Originally created 12/05/01

A shameful vote



Augusta Commissioner Bill Kuhlke has said what many observers are thinking: "I think it's sickening ... I'm embarrassed for our community."

Residents of Augusta share his disgust over the commission's failure to hire a fire chief.

Commissioners Lee Beard, Henry Brigham, Richard Colclough, Willie Mays and Marion Williams should hang their heads in shame over the disgraceful way they have conducted themselves lately.

Colclough, Mays and Williams were especially cowardly by abstaining from voting for no reason except to mask their shameful behavior.

The public can't fathom these commissioners' irrational moves. But there is a trail of bread crumbs to indicate where these lost souls have wandered:

At nearly every commission meeting in the past few months, Commissioner Williams has publicly hounded City Administrator George Kolb about the status of hiring a fire chief.

When Deputy Chief Carl Scott was named interim chief, Williams voted against it.

When Kolb presented his final two candidates, these five commissioners didn't like either of them. They said they were not going to vote on a candidate they had not met. Williams wondered why there couldn't be a local candidate worth considering.

After they met candidate Al Gillespie, Beard then switched the story, saying that Kolb brought the candidate too early, and should have brought them a candidate for Finance director first. "If we had waited a little later, we wouldn't be going through this procedure," he said.

Kolb is getting mixed messages. The first is, "What's taking you so long to hire a chief?" The second is, "You're bringing us a fire chief too soon."

These commissioners can't seem to come right out and say it, but some of them want interim Fire Chief Scott named to the post, against Kolb's better judgment. Scott, while experienced, barely has a high school education and is not prepared to take over operations.

This is the most egregious case of meddling that the commission has been engaged in for some time. It's obvious the five black commissioners will not hire a white fire chief until they know if the finance director is going to be black or white because, after all, this is a color question, not a qualifications question.

Kolb has no choice but to leave the fire department without a chief for now, because no candidate in his right mind will walk into this pit of vipers who have fouled the nest. It will take months before any prospective candidates have enough confidence in Augusta's government to go through the interview process.

Meanwhile, without leadership the fire department's morale will continue to suffer and the public's safety could be placed in peril. If anything disastrous happens as a result of the senseless procrastination, these commissioners will be to blame.