Controversy at Commission meeting

By: Jonathan Martin Email
By: Jonathan Martin Email

March 20, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---There was a large turnout at this afternoon's Augusta Commission meeting. Some commissioners and people in the community are crying foul about the punishment--or lack of punishment--given to Recreation and Parks director Tom Beck.

A group led by the president of Augusta's Ministers Conference blasted city leaders for only giving Beck two weeks' suspension and a year's probation. That decision came from City Administrator Fred Russell after a committee found Beck violated a list of hiring, purchasing, and nepotism policies.

The group claims the decision amounts to racial inequity, because Beck was only suspended, while former engineering director Teresa Smith was fired for comparable violations.

"You allow him to be in closed doors with Mr. Russell, but you brought Mrs. Smith out here in public just before Christmas with her children present and fired her," Rev. Clarence Grier said. "If he was a black man, he would have been gone a long time ago. We in the black community are sick of being treated like this."

"The punishment for Mr. Beck was not racial, and to call it that is creating a stir among the community. And that's unnecessary," said Commissioner Joe Bowles.

Several commissioners on both sides of the racial line were in favor of firing Beck, but they weren't sure they could get the required six votes, so the task of punishing Beck fell to the city administrator.

Lots of folks from south Augusta came to the Commission meeting today as well. They crowded the chamber because they want support from local leaders in opposing a new public housing development that's planned just off Dean's Bridge Road.

The Housing Authority says it's a mixed use property that will combine low and middle income families, but the neighbors say they're worried about their property values and an increase in crime.

Also today, the full Commission decided to reinstate bus service to the Washington Road route, with one bus for the peak hours of the morning and afternoon.

Some commissioners are still concerned about the bus overcrowding, so more routes may be added later.

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