Three important legislative bills are floating around now, three variations on the theme of making Augusta city government run better.
All three have good points, as well as deficiencies. The latest, offered by Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, is worthy of consideration and comes close to the mark. But it, too, falls short of fixing the fundamental flaws in Augusta's governance policies.
Walker's bill makes the mayor the chief executive officer of Augusta. Yet the mayoral powers aren't clear because having such a title doesn't give the mayor anything, in and of itself, to help him be an effective officer.
What does break gridlock on the commission is the section of Walker's bill that gives the mayor the right to veto ordinances and measures. The key is that it would take seven members of the commission to override a mayoral veto, which would force commission members to work together to achieve their goals.
Yet there are still problems with this bill. One is that, while seven members would constitute a quorum, it would require six votes to pass measures. This is weak. What would be better is that, while seven should constitute a quorum, a majority of those present and voting should prevail, which would prevent commissioners from walking out during votes. It forces commissioners to the table.
In this scenario, the mayor can still veto, and seven votes can still override that veto at the next commission meeting.
Another weakness of the Walker bill is that it merely "recommends and encourages" that the city administrator be given hiring and firing authority over his staff, and it urges the administrator be appointed by the mayor, but confirmed (or fired) by the commission. A recommendation is not worth the paper its written on, so this portion of the bill is essentially worthless.
The final bill should have these three elements:
Mayoral veto power which could be overridden by seven votes on the commission. Another way of breaking deadlock would be to give the mayor a vote, which would create an 11-member voting panel. An odd-numbered panel would be more productive than the current panel of 10.
Staff hiring and firing authority for the city administrator, excluding the clerk of the commission, city attorney, internal auditor and equal opportunity officer.
Seven commissioners to constitute a quorum. Measures would pass on a majority vote of those present and voting.
As the calendar dates fly by, we hope our lawmakers in Atlanta will put aside their own political ambitions and forge a good law for Augusta, before our city government is beyond repair. If they take no meaningful action, Augustans will hold them responsible.