Originally created 01/03/06

Freshly elected members to take oath, do business



Swearing-in ceremonies for four commissioners is set to begin at 1:30 p.m. today before the Augusta Commission gets down to business at its first meeting of the year.

Commissioners-elect Calvin Holland, Jerry Brigham and Joe Bowles and returning District 1 Commissioner Betty Beard are expected to take the oath of office.

District 9 Commissioner Johnny Hatney was sworn in in December.

Topping the list of items facing the board is the election of a mayor pro tem. Current Mayor Pro Tem Marion Williams and Commissioner Andy Cheek are seeking the job. Mr. Cheek, who will be nominated by Commissioner Don Grantham, said he expects the election to end in deadlock.

"I hope not," he said. "If it does, this is going to further prove we need to change the rules."

Any commission action requires six votes to pass or fail. The mayor can vote to break a 5-5 tie, but that seldom happens because one or more commissioners often will abstain or leave the room to prevent a tie vote.

Mr. Cheek said changing the rules to make absences or abstentions count as a no vote would be a step forward.

"It would get us out of these deadlocks with people not voting," he said.

Mr. Cheek's motions to ask the local legislative delegation to change the rules to give the mayor a veto and have motions passed by a majority of members present failed at the board's last meeting in December.

If the commission is unable to elect a mayor pro tem today, Mr. Williams will continue as mayor pro tem. The board also traditionally hires a city attorney at the first meeting of the year. Although Mr. Williams and Ms. Beard want to do away with an outside attorney in favor of an in-house law department, the commission is expected to hire Stephen Shepard because no preparations have been made for creating a total in-house law department.

Mr. Shepard said he is going to the meeting with the idea he will be reappointed.

The commission also will be asked to approve a severance package for Teresa Smith, the former public works and engineering department director. She was fired and placed on administrative leave at the Dec. 19 meeting.

City Administrator Fred Russell said Ms. Smith will be offered one month's pay with benefits for every year she has been employed by the city, up to six years. She also will be paid for accrued vacation time. In return, she must sign an agreement saying she will not sue the city.

"If she doesn't agree to that, my recommendation is to pay out her vacation leave," Mr. Russell said. "Ms. Smith has about 190 hours of accrued vacation."

Also on the agenda is an item to change the city's noise ordinance to allow a drag-racing track in Augusta. Mr. Williams, an advocate of building a track off Mike Padgett Highway in south Augusta, said it's time for the commission to vote it up or down.

"If they don't want to get something in here to bring in money, vote it down," he said.

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