Over the past several months, much has been made about our local government's inability to function properly. Since taking office in early December, I have been struck by the fact that there is a great deal of misinformation circulating throughout the community with regard to certain issues facing city government.
AS MAYOR OF Augusta, I feel it is paramount that local citizens are well-informed on local issues. With this in mind, I have set about the task of educating the public on these issues as best I can to allow for any local discourse on local government issues to take place from an informed perspective. It is my honest belief that just such a discourse based on fact, as opposed to hearsay or innuendo, will lead to the development of a much stronger and much more unified community.
In 2006, the issue of the mayor pro tempore position, as required by local law, has been addressed two times by the current Augusta Commission. In both instances, no nominee was able to garner the six votes necessary to be elected to hold the position for 2006. In a legal opinion put forth by City Attorney Steve Shepard, the commission's failure to elect a new mayor pro tem resulted in the current mayor pro tem, Commissioner Marion Williams, remaining in the position as a holdover until a successor can be elected.
On Jan. 9, Mr. Shepard requested a review of his ruling by the state attorney general, and was informed Wednesday that the attorney general's office concurred with his analysis. Based upon Mr. Shepard's ruling, in the Jan. 17 meeting of the Augusta Commission, Commissioner Williams and I jointly put together the current standing committees for 2006, which were subsequently unanimously approved by the commission.
The establishment of these committees has allowed for the business of the city to move forward expeditiously, as opposed to forcing the commission to serve as a "committee of the whole" in which each agenda item would be presented to the entire commission for review and approval rather than going through the committee review process prior to meetings. Thus, in reality, the appointment of standing committees was a much more pertinent issue with regard to conducting city business than the election of a mayor pro tem.
CONCERNING THE mayor pro tem position itself, I would like to clarify that the position essentially carries no more power than that retained by any sitting commissioner. The position does come with a small increase in pay, a preferred parking spot, an office that is seldom used and the authority to preside over meetings in the absence of the chair. When one considers these facts, it becomes all the more apparent that the current battle over the position is, to a large degree, much ado about nothing, and only serves to polarize certain portions of our citizenry while casting our entire community in a bad light.
With regard to the current standing committees, it has been said that these committees have been "stacked" to favor either the "black side" or the "white side" of the commission. Let me first state that I do not view the commission as having sides, but rather see our commissioners as equal parts of a team that must work together in order for our community to fulfill its vast and often untapped potential.
Second, all of the standing committees, though perhaps not "racially balanced" as in years past, are perfectly capable of effectively addressing the business that comes before them. I might also add that all commissioners and the mayor are allowed to sit in on any committee meeting they wish, albeit without a vote, allowing for oversight of the committee process by the entire commission. As these are public meetings, citizens are also allowed to monitor the process.
AUGUSTA NOW stands at a turning point in its history. Today, our local government, as well as our local citizenry, has a choice to make: Do we continue to squabble over minor issues that only serve to fan the flames of divisiveness while ensuring a future lack of opportunity for local residents - or do we focus on setting aside petty differences and working together to ensure that our city fulfills its potential to become the finest mid-size city in the nation?
To me, the choice couldn't be more clear.
(Editor's note: The writer is Augusta's third mayor under the new consolidated government.)