Originally created 06/19/02

Officials blast administrator

In a letter from Mayor Bob Young and on the floor of Tuesday's Augusta Commission meeting, City Administrator George Kolb came under attack from elected officials for failing to act quickly enough on constituent complaints.

Last week, heaps of belongings were piled in front of a Watkins Street residence as part of an eviction, prompting protest from neighbors and creating concern among elected officials about possible health risks.

Although the mess had long been cleaned up by Tuesday's commission meeting, several elected officials expressed displeasure with the way Mr. Kolb handled the mess, saying the three days it took to clean up was unnecessary and uncaring.

In an attempt to expedite the Watkins Street cleanup, several commissioners and the mayor arranged through the city's deputy administrator, Fred Russell, for a crew of prison inmates to remove the debris.

After Mr. Kolb learned of those efforts, he came up with a plan of his own, asking the bank that foreclosed on the property to clean it up and halting the inmate crew.

In a letter to Mr. Kolb dated Tuesday, the mayor called the administrator's actions "an affront to me and my position as the Chief Executive Officer for Augusta." He also said the administrator "used poor judgment in interfering with an agreed-upon solution."

A day after Mr. Kolb halted city-provided cleanup efforts, the belongings still were on the street, and Commissioner Marion Williams called the city department director who oversees inmate crews and ordered them to clean up the eviction, a move Mr. Kolb characterized as breaking the city's chain of command.

Just as inmate crews were preparing to start work, Mr. Kolb called the department director and told them to stop.

"My concern is a direction was given by a commissioner to a particular department head," Mr. Kolb said. "I don't regret what I did, and if I was forced to do it again, I think I would."

Mr. Kolb also said that by asking the landowner to clean up the eviction, the city saved between $2,000 and $5,000 in cleanup costs.

Commissioner Bill Kuhlke said he agreed with the administrator's decision.

"I do think it's micromanagement," Mr. Kuhlke said. "I think it's going above the authority of this commission to direct departments."

Mr. Williams, however, said waiting more than three days to clean up the yard, which is across the street from May Park, was an irresponsible power play by the city administrator that jeopardized the safety of others.

"I just think we need to let the administrator know that we represent the people," Mr. Williams said. "We need to give him that message that he operates the day-to-day operations of department heads, but he don't operate the day-to-day operations of this commission."

A commission committee is scheduled to convene next week to give Mr. Kolb his annual performance review, and the matter is expected to resurface then. For now, commissioners voted to appoint a committee that will look at ways to clean up the inner city.

"That was nothing more than a grown man's peeing contest," Commissioner Willie Mays said. "And it's sad, because the whole city stunk from it."

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


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