Solicitor: Merry's outburst might violate order

The Solicitor’s office plans to interview commissioners and the mayor about Woody Merry’s outburst at a budget hearing Thursday, part of an effort to determine if the activist violated an agreement to behave himself at public meetings.

Solicitor Harold V. Jones II said he checked the dead-docket order in the 2008 simple battery case of Mr. Merry on Friday, and it said he could not act in a disorderly manner while attending any public meetings in Augusta. The Nov. 17 order is effective for one year, after which the case will be dismissed if Mr. Merry has abided by the terms.

Now, Mr. Jones said, he’s looking into whether the case should be revived.

Told of the development, Mr. Merry said “they’re going to get me one way or another, and I’m onto them.

“They don’t like me telling the truth,” he said. “They’re going to try to shut me up again.”

At a hearing on the budget Thursday – 12 days before the order expires – Mr. Merry was the only person who signed up to address the commission, and he was given four minutes to speak.

When his time was up, he refused to stop talking, started shouting, and shouted even after Mayor Deke Copenhaver had adjourned the meeting. Mr. Merry was initially giving ideas on ways to cut the budget, but by the end was yelling about the wastewater treatment plant operator not making the short list in the bidding for the job next year.

Mr. Merry said he had asked for extra time to speak, since City Administrator Fred Russell had started his presentation late and took up most of the hour-long meeting. He said he couldn’t talk about a subject so complicated as the budget in just four minutes.

If Mr. Jones brings the simple battery case back up, he said he won’t take it lying down.

“If that happens, then I have no choice but to go to the ACLU and ask about my freedom of speech,” Mr. Merry said. “I don’t think the taxpayers are going to sit still for it.”

In May 2008, Mr. Merry got into a brawl with former Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority member Bill Fennoy, who’s now running for the District 1 commission seat, before a meeting. Mr. Merry was upset that Mr. Fennoy had sat out of an earlier meeting, preventing a quorum and the possible rehiring of the former facilities director.

Both men were charged with simple battery in the shoving and kicking match, but interviews of witnesses indicated Mr. Merry had started it.

The charge against Mr. Fennoy was dismissed, and the charge against Mr. Woody was set aside on the condition that he write a letter of apology and behave at future meetings. Mr. Merry has since said that he was injured in the fight, and that he signed the dead-docket agreement under pressure from Mr. Jones.

Mr. Jones said he will talk to Mr. Fennoy and find out if he still wants to pursue the charge. He said he will also review the 2008 case and evaluate whether it can be proven without a reasonable doubt.

“As you will recall,” Mr. Jones said in an e-mail, “there was some conflict in the testimony concerning the incident and that contributed to placing the case on the dead docket.”

An investigator will interview city commissioners and the mayor, Mr. Jones said, and his office will obtain a tape of Thursday’s meeting to see if Mr. Merry’s conduct could be considered disorderly conduct.

Mr. Russell said Friday that the solicitor’s office has asked him to make a statement. A former law enforcement investigator himself, Mr. Russell declined to say whether Mr. Merry’s behavior rose to the level of disorderly.

As for only giving Mr. Merry four minutes, Mr. Russell said he didn’t realize it was a public meeting until he saw the notice, and that since he had a lengthy presentation to give, he felt that was the best time limit to set. Residents are given five minutes to speak when they address the commission at regular meetings.

Mr. Russell said members of the public will have another chance to speak at a budget workshop Monday at 1:30 p.m. in commission chambers. There will also be a third meeting, yet to be scheduled, he said.

Input can also be given through a budget survey on the city’s Web site at www.augustaga.gov.

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