Former Paine faculty member challenges six black commissioners

Paine's former historian challenges Augusta's commissioners to help Paine live or watch it die.
Paine's former historian challenges Augusta's commissioners to help Paine live or watch it die.

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A well-known former Paine College faculty member said he knows what will help the institution survive financially and it will take six black men to get the job done.  Mallory Millender no longer works for the school, but he publicly stated this week that there is a certain group of commissioners with the power to see Paine live or watch it die.

“They are custodians for our money and we need our money,” Millender said to NewsChannel 6.

He’s challenging the Augusta Commissioners in the wake of the fight to keep the school’s doors from closing.

He said in response to previously reported stories on support by some commissioners that, “They’re all saying that they support Paine.  They want other people to support Paine while they have the purse strings.  Other people can give a thousand dollars, ten thousand dollars, we need millions of dollars.”

Millender, who served as the historically black college’s historian until the December 2015 layoffs, said it takes six votes to do anything in city government and he knows which commissioners can save Paine.

“I can understand some white commissioners who may not understand the importance of a historically black college,” he said.  “I don’t start to understand black commissioners who don’t.  And I think the voters ought to hold them responsible for not doing that.”

Some commissioner’s immediately fired back that it’s not all about color.

Distric 5 Commissioner Bill Lockett said he looks at the issue from a different perspective.

“I’m not going to say six black commissioners.  We are 10 commissioners.”

District 4 Commissioner Sammie Sias referred to his peers as one unit too.

“I don’t see the commission as separated into black, white, yellow, green or brown.  I see the commission as the collective governing body for this city.”

One-by-one NewsChannel 6 tracked down those six black commissioners to see if they have considered putting Paine’s financial woes to a vote.

“I don’t have anything against Paine.  I made my own personal donation to Paine.  So, I really support Paine. Any decision that involves city taxpayer’s funds would have to be a collective decision and not by a group of folks,” Commissioner Sias said.

Commissioner Lockett said helping Paine would not set any type of precedence.

“With the dental school we did it, with Imperial Theatre we did it and we’ve given companies tax breaks and all to keep them here,” he said.

Paine President Samuel Sullivan pointed to the economic impact Paine has had on the city during his first save the school pitch to the Commission in December 2015.  NewsChannel 6 obtained the transcript from the December 15 commission meeting. At that meeting, Sullivan used phrases such as “we need the city and said, “There’s absolutely no way that we can allow a roughly 25 million dollar enterprise to walk away from the city.”   He also said he wanted to Commission to authorize Paine to work with the City Administrator in order to “provide the kind of resources…fully worthy of reaffirmation.”  He talked about it again at the community meeting Monday.

“Treat us similarly. The economic impact of our institution on this city is tremendous,” Sullivan said referencing that the city does give businesses tax breaks when it realizes it will help economically..

District 2 Commissioner Dennis Williams is too on Paine’s side and he said as long as it’s not illegal, he will vote to help.

“Yes it is a business in our community, yes our community will suffer very much if we lose Paine.  Not only will we lose it as an educational institution, but we will also lose it as an economic base in our community,” he said.

Commissioners Bill Fennoy and Marion Williams also addressed the challenge.  Fennoy said Paine received SPLOST dollars so commissioners should be able to give at this time . He added that all commissioners must agree to help the school.  Marion Williams told us the commission can’t help a private institution.  He suggested that perhaps the Richmond County Board of Education might be able to partner with Paine to help since it is also in the education business.  Ben Hasan declined to comment.

NewsChannel 6 reached out to the city’s law department to see if any ordinance exist that would prevent commissioners from giving to Paine, a private institution.  The office did not respond at the publication of this story.  However, we did discover that the Georgia Constitution allows for a government entity to give if it is purely charitable.

The other constitutional provision prohibiting gratuities by municipal corporations states as follows: “The General Assembly shall not authorize any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of this state, through taxation, contribution, or otherwise, to appropriate money for or to lend its credit to any person or to any nonpublic corporation or association except for purely charitable purposes.”51 Although this provision contains an exception allowing the expenditure of money for purely charitable purposes, the authority to make charitable contributions must be specifically authorized by the General Assembly in a general statute or in local legislation. The authority to spend for general welfare purposes is not enough.52 All charitable donations must be purely charitable.53

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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