Originally created 04/13/02

Deadlock kills bill in House



ATLANTA - A bill that would have revamped Augusta government died Friday in the state House of Representatives amid accusations of racial maneuvering and refusals to compromise on the last day of the legislative session.

Augusta's six House members found themselves deadlocked in an ideological standoff in which several legislators said race played a pivotal role.

The delegation's three white members - Reps. Jack Connell, D-Augusta, Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, and George DeLoach, R-Hephzibah - said they favored a compromise to extend veto powers to the mayor and alter several other aspects of how Augusta Commission operates.

However, the delegation's three black members - Reps. Ben Allen, D-Augusta, Henry Howard, D-Augusta, and Alberta Anderson, D-Waynesboro - appeared unwilling to compromise on any versions of the bill brought before the delegation during the final weeks of the session.

The three said changing power structure would adversely affect local government by diminishing the power of black voters and giving too much power to the mayor.

"If you're going to give the mayor (veto power), the mayor shouldn't be a member of the commission," said Mr. Allen. "You need to create another level of government, at the executive level."

Lawmakers drafted more than 30 versions of the bill during the course of the 40-day session, but none was able to garner the four signatures needed to pass the legislation out of the House.

Mr. Allen said he would have been happy for his colleagues to sign his version but was unable to find enough backers.

"We couldn't get any support out of the white community on the House side," he said.

After Mr. Allen realized his bill was not moving forward, he called on the delegation to stop arguing and begin to work with the community during the next year to fix any problems it finds in the local government without state action.

Mrs. Burmeister and Mr. Connell, however, said the delegation should have passed some version of the bill during the session in order to improve local government.

"I'm very much disappointed," Mr. Connell said. "I guess we didn't work hard enough."

He presented the delegation with three different versions of the bill Friday, yet was unable to persuade anyone but Mr. DeLoach and Mrs. Burmeister to sign on.

"I don't think we ran into a vote problem with the white members, but our black members - some of them didn't like anything," he said.

Besides granting the mayor veto power, the bills proposed by the delegation also addressed which county district would elect the mayor pro tempore, and how many votes the county commission would need to pass local ordinances.

Reach Brian Basinger at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.