High court backs city's voting law

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ATLANTA - The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the way the Augusta Commission votes, prompting the community activist who filed the lawsuit to pressure state lawmakers for changes.

But the lawmakers who represent Augusta and Richmond County might not budge on changes to the law that consolidated the two governments more than a decade ago.

Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, said he has no plan to bring up consolidation changes this legislative session.

"We've dealt with that long enough," said Mr. Murphy, the chairman of the county's legislative delegation. "Our local government's beginning to work together, and I don't think we need to open that old wound."

On Monday, the state's highest court ruled unanimously that commissioners can abstain from voting and the mayor cannot count abstentions as either "yes" or "no" votes.

The justices based their decision on Augusta-Richmond County's consolidation law, enacted by the Legislature in 1995, which specifically states that the commission passes an item only when six members vote for it.

Civic activist Woody Merry, who sued last year, argued that a simple majority of the commissioners who are present should be enough to approve an item.

He filed the suit last year after Commissioner Marion Williams, who was elected mayor pro tempore in 2005, repeatedly abstained no matter who was nominated and was retained in the position when no one else was elected to replace him.

By abstaining, he prevented the mayor from casting a tie-breaking vote, a maneuver commissioners have used several times in the past.

Mr. Williams, who was replaced as mayor pro tempore last month by Commissioner Betty Beard, said the Supreme Court's ruling upheld what he has been saying all along.

"I had a perfect right to abstain," he said. "It was common sense."

Mr. Williams also questioned the legal cost of the suit and appeal.

"How much money did it cost the taxpayers to go through this charade?" he asked. "Those folks ought to be made to pay every dime it cost this city."

In deciding whether abstentions should count as "no" votes, the justices pointed out that an initial draft of the commission's rules allowed that but that the requirement was dropped from the final version.

"Thus, the Commission knowingly and purposely rejected a rule requiring that abstentions be counted as negative votes," Justice George Carley wrote in the court's opinion.

Mr. Merry said the Legislature now needs to fix what he and Augusta attorney Joe Neal Jr. say was done incorrectly in the beginning.

"We have a plan in place to combat this," Mr. Merry said.

Their first step is to lobby area legislators to change the consolidation act to allow for the simple majority, to give the mayor veto powers and to make abstentions count as a vote.

"They (the Supreme Court justices) basically said that the consolidation act and the rules of procedure allow this insanity," Mr. Neal said.

"And it's really up to the politicians to change it. If they don't change it now, every one of them needs to be impeached or recalled because it's a ridiculous situation."

Augusta Chronicle reporters Tom Corwin and Sylvia Cooper contributed to this story.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (678) 977-4601 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.

ON THE WEB


To read the full Georgia Supreme Court opinion, go to: www.gasupreme.us/pdf/s06a1690.pdf

Comments (7) Add comment
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juantez
233
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juantez 02/06/07 - 02:46 am
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Woody Merry, should go back
Unpublished

Woody Merry, should go back and put his head in a hole until the next time he wants to waste tax payer money.

Ridgeland Dairy
0
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Ridgeland Dairy 02/06/07 - 04:57 am
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Thank You Woody Merry, For

Thank You Woody Merry, For being courageous enough to speak out publicly for what needs to be said and done.

intheknow
16
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intheknow 02/06/07 - 08:31 am
0
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Brother. Talk about the

Brother. Talk about the hypocrites on this site. Had it been Marion Williams or anyone else they did not like, they would agree with you juantez.

BUTTACHE
0
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BUTTACHE 02/06/07 - 09:39 am
0
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We need more Woody Merry's!

We need more Woody Merry's! At least someone is doing something. OUT WITH MARION!!

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 02/06/07 - 09:40 am
0
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The politicians need to

The politicians need to change the consolidation charter to a simple majority wins. When Jack Connell and Charles Walker drew it up they knew that it would stalemate the city because they put an equal amount of each race on the commission. Charles Walker was trying to protect his political clout and Jack Connell was trying to get the two governments consolidated. What a mess they made. It now needs to be corrected so the city can move forward. Give the mayor the tie breaking vote and do away with abstentions.

stillamazed
1488
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stillamazed 02/06/07 - 09:41 am
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If commisioners don't cast

If commisioners don't cast votes what are we paying them for???? the problem with Augusta's commision is race and everyone knows it... the sooner they get over it the sooner Augusta will move forward. It is utterly ridiculous that in the year 2007 the local commision is still blinded by race.... In the mean time Augusta is going down hill while all the areas around it are thriving. If they all cared so much about Augusta they would get over their race issues and think about the betterment of Augusta.

crymeariver
0
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crymeariver 02/06/07 - 11:39 am
0
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since when does MORON

since when does MORON Williams care about what the city had to pay for? What a joke. Augusta sux and always will!!!

intheknow
16
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intheknow 02/06/07 - 12:39 pm
0
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Why don't you ask Williams

Why don't you ask Williams for a date? Half of your rants are about him. He is on his way out so it seems like you are the only person that gives a D about him.

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