Originally created 11/19/02

Grand Jury releases report



The Richmond County Special Grand Jury says local politicians have not acted on recommendations from its nearly three-year investigation of Augusta government, and have failed to enact many much-needed changes.

The Special Grand Jury's 10th and, likely, final presentment attacked government structure, questioned the ethics of elected officials and scolded the city administrator. The six-page report was released in open court this morning before Superior Court Judge Albert M. Pickett.

Although some new recommendations were made, grand jurors reviewed many of their earlier recommendations, saying despite almost three years of investigation "there continues to be a pressing need for governmental reform."

Judge Pickett read the presentment aloud in open court, at one point exclaiming "Hallelujah," to one of several juror recommendations: that abstentions by Augusta commissioners be abolished.

"To any outside observer it looks like a fifth-grade operation," Judge Pickett said, calling abstentions and "present" votes by commissioners a "juvenile scurrying about of grade schoolers."

Judge Pickett also commended the 23-member panel for working long hours under "intense public scrutiny and occasional public criticism."

"They proudly went forward with their work," Judge Pickett said of grand jurors. "They were doing the people's business and the people's work."

Grand jurors said although they believed their presentments "stimulated a healthy dialogue in the community," in the end, the report reads, "all attempts failed at the state and local levels."

The grand jury will remain empaneled for another 60 days, but District Attorney Danny Craig said they will only reconvene in the event their conclusions are disputed.

"Right now they anticipate this being their final presentment," Mr. Craig said.

The Richmond County Special Grand Jury was empaneled in December 1999 after two regular grand juries called for its creation, saying they were dismayed and frustrated by the lack of time to investigate possible corruption in city government.

The latest presentment suggests empaneling a similar board every five to seven years until a charter "with adequate checks and balances is created."

"A future special grand jury would look into and expose gridlock, cronyism, fraud, abuse and waste that will likely continue to occur," the report said.