Big or small, words come back to haunt you

My first newspaper editor was Archie McKay at the Valdosta Daily Times . Anytime he wanted to make a point, he'd call you back to his desk, where he'd be slouching in his chair reading copy. He'd look up over the rims of his glasses with his buggy-looking, bloodshot eyes and say, "What is this conflagration you're talking about in Hahira?" making conflagration sound like he was gargling it like whiskey.


"A fire," I'd say.

"Well, then say a fire not conflagration . Who the hell knows what a conflagration is?"

In fact, he hated almost all words with more than two syllables. As far as he was concerned, there was no such thing as a car accident. It was a wreck. And conversations didn't exist. There was just talk.

Words such as circumlocution, perambulate and triskaidekaphobia would send him to the Wooden Nickel for the rest of the day.

And you dared not write, "The investigation is continuing," even if that was the only news you could pry out of the sheriff.

"The investigation is continuing is not news," he'd drawl contemptuously. "If the investigation was not continuing, now that would be news."

He'd also call you back for using the word "first," as in, "He was the first person to ever wrestle an alligator in Lowndes County," or "only," as in, "She was the only living member of the original Clyattville Home Demonstration Club." Archie called those red flags that should be avoided because he didn't want the relatives of all the other members of the original Clyattville Home Demonstration Club who were only half dead calling him to complain.

IF I HAD ONLY KNOWN: So it wasn't that I didn't know better than to say in last week's column that state Sen. Ed Tarver seems to be the "only Richmond County elected official left still challenging consultant Tripp Umbach's report ..."

I realized after Commissioner Don Grantham took issue on behalf of the elected officials who have been meeting about MCG (as vehemently as the relatives of the living Clyattville Home Demonstration Club had) that I should have said he was the only one I called about what was going on with the MCG situation who responded.

Mr. Grantham said he and Rep. Barbara Sims and members of the legislative medical committee headed by Rep. Barry Fleming had met with consultant Paul Umbach and MCG President Dan Rahn and grilled them about the report.

He said he asked why MCG and University Hospital had not met to plan a residency program, even though they had agreed to do that months ago.

"Another question I raised was, 'Why are we not moving faster in adding students to the Augusta site when we're only adding 10 per year for the next three years, and we're adding 40 to the Athens facility? Is it a lack of facilities or clinical support?' After a long pause, a very long pause, Paul Umbach said, 'A little of both,' " Mr. Grantham said.

"And Barry Fleming asked why all the funding is going to Athens and Augusta's funding is not being requested until 2010. Paul Umbach just said they needed to move faster to get the Athens facility in shape by 2020 to accommodate 40 students," Mr. Grantham said.

Despite the two-hour Q&A, the elected officials weren't convinced the Tripp Umbach report wasn't made to order and that Augusta's medical school will eventually be playing second fiddle to the Sonny Perdue School of Medicine in Athens. And why should they be?

As Archie always said, "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck ..."

GO FIGURE: Another thing Archie always said was that no matter what happened in any situation that made the news, be it neighbors shooting at each other or a political scandal, sooner or later it would end up being the newspaper's fault for reporting it. I thought of that again last week when five members of the Coliseum Authority met with local legislators in Atlanta to talk about the schism on the authority and, as usual, some blamed the media for stirring things up and creating their negative image.

So here we have a squabbling 12-member board charged with overseeing the operations of James Brown Arena and Bell Auditorium so divided they haven't had a regular meeting since November.

Chairman Harry Moore can't get a quorum for a meeting. They have not had a financial report in three months. They have not seen last year's budget. They do not have an attorney or a CPA because four members fired them about a month ago. The building is dirty. The manager, Robert "Flash" Gordon , says he's only had a year to learn his job and that the authority members are constantly meddling.

And it's all the media's fault.

LATE BREAKING NEWS! Coliseum Authority member Keith Brown called Saturday as City Ink was in progress to say he'd met with Mr. Moore and that they had agreed they need to mend the schism. Mr. Brown is going to work with members he's close to, and Mr. Moore is going to do the same with his allies and stop making inflammatory comments.

"Between the two of us, I'm hoping we'll be able to put the board back together," Mr. Brown said.

TOO YOUNG FOR BRONZING: Ted Hussey from Leadership Augusta was back before an Augusta Commission committee last week with his request for a plaque honoring former Mayor Charles DeVaney . The last time he was there, he asked that the plaque honoring Mr. DeVaney's leadership and vision be placed on Riverwalk Augusta, which brought objections from Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard and Commissioner J.R. Hatney, who said the riverwalk was former Mayor Ed McIntyre's vision.

So Mr. Hussey brought back a proposed plaque with no reference to the riverwalk. Sometime between his first visit and last week's, someone decided the place to honor former mayors is the Augusta Common. Mrs. Beard, however, said it should be at the park by the new judicial center. So they formed a committee, which included Mayor Deke Copenhaver , to find a suitable place for all memorial plaques.

The mayor said he was glad they expanded the list for a memorial site beyond just mayors because he didn't want to feel like he was picking out his burial plot, especially since he's only 40.

MR. RUSSELL GOES TO WASHINGTON, AND COMES HOME: When Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell was assistant administrator, he got called twice to go to Washington for job interviews. One was to interview for a presidential appointment in the Justice Department.

"I didn't get the presidential appointment because the lady from the White House had no sense of humor," he said. "She comes in, and we're talking, and I'm prepared to talk about my political experience and background and thoughts at some length and avoid the topic of whether or not I'm a Republican. I can do that for God knows how long. And the first question she asked was, 'Mr. Russell, how long have you been a Republican?' I said, 'Oh, about 45 seconds.' She didn't say much, but the temperature definitely got colder all of the sudden, and the interview was pretty much over."

He said he didn't know they kept count of who was Republican and who was Democrat.

HE'S BACK: There's been a vacuum at city hall since Commissioner Marion Williams left office because when anybody had a question, they went to him because he knew everything. Thank goodness he's coming back.

He's signed up to be on the public comment portion of Tuesday's commission meeting agenda to talk about Hyde Park. Nothing ever happened in Hyde Park the eight years he represented the area. Then, as soon as he left, the city started tearing down houses. Life is so unfair. One thing will be different with him on the other side of the dais, though. He has a five-minute time limit.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or



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