Originally created 01/19/00

Augusta board OKs city ethics law



Augusta commissioners put some teeth back into a proposed ethics ordinance before approving it Tuesday, rehired their lawyer for the rest of the year and called for a meeting to discuss where to house city offices and the courts.

Commissioners approved on a 6-2-2 vote Mayor Bob Young's proposal strengthening the ethics ordinance that applies to all city employees and elected officials.

Voting for Mr. Young's version that broadened the definitions of "relative" and "vendor" were Commissioners Ulmer Bridges, Andy Cheek, Stephen Shepard, Jerry Brigham, Bill Kuhlke and Mayor Pro Tem Willie Mays.

Commissioners Marion Williams and Richard Colclough voted against the strengthened ordinance. Commissioners Henry Brigham and Lee Beard abstained.

Mr. Mays voted for Mr. Young's revised version after his motion to approve the weaker one proposed by the Augusta Commission's ethics ordinance subcommittee failed 4-5.

The subcommittee, chaired by former Commissioner J.B. Powell until his term ended Dec. 31, had narrowed the definition of relative to spouse, parent or child. The subcommittee had also changed wording to limit the definition of vendor to those already doing business with the city. Those who spent money to win influence with officials would not be considered vendors.

Mr. Young asked the clerk to send a copy of the approved ordinance to the special Richmond County grand jury investigating city government.

After a lengthy debate, commissioners rehired City Attorney Jim Wall for the rest of 2000 on a 9-1 vote and agreed to set up a subcommittee to study the issue of an in-house law department.

A July deadline for the subcommittee recommendation would give the city time to set up a law department by January 2001 if that's what the subcommittee proposes, Mr. Beard said.

The 1995 city-county consolidation law calls for an in-house law department, but the commission has not set it up, preferring instead to retain Mr. Wall.

Mr. Cheek and Mr. Williams, who took office this month, moved to set up a law department within 120 days, but their motion failed.

Mr. Mays criticized Mr. Wall, who was absent because of a death in the family, for not pushing the issue himself.

"If he had the political clout to stay here this long, he should have had the courage to have done something about it," Mr. Mays said.

The subcommittee of Mr. Young, Mr. Mays and three commissioners not yet appointed will make a recommendation in July.

Commissioners could not agree on where to move city administrative offices.

Mr. Shepard's motion to negotiate to buy the old Davison's department store building on Broad Street -- and renovate the Municipal Building on Greene Street as a judicial center -- did not come to a vote.

Instead, commissioners voted unanimously to approve Mr. Mays' motion to meet with judicial officials to hear what they want and learn the cost of renovating the Municipal Building.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.

Other action

In other action Tuesday, Augusta commissioners:

Delayed a decision on granting a special exception for a parking lot at Arnlee Way and Wheeler Road for Aldersgate United Methodist Church until the church presents a site plan and city officials sign off on it. Commissioners want assurance that the parking lot will not create a drainage problem and add to the flooding along Rae's Creek.

Adopted a resolution asking the Richmond County legislative delegation to oppose any effort to create a water authority. State Rep. Henry Howard, D-Augusta, has proposed creating an authority.