Commissioner ensnarled in possible ethics violation declares 'we need jobs just like everybody else'

Commissioner Grady Smith (WRDW-TV)
Commissioner Grady Smith (WRDW-TV)
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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Oct. 8, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Did an Augusta commissioner violate the city's code ethics? We have exclusive new documents that seem to show commissioner Grady Smith trying to mix personal and city business.

"I don't like anybody questioning my integrity and most people know me," said Grady Smith.

Commissioner Smith is on defense after making this more than $24,000 bid for a contract with the city that pays his salary. You can read a copy of the bid here (PDF).

"If there is a question ... I backed out," Smith said. "Now is that ethical?"

Smith was the lowest of five bidders on a jail construction project. He is now saying to scratch the bid.

"I'd rather just wipe the slate clean and make sure everything is done above board," he said.

Why the turn around?

"The ethics rules are such that he can't do that," said City Administrator Fred Russell about the possible code of ethics violation.

"Generally speaking, they prohibit a sitting commissioner from bidding directly on a city project," said City Attorney Andrew Mackenzie.

"It shall be unethical for any Augusta-Richmond County employee or public official to transact any business directly or indirectly in a procurement contract," reads the code of ethics. You can read that document here (PDF).

"I think it should be changed," Smith said. "I think maybe there was a time, depending on who all was involved, when they needed rules like this."

The city administrator could have signed off on the bid without it ever coming before taxpayers because it was under $25,000.

"That's not one I was going to approve without some further discussion," Russell said. "I'm just working under the rules that are established now."

Smith's bid was more than $13,000 lower than other bidders. We asked the city attorney if Smith was free of any wrongdoing.

"Have you ever known a lawyer to agree that he has not done anything wrong to anybody?" Mackenzie replied.

You be the judge. Smith says he is just trying to make a living.

"Christmas is coming and we need jobs just like everybody else," he said.

The attorney says there is no evidence Smith intentionally mislead the public. An official ethics violation can carry a serious penalty ranging from jail time to being removed from the commission.

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