A panel of Augusta commissioners slated to hear from the city's director of Housing and Neighborhood Development on Monday chose not to hear from him at all.
Instead, a nine-page report, put together by department head Keven Mack for Monday's administrative services committee meeting, was deferred to a small subcommittee that will look at short-term and long-term goals for the department. The housing office has been criticized by city officials for not spending enough grant money and by grant recipients who say work on their homes was shoddy.
What little was said about the housing office at Monday's meeting was laced with criticism and hints of possibly terminating Mr. Mack during next week's full commission meeting.
"I think we need to hit these problems head-on," Commissioner Lee Beard said. "It's individuals and people who need to be held accountable for what they're doing."
Mr. Mack said he believes his job might be in jeopardy. And though he was prepared to present several plans of action to continue improving the operations of his department, he says the subpanel will provide a better forum for his recommendations.
"I think it's a plus," Mr. Mack said. "The subcommittee will be able to fully understand what we are doing and the process."
The subcommittee is slated to bring back recommendations for improvements to the housing department within 30 days. But Mr. Beard told commissioners that improvements should be made sooner.
"There are some other things - some immediate things - we need to address," he said. "I hope we can address these at the next commission meeting."
Mr. Beard declined to say whether he would recommend firing Mr. Mack at the Jan. 16 commission meeting.
The housing department subcommittee consists of Commissioners Andy Cheek and Bill Kuhlke. Mr. Cheek was sick and did not attend Monday's meeting. But Mr. Kuhlke said that if the department director is fired, he will resign from the housing panel.
"I don't want to be a part of that," Mr. Kuhlke said. "I'm not going to get there and (recommend we) do something (in the Housing and Neighborhood Development department) if we don't have a director."
Augusta was cited in its 1999 audit for failing to spend federal grant money quickly enough in the housing department.
Mr. Kuhlke said the subcommittee will look at ways to ensure grants are spent in a timely manner. His panel also will look at ways to streamline the department by combining it with other city departments including the departments of License and Inspection and Planning and Zoning, he said.
Mayor Bob Young said he supports the commissioners' decision to forward discussions concerning the housing department.
"I think it's probably an appropriate thing to do in light of the climate," Mr. Young said. "It's a climate that could very easily become confrontational."
Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.
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