Originally created 08/06/02

Mayor pushes transfer of power

Mayor Bob Young has been waiting for just the right time to ask that the Augusta Commission give up its power to hire and fire city department heads and hand it over to the city administrator. The right time appears to be today.

At Mr. Young's request, the commission is set to review a city ordinance that would OK the hiring and firing authority for City Administrator George Kolb.

"I'm giving the commission the chance to show the courage to make these changes and make this government better," Mr. Young said Monday.

For months, a draft version of Mr. Young's ordinance has been completed but never acted on.

Early last month, when the Richmond County special grand jury released a scathing report on the city's fire department, the mayor said he thought it was time officials tackled the issue again.

Grand jurors criticized the city's fire department under former Fire Chief Ronnie Few and said the city's power structure was, in part, to blame because commissioners involved themselves in the day-to-day operations of government.

Under city law, a majority vote by the commissioners is required before any department director - from fire chief to finance director - can be hired or fired.

"(Chief Few's) immediate supervisor could not control him and dared not try," the presentment said. "The county administrator openly admitted that the commissioners allowed Few to ignore his directives, and he was powerless to stop this."

Changing the city's power structure has been discussed at length, both on the commission floor and in the state Capitol, finally fizzling at the end of a long legislative session earlier this year. Still, Mr. Young said, "there's never been an ordinance voted on by this body that changes the power of the administrator." It's time they did, he said.

"The grand jury said some fundamental changes were needed in government," Mr. Young said. "This is one of those changes we've been working for since January."

Mr. Kolb said he would welcome the authority to appoint and dismiss employees working for him if it is approved today.

"I've always advocated that the administrator should have the authority to control the organization," Mr. Kolb said Monday. "I would support it and make it work."

To date, there have never been six votes on the commission to relinquish the hiring and firing power of city department directors to the city administrator. Whether that support will surface today is uncertain.

"I'll just take a wait-and-see attitude," Mr. Kolb said. "Whatever happens, I will work with what the commission decides to do."

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


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