Originally created 03/10/02

A bad bill



State Rep. Ben Allen, D-Augusta, has worked hard to get a "fix consolidation" bill written that will win support of Augusta's other lawmakers. He has signatures of Reps. Henry Howard and Alberta Anderson, both Augusta Democrats. He needs one more signature, but let's hope he doesn't get it.

Although the bill has some good points, it is fatally flawed. First, its features:

Allen's bill takes the mayor off of the Augusta Commission altogether and calls him the chief executive officer of the city government. He gives the mayor's presiding authority to the mayor pro tem.

He gives the mayor veto power over ordinances, resolutions or other actions of the commission, presumably including the budget. The mayor's veto would require seven commission votes to override it.

A commission quorum would be made up of seven, and it would take a majority to transact official business.

The mayor would be able to appoint members to city boards and authorities.

Here are the serious flaws in Allen's bill:

The mayor is removed from the commission; thus he can't vote to break a tie.

In the event of a 5-5 or 4-4 split, and no tiebreaker, deadlock occurs. With Augusta's racially split government, such a situation is inevitable, at least in the near term.

The actual language of the Allen bill says, "an affirmative vote of a majority of the members shall be required for the commission to take action." Regardless of what Allen says the bill means, the real wording states that a vote of six members, not just a majority, is required. Thus, the city remains in deadlock.

The bill also is silent on what would happen if a 5-4 vote was cast and one abstention was made. Would the five votes win on the majority of those present and voting?

Allen has worked hard, but he didn't think like a wily ward politician, such as Commissioner Willie Mays, who abstains from at least one vote at almost every meeting. Mays is not the only one, of course.

Allen, an attorney and very capable with legalese, may have done this unwittingly. Or he may have done it on purpose. Either way, the bill must not go forward as written.

If it gets the other signature, it must be blocked in the Senate. Passage would be a false promise of improvement and would, in fact, be worse than no bill at all.

Allen may characterize this as a problem with the white representatives, who talk but don't want change. That would be a disappointing approach for the man who would be Augusta's congressman.