Originally created 08/07/02

Panel dismisses power change



A move by Mayor Bob Young to give the city administrator hiring and firing power over government department heads was cast off by dissenting Augusta Commission members as a knee-jerk reaction to a recent special grand jury report.

The vote by commissioners to relinquish their personnel powers over city directors failed by a 4-5 vote at Tuesday's meeting. The issue will instead be sent to a joint committee of elected officials for review, a move Mr. Young characterized as "just another stalling tactic."

"I think it's a slap in the face of the people of this city," he said. "The obstructionists try to do everything they can to block reforms and improvements in this government."

Under city law, a majority vote by Augusta commissioners is required before any department director can be hired or fired. at Tuesday's commission meeting, though, the mayor asked officials to approve an amended city ordinance that would hand that authority over to City Administrator George Kolb.

Commissioner Andy Cheek said that although he supported hiring and firing power for the administrator, it seemed commissioners were being "dictated ... by the print media" to act after a recent special grand jury report criticizing commissioners for hiring and then protecting former Fire Chief Ronnie Few from administrative scrutiny.

"I will not, in good conscience, vote for something that we as a government are not prepared to do," Mr. Cheek said.

Commissioner Lee Beard agreed, saying, "I don't think we should have just knee-jerked and passed that ordinance today."

Mr. Young said a vote by the commissioners to pass the ordinance "would be good policy."

"This policy, I think, will eliminate about 90 percent of the issues that divide this body," he said, pointing specifically to "last year's debacle in hiring the fire chief."

Several votes to hire Chief Al Gillespie late last year failed to get the needed support of six commissioners, with several expressing an unreadiness to hire anyone for the position. As a result, he dropped out of the running but was later persuaded to take the job.

Again on Tuesday, the vote stalled: The board was divided 4-5, with Mr. Beard, Mr. Cheek, Richard Colclough, Marion Williams and Bobby Hankerson voting against a power change; Commissioners Ulmer Bridges, Steve Shepard, Tommy Boyles and Bill Kuhlke voted in favor of more administrator power.

Commissioner Willie Mays was absent because of an illness.

"I can't imagine being in the position of the administrator - of having all the responsibility but none of the power," Mr. Kuhlke said.

After the vote failed, the commissioners approved a motion to instead forward the issue to a commission subcommittee that also includes several members of the state delegation.

Commissioners who supported the change said hiring and firing power for the administrator is a local issue and should be dealt with in Augusta, not the Statehouse.

Mr. Kolb said he was not surprised by Tuesday's vote.

"I didn't have any expectations either way," Mr. Kolb said. "It would have been nice to have, but I'm still here, and nothing has changed to move things backward."

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