augusta free press news

Three, two

Fear and Loathing in Waynesboro column by Chris Graham

A question has arisen regarding the makeup of the Finance Committee appointed by Mayor Tim Williams last week at city council’s reorganization meeting.

The question – doesn’t the committee appointed by Williams, consisting of Williams and Vice Mayor Frank Lucente, need to have one more member from the council to comply with the city code?

The answer – a qualified yes. I say qualified because the rules governing the makeup of the committee are delineated in the city code, not in the city charter, meaning we could still end up with the two-man committee that Williams envisioned.

The committee, according to Section 2-36 of the city code, is to consist of three members who are appointed to serve out two-year terms. Section 2-36 does not spell out other specifics about the mission of the committee or meeting frequency. My scan of the city charter came up with nothing in terms of specifics regarding the Finance Committee, with only a general provision in Section 3-1(b) granting city council the power to “appoint all such boards and commissions as may be deemed proper or required and prescribe the powers and duties thereof” serving as any kind of guide.

This is important, because it would appear that since the provision governing the seating of the Finance Committee is contained not in the charter, which is an act of the Virginia General Assembly that can only be amended by the state legislature, but in the code, which is an act of the city council that can be amended as deemed appropriate by the city council, it would only take a majority of the city council to change the requirement for the committee to consist of three members.

Another question then arises – why would city council want to amend the provision requiring three members?

I’m reading tea leaves here, but one possible answer comes to mind right away. Meetings involving three members of city council have to be open to the public under provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act unless they meet one of the specific exceptions provided for under state law. My guess is that, then, Finance Committee meetings held to discuss city budget and finance issues would have to be open to the public, including members of the press. I don’t know that Williams and Lucente necessarily want that kind of scrutiny for whatever it is that they have planned for the committee, though I could be wrong on that, most certainly.

See for yourself how the debate evolves on this at tonight’s city-council work session. An item involving the Finance Committee is on the agenda for the work session that begins at 6 p.m. Comcast Cable subscribers can watch the proceedings live on cable channel 14.