Mayor, mayor pro-tem clash over commission meeting rules

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Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver says it's time for commissioners to follow rules that have been ignored for years.

But the mayor's plans to limit debate in the commission chamber may cause more of it.

At recent meetings there have been some heated exchanges between the mayor and mayor pro-tem over who can speak, when, and for how long.

Both men say the other isn't following the rules.

"That's wrong, the mayor has been doing that every time," says mayor pro-tem Marion Williams.

"I've just got to enforce these rules, I'm the chair in there, and that's just the way it's got to be," says mayor Copenhaver.

During the last two meetings, discussions have turned into debates about debates--mainly how long they can last.

That's why Mayor Copenhaver has written a letter to commissioners, saying he's putting his foot down.

Much of the conflict comes over the two minute speaking rule.

According to city policy, a commissioner can only speak on an issue if they are recognized by the mayor, and for two minutes only.

But Williams says the mayor is breaking the rules by cutting him off, not allowing him to know exactly what he's voting on.

"I asked the mayor specifically last week for a point of clarification, and he should have stopped and told the attorney to answer my question, but he didn't do that," Williams says.

"They apply to everybody, so I am not trying to do anything personally against a commissioner," Copenhaver says.

The mayor pro-tem feels it has become personal. Williams says when he asks tough questions about how money is being spent, he's silenced.

And he says the mayor can't enforce the rules until he learns them.

"If you are going to follow the rules, follow all the rules," he says. "You can't just pick out some you like and don't like."

"I am fully aware of the policies and procedures that govern us," says Mayor Copenhaver.

Commissioner Williams has added this issue to the next commission agenda.

This will be the second time this year city leaders have discussed rules and procedures.

They all voted to follow a code of conduct after their retreat in February.