News Channel 6 Investigates: Augusta Commissioner Expenses
By Mike Miller, WJBF Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter - email
Augusta, GA -
Augusta Commissioners work part time, but that doesn't mean the work comes cheap. You might be surprised to find out that last year, commissioners had more than $55,000 in expenses - bills you paid for with your taxes.
So we decided to take a look at what you're paying for - dollar for dollar. We went through the expenses one by one and put the numbers into an excel spreadsheet. After breaking down the information, we found out that Commissioner Marion Williams spent the most last year with a total of about $6,400.
"Hey, it's no different than any other commissioner, so check your reports, your reports are not accurate," Williams said.
Records show that Williams spent about $2,300 on gas last year.
"My gas. I have half of this county that I represent. I represent a super district. I was voted in by half of this community. My gas can't be anymore, in fact, it's probably even with some of the other commissioners. But that's a given that the commission gets and I use that," Williams said.
Only four commissioners use gas cards. Commissioner Donnie Smith says he doesn't use one because his district is so small.
"I can be at any place inside my district in about 3 and a half minutes. I live centrally located right in the middle of the district so it's easy for me. If I have to see a constituent I do it on the way to the grocery store or on the way home," Smith said.
Training is another big expense for commissioners. Last year, city leaders went to conferences in Savannah, Seattle and Fort Worth. Overall, last year's trips cost more than $43,000. Commissioner Bill Lockett traveled the most, spending more than $4,900 on gas, hotels and registration fees. But Lockett says when he goes out of town, he goes for training, not for vacation.
"Come June of this year, I will be the first commissioner that we've had that will earn a certificate of distinction from the Georgia Municipal Association because of the courses I've taken and because what I've brought back to this community," Lockett said.
Lockett says many of the ideas he has pitched during commission meetings have come from the conferences he attended. And Commissioner Donnie Smith says a lot of the training he has been to has been required by state law.
"I'm comfortable with the little amount of money that I spent. I think the return on the constituent's investment is pretty good," Smith said.
Smith says there are new laws that will require commissioners to have more training this year. And even though the conferences cost thousands of dollars, commissioners say the courses help, especially for those who don't have experience in government.
"First of all, you're dealing with a part time position but you're handling $750 million in taxpayers money," Commissioner Alvin Mason said.
"And if you never get away from home, you tend to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. And I think that's what they call insanity," Lockett said.
Commissioner Joe Jackson spent the least amount of money last year with a total of about $1,100.
Commissioners Jackson, Guilfoyle and Grady Smith are the only ones who don't use city cell phones.