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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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