THE EIGHT-MEMBER Augusta delegation to the Georgia General Assembly has done nothing to improve the law consolidating the old city and county governments. And there are only two days left in the 2000 legislative session.
By the end of last week House Bill 1742 -- supported by Reps. Robin Williams, R-Augusta, George DeLoach, R-Hephzibah, and Henry Howard, D-Augusta -- lacked the fourth House signature needed for passage.
The bill's chief aim is to slightly strengthen Augusta's mayor by placing the administrator and department heads under his hiring and firing authority. Only the mayor could recommend candidates for the administrator job (currently the Augusta Commission does this) and the mayor could remove the administrator with the concurrence of a commission majority.
The administrator and department heads would be up for review annually and, if warranted, the mayor would have new power to fire a department head (again subject to approval of a Commission majority). Currently the administrator has the power to remove a department's boss.
Williams proposed this change after it became apparent that any veto power for the mayor wouldn't pass due to opposition by Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta. Last year, Walker said he favored giving the mayor budgetary veto power; now the senator claims unnamed black clergymen oppose any mayoral veto, so he'll follow their lead.
Rep. Jack Connell, D-Augusta, didn't sign H.B. 1742 due to reservations on the hiring/firing aspects. Unless someone pulls a rabbit out of a hat, legislators won't adjust the consolidation law.
Odds and ends
Augusta lawmakers have also failed to address the city attorney/law department issue. Lawmakers had said they'd clarify consolidation law language that appears to stipulate a legal department (even though there isn't one).
A bill by Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta, requiring full tax refunds to
any Georgian due to an error by a local
government remains stuck in a Democrat-controlled committee. The GOP lawmaker filed the bill in response to the Augusta Commission, which last year cheated two disabled veterans by granting only partial refunds.
It is instructive to learn what two U.S. cities have accomplished under reform-minded leadership.
Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith established a Regulatory Study Commission to examine the convoluted city code. It estimated the city was spending $125 million annually administering its regulations. The panel couldn't review everything, so it focused on those regulations with the largest effect on businesses and citizens: taxi regulations, business and occupational licensing rules, development restrictions and health regulations. The result? Rules were clarified, streamlined or eliminated -- and efficiencies and savings were soon evident.
San Diego Mayor Susan Golding initiates periodic "Regulatory Relief Days," when the City Council fixes existing regulations. The city has been slashing a wordy zoning code (including 78 sets of confusing outdoor storage and signage regulations, and 15 different driveway-width rules).
Why can't Augusta also cut red tape?
Just as the Congress periodically tackles deregulation so, too, should cities and counties. Both Goldsmith and Golding say their efforts were helped by news media reports, which in turn elicited support from people who can benefit the most (especially potential entrepreneurs).
Augusta Mayor Bob Young and most commissioners have expressed interest in cutting red tape. The commission ought to consider having a "Regulatory Relief Day" on the agenda. Lord knows there are vague or confusing rules in the city code.
Cheek needs a map
District 6 Commissioner Andy Cheek shot from the hip, and made a foolish slip, when criticizing Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta, for supporting a failed water authority bill that, at Williams' insistence, included a referendum.
Cheek, in an error-ridden "media advisory" to "newsroom's (sic) and the people of Augusta," wrote: "Two non-Augusta-Richmond County residents, Reps. Williams and (Alberta) Anderson, co-sponsor H.B. 1698..."
That was amusing to Williams, whose family home for years has been on Wheeler Road in Augusta.
The quote of the week goes to U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who responded to the vice president's phony championing of campaign finance reform:
"Al Gore, of all people, saying, `This is the centerpiece of my campaign,' that'd be like Bill Clinton giving sexual harassment seminars."
Phil Kent is senior editorial writer for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.