Originally created 03/05/02

Proliferating city plans worry residents



Business officials, political gurus and civic leaders spent Monday morning listening to state legislators talk about how proposed legislation could change the way city government operates.

It's the number of proposals being considered, however, that seems to have some people worried.

"I'm very concerned about the number of bills and proposals," said Tim Moses, a local attorney who attended the open forum to discuss city operations. "I'm concerned that our local legislative delegation (members) are putting forth ideas and then scurrying to their corners, never to be heard from again."

From the eight-member Augusta delegation, two bills have been introduced, three more unofficial proposals have been drafted, and at least one amended bill is on the table. All recommend changes to Augusta government's structure, such as increasing mayoral power and changing the way Augusta commissioners vote.

"It's very confusing that we have all these bills, but it's important that we have all our ideas in front of us," said Rep. Sue Burmeister, one of three legislators who attended the forum in the Richmond County Municipal Building's commission chamber.

The open forum was organized by a residents committee of business professionals, most of whom said they are interested in seeing the consolidated government organized more efficiently.

Although more than 60 people were in the audience, only Mrs. Burmeister, Rep. Ben Allen and Sen. Don Cheeks were the only members of the legislative delegation to attend, which prompted several expressions of concern from the audience.

Rep. Jack Connell, who was attending Appropriations Committee meetings in Atlanta, was represented by local attorney David Bell. Sen. Charles Walker, Rep. George DeLoach and Rep. Henry Howard did not attend or send a representative.

Some in the audience said they want to meet again with elected officials. Mr. Cheeks said getting legislators together is more important than holding another public forum.

All four lawmakers represented at the forum endorsed some kind of change to city government, including proposals that discourage abstentions by commissioners and increase mayoral power.

How those changes are made continues to be a topic of debate: Some say the mayor should have a vote, while others support veto power; some officials support a simple majority rule on the 10-member commission, which includes the mayor, and others contend the number of votes needed for a motion to pass should simply be lowered.

State officials said some compromises already are being worked out.

Augusta commissioners, meanwhile, are not entirely supportive.

"I feel that there is no need to change the bill at this time," Commissioner Lee Beard said. "There are ulterior motives by the people presenting these bills. Other than Senator Cheeks, all these people are up for election this year. ... You have five bills out there, and there is no agreement on any of them."

Proposals

The following proposals have been introduced by state legislators to make changes to local government structure. A final bill is expected to be a compromise of all these ideas:

Rep. Sue Burmeister's (R-114) bill

- Gives the mayor veto power with a seven-vote override by the commission

- Gives the mayor the power to hire and fire the city administrator and the city attorney

- Allows a simple majority to rule as long as a quorum of seven is present

- Gives the county administrator exclusive hiring and firing power

- Make abstentions count as a "no" vote unless a conflict of interest is disclosed

- Would be put before voters as a referendum for approval

Rep. Jack Connell's (D-115) original bill

- Gives the mayor a vote on the commission, but takes away his power to make or break a tie on the commission

- Reduces the number of votes needed for a motion to pass from six to five, provided a quorum of seven is present

- Gives the city administrator hiring and firing power with the exception of the city attorney, clerk of commission, equal opportunity officer and internal auditor

- Would be enacted by approval of General Assembly

Connell's amended bill

- Creates a new position - chief operating officer - that is independent of the commission

- Changes mayor's vote to mayoral veto power

Sen. Charles Walker's (D-22) proposal

- Gives the mayor veto power with a seven-vote override by the commission

- Maintains the current six-vote minimum for the commission to pass a motion

- Gives the city administrator hiring and firing power with the exception of the city attorney, clerk of commission, equal opportunity officer and internal auditor

- Discourages abstaining

- Would be enacted by approval of General Assembly

Sen. Don Cheeks' (D-23) proposal

- Gives the mayor veto power with a seven-vote override by the commission

- Makes the mayor pro tem an alternate representative from the city's two super districts

- Gives the mayor the power to appoint members to committees, subject to commission ratification

- Would be put before voters as a referendum for approval

Rep. Ben Allen's (D-117) proposal

- Gives the mayor veto power with seven-vote override by the commission

- Allows the mayor to appoint members to boards and commissions

- Allows a simple majority to rule with a quorum of seven

- Gives the mayor pro tem - who is elected by the commission - the power to preside at commission meetings and power to appoint members as chairmen and officers of committees

- Would be enacted by approval of General Assembly

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.