Originally created 06/29/02

Coliseum authority stalls on attorney



The Augusta Coliseum Authority moved no closer to securing legal representation Friday morning, despite concerns from board members that at least one lawsuit may be imminent.

The attorney committee of the coliseum authority, which convened in a volatile morning meeting, learned that its chairman - legislative appointee Jack Usry - has joined the mounting list of Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center casualties, resigning effective immediately.

Mr. Usry, who did not attend the committee meeting, did not return phone messages left at his home Thursday or Friday.

Board attorney Sam Nicholson resigned effective June 1, and civic center General Manager Reggie Williams was fired by the authority earlier this week. Assistant Manager Linda Roberts is on medical leave, and Jason Green, the director of event services who is third down on the chain of command, has been tapped to direct operations.

A separate coliseum authority committee has been charged with finding a general manager to replace Mr. Williams. But several members of the authority's attorney search committee said securing legal representation should be expedited, particularly because Mr. Williams has indicated he might sue for wrongful firing.

"I think we have a lot of issues here, especially labor contract issues," board member Bonnie Ruben said. "Mr. Williams has said he might consider legal action. Time is of the essence. We need an attorney today."

Mr. Williams was fired by the authority Tuesday after a 90-minute closed-door session. The legality of that closed session has been questioned for several reasons: the board did not vote to go into closed session, it neglected to sign an affidavit stating the nature of the closed session, and it heard evidence regarding personnel in the closed session.

Georgia First Amendment Foundation Attorney David Hudson - who also represents The Augusta Chronicle - has said that, if a court finds Mr. Williams' firing resulted from an illegally closed meeting, he or others could file a lawsuit to disqualify the board's action.

Despite concerns about the potential lawsuit, several members of the attorney committee said they needed more information about the lawyers being considered before they could fill the position. At one point during the meeting, board member Joe Scott left the room to call Mr. Nicholson and ask him to return on an interim basis.

A few minutes later, Mr. Scott returned to the meeting and confirmed that Mr. Nicholson would not return.

"He said he wouldn't be interested in getting into it at this point, and the way the situation was handled with Reggie, he wouldn't want to get into it," Mr. Scott said. Attempts to reach Mr. Nicholson were unsuccessful.

A motion to ask the Capers, Dunbar, Sanders & Bruckner firm to fill in as board attorneys failed, and the committee voted to meet again Tuesday.

"I think we definitely need to have some legal advice," said Fred Reed, the newly appointed committee chairman. "As volatile as our meetings get, we tend to make mistakes."

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