General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie held his own this week after being faced with an onslaught of criticism from Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams.
During this week’s commission meeting on Jan. 21, Williams told his colleagues that they need to review the role of the Augusta law department and consider a “no confidence” vote against MacKenzie.
“I think we need to take a very close look at our law department,” Williams said. “I have lost my, um… I’m trying to choose my words carefully, my belief in the law department as to what they are doing and how they are doing it.”
There have been several occasions where Williams said he has received conflicting rulings from MacKenzie or simply no response at all.
“I think we need to make sure that we are not just sitting here paying for a service we are not getting,” Williams told his colleagues. “I just feel like the law department is not doing the job that we are paying them to be doing and we are not getting the service that we are supposed to be getting. We are not getting the representation that we are paying for. I think it is a disservice to this community, Mr. Mayor.”
As soon as Williams finished his statements about the law department, his colleagues quickly voted to simply receive Williams’ comments as information.
But Williams wasn’t done yet.
He then asked the commission to consider a “no confidence” vote against the general counsel.
“I have gotten misleading information,” Williams said, explaining that he feels like MacKenzie does not recognize that he works directly for the commission. “He works for this body. He may not like it, but he works for this body.”
Williams went on to say that he does not feel that the commission has received adequate legal advice on significant matters such as the construction of the city’s parking deck on Reynolds Street, which was built on private property that held a lien on it.
He also felt that MacKenzie did not properly advise the commission regarding the proposed site for the transit operation and maintenance facility on Highway 56, which has now been found to be contaminated.
“We are his supervisors,” Williams said. “I cannot sit here and let this to continue.”
Finally, it was MacKenize’s turn to address the commission. He was brief and direct about the accusations against him.
“I will say I disagree with much of the information that was previously stated,” MacKenzie said, adding that he was not even involved in some of the specific projects that Williams had named. “Many of those began before I was even employed in this particular job.”
When Williams called for the commission to weigh in on the “no confidence” vote against MacKenzie, his colleagues again decided to simply receive Williams’ request as information.
Before the end of the meeting, Williams asked Interim City Administrator Tameka Allen for an update on a request he made a couple of weeks ago for a copy of former City Administrator Fred Russell’s computer hard drive.
Back in 2007, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office looked into accusations that Williams had taken a copy of Russell’s computer hard drive, but after reviewing the allegations, the sheriff’s office determined that Russell’s computer had not been compromised.
Now that Russell is gone, Williams has requested to review the information on that hard drive.
But Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver asked MacKenzie whether such a broad request made by one commissioner required approval by the majority of the commission.
“I don’t think the commission has set a specific policy relating to the allocation of resources,” MacKenzie said.
However, MacKenzie said he, along with Interim City Administrator Tameka Allen, would require some guidance regarding the amount of resources allocated to this project.
“It is about: How much resources does it take to comply with a request of this nature?” MacKenzie said, adding that attorneys in his department will have to review all of the documents on the hard drive to weed out those files which may contain confidential information that can’t be disclosed.
“That is where there is a substantial cost that could be involved when you have thousands of documents and thousands of pages of documents,” MacKenzie said, adding that the county would have to print out the documents and get an attorney to go through the information, page by page, redacting any confidential information.
Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason said he didn’t feel that the commission could deny another commissioner’s request for information.
“Everybody up here has asked for something and have received it,” Mason said. “And it took no motion from this body to have it done… What I don’t want us to do is pick and choose depending on the message or the messenger on how we are going to do business up here on this commission.”
Williams said MacKenzie’s response to his request is exactly why he is having such a problem with the law department.
“This is the type of ruling that I’m talking about,” Williams said of MacKenzie. “It’s about finding a way not to do something.”
Augusta Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle asked if Williams could simply be allowed access to Russell’s former office, so he could spend some time going through the computer if he wished.
“The files he is talking about, he may not be able to access them,” Allen said, adding Russell’s e-mails are saved on the county’s server. “But, as far as getting the hard drive, that is a 10-minute thing for us to provide the copy of a hard drive because all we are doing is copying exactly what is on that physical hard drive.”
Augusta Commissioner Bill Fennoy asked Allen and MacKenzie exactly how much it would cost for the county to pull the information and have the law department go through and redact whatever is necessary.
“The lowest hourly salary of an employee that can pull that actual data would be around $19 or so an hour,” Allen said.
But MacKenzie could not provide a solid number.
“It is based on volume,” MacKenzie said, adding if the stack is only half an inch it would be no problem, but he has been told it is a massive amount of information.
“It could take weeks. It could be a project so large that we would have to hire additional staff,” he said. “And I’m okay doing it. I’m not saying that we are not willing to do that. It is a question of resources. And because the request is so broad, it is going to cost a lot of resources to be able to even figure out the scope of it.”
Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith simply asked Williams if he could be more specific about the information he was looking to receive.
“Mr. Russell worked for us for 10 years,” Smith said. “That is 10 years worth of e-mails and 10 years worth of personnel files sent to him.”
Finally, Williams said he was going to narrow his scope in order to make it easier on the county.
“I’m going to cut five years off of my request,” Williams said. “Just give me the last five years. Is that what you want? Everybody is making it seem so hard.”
Allen thanked Williams for narrowing his request.
“That helps,” Allen said, adding that she would keep Williams updated on the progress of his request.