Originally created 05/04/01

Poll calls for bigger mayor role



Public opinion concerning mayoral power is more in line with the thoughts of a special grand jury investigating city government than with panelists appointed to make recommendations on changing the government's existing structure, a recent survey shows.

But the charter committee, which is charged with drafting a list of changes to city government, isn't likely to follow public opinion.

The panel has been meeting for more than three months and has indicated little intent to give Augusta's mayor more power. Members are expected to present a final proposal on the charter to Augusta commissioners by July 1.

"The committee probably is not going to use (the survey) because it shows the will of the people, and (committee members) have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo," said Augusta State University professor Ralph Walker, who oversaw the public opinion survey and also serves as an adviser to the charter committee.

The survey, conducted by Dr. Walker's public administration class, consisted of 11 questions students asked 300 randomly selected Augustans over the telephone. The poll was implemented to provide a gauge for public opinion concerning local government structure.

"The citizens basically want to give the mayor more power, and the charter committee isn't going to do that," Dr. Walker said. "(It's because) most of them are appointed by the commission, and commissioners don't want to give the mayor more power."

Currently Augusta's mayor only votes to break a 5-5 tie on the 10-member commission.

Of those surveyed, 51 percent said the mayor should have a regular vote compared to 29 percent who said he shouldn't, and 42 percent said he should have more appointment powers while only 32 percent said he shouldn't. The only variance from the public's opinions on mayoral power concerned whether the mayor should have blanket veto power, to which 42 percent of those surveyed said "no," vs. 34 percent who said "yes."

"People are calling for change. I hear that message loud and clear," said Mayor Bob Young. "I think there's a general frustration in the community with the image of this consolidated government."

Still, there are several charter committee decisions that contradict the grand jury but appear to have public support.

When asked about the current setup of 10 commission districts - elected from eight districts and two at-large districts - 40 percent of those surveyed said it should remain the same. Special grand jurors endorsed six commission districts and four at-large seats, but the survey showed only 17 percent agreed with that.

The charter committee also seems to be in line with public opinion that commissioners should be allowed to cast abstentions. More than 43 percent of those surveyed said a commissioner should have the right to abstain from voting, vs. 39 percent who disagreed.

Charter committee members each received a copy of the survey Thursday along with minutes from last week's meeting. Charter committee chairman Bill Thompson said they will use the survey as background information.

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.