Three men are said to be running the show in Augusta municipal government today by sheer force of will, and with several other votes tucked in their pockets: Commissioners Marion Williams, Ben Hasan and Sammie Sias.
Those three are reported to be “men on a mission.”
Just what that mission happens to be remains a damn good question.
Williams and Hasan told the world last week that Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson was apparently lying to them about the way he and others under his purview received hefty pay raises, and for those lies his job should be forfeit. He was accused of sneaking the raises in without the knowledge of City Administrator Janice Jackson or her deputy Ted Rhinehart. It is a charge Johnson adamantly denies.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the guillotine party for the department head. Two days prior to the meeting for his scheduled political lynching, Mark Johnson distributed a package of materials to the commissioners that proved unequivocally that his version of the story of the raises was truthful, and that Jackson and Rhinehart’s version of events was a barrel of dog squeeze.
In other words, the packet of emails and other documentation proved that Johnson didn’t lie, but it appears Jackson and Rhinehart sure did.
So what happened when all this wonderful information was shared with the public? Exactly what Williams, Sias and Hasan wanted to happen: A vote was called to fire Mark Johnson for lying.
Hats off to Commissioner Bill Fennoy, who may have just pulled his most daring stunt as a public official since he put a physical beat down on Woody Merry outside a coliseum authority meeting some years ago. Commissioner Fennoy stood firm and abstained on the termination vote, ruining the day of Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod, and drawing out the issue for further public scrutiny and discussion.
Throw the man a parade!
Commissioners Dennis Williams and Bill Lockett inexplicably backed the nonsense and provided votes 4 and 5, but Fennoy’s abstention, and the no votes of Grady Smith, Sean Frantom, Mary Davis and Wayne Guilfoyle headed off what may have been the most ill-advised personnel move since Abe Lincoln gave his bodyguard the night off.
So what now?
The materials gathered by Johnson will be widely inspected and disseminated to the public, and we will soon see what the world thinks of the short-sighted and indefensible witch hunt perpetrated against the man by five city commissioners.
No matter what those five do in the effort to shift blame for those raises going through without proper public disclosure, they will never be able to get the stink off Jackson and Rhinehart that their apparent “documented deception” has brought them. The pair are damaged goods, plain and simple, and the morale of many of the city’s top employees is said to be lower than the score of any lie detector test Jackson or Rhinehart may be asked to take in the wake of the allegations.
By the way, all was not lost in the way of common sense and fiscal responsibility at Tuesday’s meeting. When it was announced that Fire Chief Chris James had seen his job offer in York County, N.C., withdrawn, the commission voted to tear up his resignation letter and restore his status as local fire boss. In the wake of stinging allegations by the local firefighters union that James played games with a multi-million dollar fire truck bid and other misdeeds, it might seem a bit unwise to welcome him back.
Au contraire. Now that he has been reinstated, his massive severance package has been taken off the table.
The allegations made by the union can now be fully investigated and, if found to be true, James could be fired without any severance benefits and perhaps even indicted, if the evidence warrants.
Neither of these cluster mucks are over by a longshot. And you thought Augusta politics was taking a turn for the sane?
The commissioners do hate liars in Augusta city government. Just not “their” liars.