Originally created 01/18/06

Pro tem vote goes on, stalls on racial lines



Five days after the Augusta Commission's retreat aimed at resolving racial divisions on the board, commissioners reached a stalemate on the election of a mayor pro tem.

Tuesday's 5-4 commission votes fell basically along the same racial lines as the votes two weeks ago, except this time Mayor Pro Tem Marion Williams, who is holding on to that position until a successor is elected, did not abstain to keep Mayor Deke Copenhaver from voting to break a tie.

He didn't need to. Commissioner Andy Cheek was absent from the meeting on doctor's orders. Mr. Cheek is recuperating from burns to his face and neck that he received last week in a flash fire at the lab he oversees at Savannah River Site.

Mr. Cheek had asked commissioners to postpone the election until the Jan. 24 meeting when he could attend. Commission Clerk Lena Bonner read a letter from him that included a special plea to Mr. Williams to honor the request.

But Mr. Williams said he wasn't going to hold up the vote for Mr. Cheek or anybody else.

"So we're going to vote today one way or another," he said. However, he also argued that the city already had a mayor pro tem in him.

"We've got one," he said. "You may not like him, but you've got one."

Commissioner Jerry Brigham disagreed, saying the consolidation law requires the election of a mayor pro tem every year.

"I know that's the law, but I don't think we're going to have six votes," he said.

Commissioner Don Grantham's motion to honor Mr. Cheek's request failed 4-5 with he, Mr. Brigham and Commissioners Joe Bowles and Jimmy Smith voting for it, and Mr. Williams and Commissioners Betty Beard, Richard Colclough, Johnny Hatney and Calvin Holland voting against it.

Mr. Colclough's motion to appoint Mr. Williams to the post failed 5-4 with the same five black commissioners voting in favor of the motion and the same four white commissioners voting against it.

The votes on Mr. Grantham's motion to appoint Mr. Cheek also failed 4-5, with commissioners who voted for Mr. Williams voting against Mr. Cheek, and those who voted against Mr. Williams voting for Mr. Cheek.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham's nomination of Mr. Grantham also failed 4-5, after which Mr. Grantham, in a display of levity, nominated Mickey Mouse.

Then after lengthy discussion and much confusion during which Mr. Hatney accused City Attorney Stephen Shepard of giving commissioners bad advice and lying, the mayor and Mr. Williams withdrew to confer on committee appointments, which commissioners later approved unanimously.

Mr. Hatney later apologized to Mr. Shepard - after a fashion.

"I apologize if I misunderstood you," he said.

Commissioners also rejected Mr. Grantham's motion to rescind an earlier vote to hire Mr. Shepard on a month-to-month basis and hire him for the rest of the year. Instead, they voted to set up an in-house legal department as soon as possible.

They also voted to move quickly to fill an equal opportunity officer position that has been funded but never filled.

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

Committees Approved

The Augusta Commission unanimously approved the committee appointments proposed by Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Mayor Pro Tem Marion Williams. The committees are usually appointed by the mayor pro tem, and that position has been mired in controversy.

Administrative Services Committee

Calvin Holland, chairman

Richard Colclough, vice chairman

Andy Cheek J.R. Hatney

Public Safety/IT Committee

Andy Cheek, chairman

Jerry Brigham, vice chairman

Betty Beard Joe Bowles

Engineering Services Committee

Jimmy Smith, chairman

J.R. Hatney, vice chairman

Richard Colclough

Marion Williams

Public Services Committee

Don Grantham, chairman

Andy Cheek, vice chairman

Calvin Holland Joe Bowles

Finance Committee

Betty Beard, chairman

Joe Bowles, vice chairman

Jerry Brigham

Don Grantham


In Other Business


On Tuesday, Augusta commissioners voted to:

- Keep fired Engineering Department Director Teresa Smith on administrative leave with pay to allow her to have her attorney review the city's proposed severance package. Ms. Smith was fired at the commission's last meeting of 2005. On Tuesday, Dr. Charles Smith, the president of the Augusta branch of the NAACP, appealed to commissioners to rescind the vote to fire Mrs. Smith. He said his organization had investigated the firing and found it to be unwarranted.

- Denied a request for a zoning change from the Forum Development Group that would have allowed a shopping center to be built on 44.8 acres off Walton Way Extension near Interstate 20. Objectors from the Fox Hall and other subdivisions packed the meeting to show their displeasure over the development.