand jury to continue the investigation of city government.

Chief Judge Fleming will appoint the special grand jury as soon as he confers with other Superior Court judges in the Augusta Judicial Circuit, he said Tuesday.

The second Richmond County grand jury to look into city government operations recommended the special grand jury in presentments returned Friday. Both juries issued scathing reports and called for an alert.

Also Tuesday, Augusta commissioners unanimously passed a resolution supporting formation of the special grand jury. They approved a resolution that qualifies Augusta to be a certified City of Ethics by the Georgia Municipal Association.

The commission unanimously accepted the resignation of William Alfred Ferguson from the city personnel board. In its report on the personnel board, the grand jury reported that Mr. Ferguson is a convicted felon who faces charges of child molestation and enticing a minor for indecent purposes.

Mr. Ferguson, who pleaded guilty in 1980 to theft, is charged with having improper sexual contact July 21, 1996, with a girl who was 13.

Commissioners said they want the special grand jury to find what there is to find, indict any wrongdoers, clear the air and let city officials move on.

But Mayor Pro Tem Lee Beard wanted Augusta Commission to recommend a time for the investigation to end. He asked commissioners to go on record supporting a "time line."

"It could go on forever," Mr. Beard said. "And I think enough has been said out there that whatever is false needs to be brought to light, dealt with and get it over with. And I don't think that is something that should be hanging over this commission's head for the next year or two years."

Commissioner J.B. Powell said the commission has no power to set a time line.

"I've seen this commission go through two grand juries, and I hadn't seen a commissioner up here leave handcuffed or shackled yet. I don't think there's a fear up here about a grand jury," Mr. Powell said.

"But one thing I'd like to clarify is, we don't have the power to call for a grand jury. We don't have the power to state a time frame for a grand jury. The chief judge is going to do what he wants to do anyway."

The quicker the investigation is done and issues resolved, the better off the city will be, Commissioner Willie Mays said.

"The quicker we get to a resolution of this situation so that this does not continue to be an ongoing saga or some type of soap opera every day about guesswork of what may be or what may not be ..." Mr. Mays said.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham said if the previous grand juries had found anything of substance, they should have indicted somebody.

"As far as the 17 questions the grand jury asked, most of them could have already been answered," Mr. Brigham said. "About half of it was done before we even consolidated governments (in 1996). They already know the answers. The answers are already there. It's either not a problem or it's a problem in only certain people's minds.

"If they want to indict somebody, they need to indict the people that are guilty and get them to court. If they don't have no reason to indict nobody, they need to issue a clean bill of health and allow this community to go forward."

Mr. Brigham voiced concern about how the publicity is affecting Augusta's image.

"I am concerned what it looks like to industry that wants to locate in Augusta-Richmond County or even the CSRA," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, the commission's ethics subcommittee met to work on a new ethics ordinance.

Mr. Brigham, Mr. Mays and Mr. Powell, the subcommittee chairman, criticized Mayor Bob Young's ethics proposal.

Commissioners and City Attorney Jim Wall emphasized that commissioners already are governed by state law and a city ordinance. However, they instructed Mr. Wall to revise Mr. Young's proposal.

The subcommittee will have an ordinance ready for Augusta Commission by Dec. 18, Mr. Powell said.

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


Commissionsers react

Here are comments from Augusta commissioners about the proposed impaneling of a special grand jury to continue the investigation into city government operations and about Mayor Bob Young's proposed ethics ordinance:

Commissioner Willie Mays:
"I notice the mayor keeps bragging that he hasn't been called down there (to the grand jury), and he just got here. And I heard the cesspool statement yesterday, too. I can live with all of that . . .

"But I don't think we should have a perception of reluctance that there is a problem in moving forward with doing that, and that, you know, some of us have been waiting around on some magnificent knight in shining armor to rescue us out of a cesspool."

Commissioner J.B. Powell, ethics ordinance subcommittee chairman:
"There's some gray areas in this reporting. I mean, there's no perfect world, and there's no perfect law, and there's no perfect ordinance. And I know this ethics ordinance, regardless of whether they shackle us before we leave the house and turn us loose when we get in here and shackle us back up and carry us back home is the only thing that's going to satisfy some people.

"But I'm not going to live like that, and I don't think nobody should be held in that regard, especially the elected officials that the people have put down here. The people are your ultimate judge because if they see something they don't like, they're going to send you home. Don't worry. It comes every four years."

Commissioner Jerry Brigham:
"I think if we can classify ourself as a city of ethics with the currect ordinance I think we ought to pass it. I think we need to send to the public that we're all not crooks. We're not stealing. We're not taking money. . . . I think that's the perception in some people's mind that we don't do anything unless we're paid."



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