Tuesday sees first Commission meeting since mayor's abstention power brought to light

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Tuesday was the first time the Augusta Commission met as a group since a judge gave the mayor new powers to rule on vote abstentions.

News 12's Jonathan Martin talked to Mayor Copenhaver this afternoon. Copenhaver said he was really looking forward to today's meeting because there were no controversial items on the agenda.

But he also said he knew all eyes would be on him...waiting to see if he would use his controversial new power.

This is the first Commission meeting since Judge Carlisle Overstreet issued his ruling that states commissioners can abstain from voting for any reason...but when they do, the mayor has the authority to decide if their abstention counts as a yes or no vote.

During today's meeting, one commissioner did abstain.

J.R. Hatney abstained on a liquor license approval, using the fact that he is a minister as a reason.

But the mayor did not use his power to count Hatney's vote as a yes or no, because he says it would not have affected the outcome of the vote.

The vote that may cause the mayor to use that authority is the one for mayor pro tem; however, that was not on today's agenda.

The mayor called the commission and asked them not to place it on the agenda. Here's his reason why:

"I think we really needed a cooling off period, and honestly the more controversy we have in the commission chamber, the more we do damage to our economic development efforts and to this entire community. We need to really get past these issues and come together as a community and tamp down the controversy as best we can."

We asked the mayor what he thinks the reaction will be when he does have to use his new controversial power.

"I've stated all along, that if the commission will work together, then--we're doing a better job of that--this won't be an issue. I still have no idea what the reaction will be if I made a ruling, but we will see when it gets here," Copenhaver said.

Marion Williams says he knows what his reaction will be.

He says he will take legal action to challenge the mayor's ruling, because he says it's unconstitutional.

Also Tuesday, the city gave the final OK to the panhandling ordinance, which goes into effect immediately, and bans panhandlers downtown and in the Laney Walker area.

Also on the agenda was a reprimand for City Administrator Fred Russell.

Commissioners decided to put a letter of reprimand in his file concerning raises given to elected officials.