From gas-happy city workers to arrested official, there's plenty to discuss

No wonder we're running out of gas in Augusta. What city commissioners don't use, city employees are stealing.

 

That was just one of the stories in the Garden City last week. Another was that state lawmakers have frozen more money that was supposed to go to local governments. Harrisburg residents got together to talk about crime, drugs and prostitution in the neighborhood, and one of them came up with a sure-fire way of cleaning up the neighborhood.


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Some Coliseum Authority members let it be known they don't want a soup kitchen next door to their parking lot. And member William Fennoy even went so far as to suggest they ride around the civic center complex "to see what's available and buy it for future expansion," which seems kind of funny, seeing as how they hardly ever fill up the space they have.

And to top it all off, Keith "Which Way Is Home?" Brown finally figured it out, but his wife wouldn't let him in.

ANIMAL SERVICES SERVES SELVES: The sheriff's office is investigating about $10,000 in suspicious fuel charges from the county's Animal Services Department between Aug. 18 and Sept. 14. Investigators know for sure that some of the gas cards issued to animal control employees were used to put gas in personal vehicles. They've got videos.

Employees are given Fuelman gasoline cards and their own personal identification numbers for county-owned vehicles. However, it appears the same PIN was used a number of times on separate cards.

FROZEN GRANTS: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson said last week they were suspending payment of local assistance grants until January, and the state budget crisis might eliminate the lawmakers' pet projects for good.

The 2009 budget has 470 local grants totaling almost $6 million. Compared with places such as Gainesville and Hall County, which were expecting more than $500,000, Augusta's grant loss is small, but to the agencies expecting them, it's probably huge.

Kids Restart was set to receive $4,000 to help buy a new van. MACH Academy expected $5,000 for after-school education and recreation programs. The Red Cross was supposed to receive $5,000 to provide disaster relief. The 2009 Science Olympiad at Augusta State University expected $10,000 to support the event. The Lamar Medical Center was to get $10,000 to provide indigent care. And the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History was supposed to get $5,000 for assistance in operations.

State lawmakers say the economic crisis is so severe, the grant money won't be forthcoming, and more cuts are coming.

ONE PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS: The Rev. Kelly McKnight , the pastor of Bible Deliverance Temple on Fenwick Street, called a meeting at the church last week to try to bring the divided, crime-ridden community together and map out a plan for improvement.

He began by asking residents to stand and voice what they want to see for Harrisburg. One young man said he wanted to go to sleep at night and not have to wake up and hear "all the nonsense" that went on the day before by drug dealers that don't even live in Harrisburg.

Many who do live in Harrisburg are elderly and can't afford to leave. Then there are the Section 8 tenants, some of whom abuse the system by bringing in several other families. Dr. McKnight said one Section 8 house has 13 people living in it. Then there are the drug dealers and prostitutes.

One thing that has divided the community is Mercy Ministries, an organization that helps homeless men in a 13-room boarding house. Some residents, such as Butch Palmer , a member of HONGKONG (Harrisburg Organization Networking for Gentrification to Keep Our Neighborhood from becoming a Ghetto) say Mercy Ministries has brought more bad elements into the neighborhood, and he fears more are coming with the assistance of Dr. McKnight.

Mr. Palmer asked pointed questions about whether Dr. McKnight's nonprofit -- Another Chance Ministries -- had received federal money, but the Rev. Baxter Stanley , the pastor of First Assembly of God on Fenwick Street, took him to task. Mr. Palmer said he was just taking up for Dr. McKnight because they were in the same "trade," a term that offended the Rev. Stanley.

"It's not a trade," he said.

Dr. McKnight denied having received federal grants and said if anybody said he had, he'd hire attorney Jerry Dye , who was in the audience, and sue them for libel.

"I've heard the stories about how I'm getting rich," he said. "I've heard they're calling us Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker . Well, Tammy Faye is dead, and I'm better looking than Jim."

After they'd talked more about how bad the drugs and prostitutes are and how millions of dollars flow through Harrisburg from the illicit trade, Michael Weintraub suggested taking pictures of people going into the drug houses and of their car tags.

"There's no libel involved because it's the truth," he said. "And we're not saying that anybody did anything. We take a picture of the truck with the license plate on it talking to the girl, and we post it on a big billboard we've called the Harrisburg ... whatever, and everybody knows if you go to Harrisburg to buy drugs or get a prostitute, you might have your picture on this wall."

"Put it in Columbia County," one resident said. "That's where they're coming from."

"Call it the Wall of Perverts," Dr. McKnight said.

NIMBY: Golden Harvest Food Bank's plan to put a soup kitchen near the James Brown Arena parking lot has caused some Coliseum Authority members to say, "Not in my backyard."

Building and grounds committee Chairman Donnie Thompson and Richard Isdell said they're not against feeding the homeless. They just think it would be better to put a soup kitchen somewhere else.

Mr. Isdell said people are already afraid to come downtown, and panhandlers in the parking lot would make matters worse.

"Put them over there where they're building the baseball stadium," he said. "They'll have a nice view while they're eating."

The school system didn't want the soup kitchen across from John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, either.

WHICH WAY? OUT! Meanwhile, as you've probably heard by now, arena board member Keith Brown was arrested last week, accused of not heeding a deputy's order to stop stalking his estranged wife, Sabrina Brown .

According to a police report, he just kept going back to her house, which he says is his.

Mrs. Brown said Mr. Brown moved out in January. Jail records show he lives in Clearwater. Mrs. Brown, you will recall, stood up in an authority meeting awhile back and accused her husband of having an affair with another board member.

That board member said she was going to sue her for slander, but that's highly unlikely.

Anyway, when Mrs. Brown went to the jail Wednesday morning to take out a warrant against her husband, who should she see but Mr. Brown sitting in former Commissioner Marion Williams' car.

Mr. Brown came by his nickname in 2006, after the Richmond County Board of Elections ruled he wasn't qualified to run for the District 4 Augusta Commission seat because he didn't meet the residency requirements.

He'd been appointed by Augusta commissioners to fill the vacant seat until a special election could be held. He had qualified to run, but his residency was challenged by District 4 resident Alvin Mason , and although he swore, as did Mrs. Brown, that he'd been living in Augusta, records showed he'd been living in South Carolina.

TRIPLE X IN AUGUSTA: So we have ex-commissioner Mr. Williams coming to rescue ex-commissioner Mr. Brown who is accused of harassing what is likely to be his ex-wife.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

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