School board's travel money survives

The Richmond County school board balanced the system's budget last week without reducing teachers' local supplements by cutting out-of-town travel, textbooks and public safety officers.


But you property owners out there are still going to have to pay more in school taxes, $21.72 more if you own a $100,000 house.

One thing that didn't get cut, though, was the board's travel budget. But at least it didn't get increased $10,200 to $30,000, as Superintendent Dana Bedden had proposed.

DON'T LEAVE THE LIGHT ON FOR THEM: At a meeting earlier in the week, board member Frank Dolan argued against the travel-budget increase, saying everyone else in the system has to suffer through a reduction except for the board.

"Giving ourselves a 44 percent raise for entertainment, meals, etc., and asking everybody else here to take cuts -- we should be the leaders and take deep cuts as well," he said.

His proposal was to cut $7,000 from the travel budget, which he said was a "drop in the bucket" in the total budget but would send the right signal.

Board member Marion Barnes said if they were going to cut back, they needed to cut back on the meetings.

Joe Scott said the forums they attend are to educate them.

"If we're going to be a top-of-the-line type of board, you can't ask us to stay in a Motel 6 or somewhere like that," he said. "No Holiday Inn. We've got to represent when we go, and many of us go, and I know I visit a lot of schools.

"I agree with you, Frank, in a lot of ways, but look at Chatham County. Their board members make something like $20,000 a year."

"Move down there," Mr. Dolan said.

That must have gotten Mr. Scott's goat.

"If I want to go somewhere, I'll go and pay my way," he said.

ALTRUISM OR VOTE BUYING? Somebody needs to tell the folks over at the Marble Palace about Timothy Kennedy , a former commissioner of Roads & Revenues of Franklin County who served a year in prison, four years on probation and paid a $3,000 fine for paving a parking lot for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Lavonia, Ga., in 1989.

State law says no Georgia public body can use public resources for a private benefit. The Georgia Constitution prohibits it, and the state Supreme Court has held that the provision applies to city and county governments as well, according to David Hudson , an attorney for The Augusta Chronicle . The test courts apply is whether the government receives consideration in return and whether it benefits the taxpayers as a whole.

This year so far, Augusta commissioners have given away more than $8,000 in cash to public school sports teams and ticket purchases to annual events of various organizations.

They donated $2,000 to the Glenn Hills High School championship basketball team and $2,000 to the Academy of Richmond County championship golf team.

They bought $1,600 worth of tickets for the 21st annual Boys and Girls Clubs Steak & Burger Dinner; donated $1,000 to the Angelic Community Resource Development Inc. for the Barber & Beauty Bar-B-Que; donated $500 to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for their first annual banquet; $500 for the NAACP 33rd annual event; and bought $168 in tickets for the Augusta South Rotary Club spaghetti dinner and $1,000 in tickets to Paine College's Masked Ball, to name a few.

What did taxpayers as a whole get in return?

Now don't get me wrong -- I'm sure all of those organizations are worthy and the events worthwhile. But why don't they just pass the hat to commissioners and let them donate their money?

TROLLEY FOLLY? Augusta Commissioner Jerry Brigham almost blew a gasket when he read that the Downtown Development Authority will divert $40,000 of sales-tax money from a sidewalk improvement fund to hire an engineering firm to take a look at forming a light rail trolley system downtown. He lost no time in firing off this e-mail to the authority's executive director, Margaret Woodard :


I think spending $40,000 on a trolley study is a waste of taxpayers money big time and then to take money from a sidewalk program to pay for it is disgraceful. The sidewalks improvement is needed in the downtown area. I will be (o)pposed to fund the trolleys until the sidewalks in downtown have been improved. I would suggest that the DDA re-think its position on the trolley study."

Mr. Brigham said someone had been threatening to sue the city over the condition of the sidewalks.

Commissioner Joe Bowles said that since the city is drafting a pedicab ordinance, the pedicabs could take the place of a trolley.

JUST TWO CASES OF BAD TIMING: State Rep. Barbara Sims , who was recently appointed to the Medical College of Georgia Foundation, is perplexed that MCG is moving to cut ties with the foundation and create a new one but will reconsider if the foundation board resigns by June 27.

"My goodness," she said. "I just got on the foundation. I feel like Donnie Thompson who just got on the Coliseum Authority. We're both being asked to resign."

Augusta commissioners and the legislative delegation asked Coliseum Authority members to resign by today, but they're not going to do it. Freddie Sanders , who submitted his resignation but is still attending meetings, said if boards were forced to resign every time somebody called for them to, there would be no Augusta Commission or legislative delegation.

OH, OH, OPOSSUM! Melinda Moody , the operations director for the Richmond County Recreation Department, was Employee of the Month for February. She was nominated by Joanie Smith , the facilities and aquatics manager, for going above and beyond the requirements of her job.

What happened was that an opossum went under the Old Government House and died, and the smell began to permeate it right before a commission event was to take place. So recreation was called, and Ms. Moody and her team came and cut a hole in the foundation so the possum could be retrieved.

Unfortunately for Ms. Moody, she was the only one small enough to go through the hole.

She was dragging the opossum out when her belt buckle got caught on something. After a brief moment of panic at being trapped with a dead, stinking opossum, she freed herself.

Said Ms. Moody, "I've been working with the recreation department for 27 years, and I've never been Employee of the Month before, but if that's what I have to do to get it, I'll never get it again."

Employee of the Month? She deserves to be Employee of the New Millennium.



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