Originally created 03/16/05

Commission splits public works department



Augusta Commission members voted Tuesday to divide the city's public works department into three divisions - solid waste, maintenance and engineering - under directors who will report to a deputy administrator.

The change relegates Public Works Director Teresa Smith to director of engineering from her current position of overall responsibility.

Commissioner Jimmy Smith's motion to divide the department passed on a 7-2 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Marion Williams and Commissioner Willie Mays voting no. The vote came after a lengthy debate during which Mr. Mays suggested Ms. Smith would have grounds for a lawsuit and Mr. Williams urged her to file one.

Mr. Mays suggested the division was a de facto demotion for Mrs. Smith that interrupted her career path. Mr. Williams went further and said he had evidence that some commissioners had tried to undermine her and make her fail in addition to denying her the support she needed to operate the department properly. He vowed to follow her every step of the way into court and provide the documents for her case.

Engineering Services Chair- man Andy Cheek, who voted for the division but prefaced his commitment to do so with praise of Mrs. Smith and her accomplishments since becoming director, also said the commission had not given the department the resources it needed to succeed.

"In spite of all the accomplishments by this department head, she has been set up for failure from the get-go," Mr. Cheek said. "Every time she has come and asked us for something, we found a reason to delay."

Commissioner Don Grantham said he did not remember Ms. Smith asking for anything from the commission it did not grant.

The department has been a center of controversy because of employee turnover, vacant positions and complaints from developers and builders who say they cannot get their plans returned in a timely manner, which costs them money. The complaints grew so loud last year, Mr. Cheek formed a subcommittee, led by Mr. Smith, to study the issue.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.