Commission censures Holland

Augusta commissioners censured Commissioner Calvin Holland on Tuesday for directing a city employee to remove the hard drive from City Administrator Fred Russell's computer, despite Mr. Holland's fiery protest that he had done nothing wrong.

"I followed every code. I did not violate any code. I did not violate any ordinance," Mr. Holland said, suggesting the censure was not an attack on him but on "the people of Augusta."

Commissioner Andy Cheek called for the censure on the grounds that it is illegal for a commissioner to direct the work of a nondirect city employee or seek to remove material, equipment or documents from an employee's office unless authorized by six commission votes. His censure motion passed on a 6-3 vote.

Efforts by Mayor Deke Copenhaver to abort the public discussion by making sure there had been due process and discussing the matter in a closed-door legal meeting failed, as did his repeated efforts to limit Mr. Holland to two-minute speeches.

Mr. Holland accused the mayor, Mr. Russell and Mr. Cheek of going on TV to hang him "out in the cold" in an effort to humiliate him.

He insisted that he followed protocol when seeking the hard drive and questioned whether general counsel Eugene Jessup and City Attorney Stephen Shepard had followed protocol when they removed the hard drive from staff attorney Vanessa Flournoy's computer.

Mr. Holland contended that he was both Mr. Russell's and the mayor's supervisor.

He accused the mayor, Mr. Cheek and Mr. Russell of trying to "come up with" a violation. When the mayor said his two minutes were up, Mr. Holland replied, "Mr. Mayor, you are going to have to have security come in here and take me out because you are not going to stop me from talking. ... We are going to discuss this today, and we're going to discuss it to the end."

"I am calling you out of order now," the mayor said. "I will not put up with this in these chambers. ... I will not put up with outbursts, playing to the crowd. The people you referenced that we represent are 200,000 people. They're not solely the people in this room."

Commissioner Bernard Harper yielded his two minutes to Mr. Holland, who continued by saying he did not get the information he requested because the employee he asked to retrieve the hard drive and Mr. Russell both said no.

"That was totally insubordinate to say no to your supervisor," Mr. Holland said. "If he would ask a department head for some information, and that department head would tell him no, he would be ready to reprimand that department head immediately."

"But he is an employee of the city," the mayor said.

"He is an employee, and I am an elected commissioner," Mr. Holland said. "I am even your supervisor."

"Let me tell you this," Mr. Copenhaver said. "We as elected officials are public servants. We are not ..."

"I am supervisor over Fred Russell," Mr. Holland said. "He reports to me and the other nine commissioners."

Being refused the hard drive was not fair or legal, Mr. Holland insisted, continuing his defense, which prompted the mayor to say, "This is a disservice to the people."

Mr. Hatney, Mr. Harper and Mr. Holland voted against the censure. Commissioner Marion Williams left the room before the vote.

Afterward, Mr. Hatney asked of the censure, "What does that mean?"

Mr. Copenhaver said it was an admonition or reprimand.

"That's all it is," he said.

"It don't mean nothing," Mr. Hatney said.

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

PENSION PLAN MERGER OK'D

Commissioners voted 6-4 to merge two city defined-benefits pension plans with a defined-contributions plan and offer medical insurance coverage to retirees, though they do not know how much the merged plan will cost. Employees with no pension plan will be allowed to join the merged plan.

Commissioners Marion Williams, Johnny Hatney, Bernard Harper, Calvin Holland and Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard voted for the merger. Commissioners Jerry Brigham, Joe Bowles, Jimmy Smith and Don Grantham voted against it.

The board also voted to have an independent audit determine the cost of the merged plan and health insurance costs. Voting against that motion were Mr. Williams and Mr. Harper. Mr. Holland abstained.

Commissioner Andy Cheek read this letter to commissioners before making a motion to censure Commissioner Calvin Holland:

May 1, 2007

To: The Mayor and Commission of Augusta-Richmond County

From: Andy Cheek, Commissioner District 6

Where As:

- All Elected Commissioners and the Mayor are expected to work within City codes and Rules.

- That out of respect for the governing body any commissioner that has a suspicion of a subordinate employee should inform the body of commissioners and mayor or appropriate administrative staff of said suspicions before taking actions unless they involve public safety or life and death.

- That it is illegal for a commissioner to direct the work activities of a non-direct reporting city employee

- That no commissioner should seek to remove material, equipment, or documents from an employee's office when they are on vacation unless authorized by six votes of the commission and follow all appropriate protocol.

- That a Commissioner or Mayor should follow the agreed upon behavior that is the will of the body unless consent is given by the body of commissioners to deviate from the initial agreed upon course of action.

- That no Commissioner should take it upon him or herself to launch an investigation that is disruptive to the government of the city of Augusta without the consent of six members of the commission.

- Given that these criteria were violated by Commissioner Holland, I ask the commission to (censure) said commissioner for these activities as actions non becoming an elected commissioner of the city of Augusta and in violation of the ordinances of this City. Further that he be instructed by this body to undertake no such actions like those listed in the future.

Respectfully Submitted,

F.A. (Andy) Cheek III, Commissioner District 6, ARC