They have met the enemy, and it is us.
After years of not having a news censor in Augusta government, City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson hired one as city officials continue to talk about “transparency.”
With the hiring of Public Information Officer Jim Beasley, Jackson continues to insulate herself and lower the curtain on the public’s view inside local government.
At a recent staff meeting, employees received a two-page “guideline” for dealing with the media.
It leaves no bases uncovered and effectively stems the free, unedited flow of information to the public from every corner of city government.
Censorship by Any Other Name Still Smells the Same: According to Beasley, the purpose of the guideline is a “duty to offer the public accurate information as quickly as possible through the most credible subject matter experts.”
And he will “provide consultation and guidance for media requests or inquiries to help ensure accuracy and consistency.”
What that really means is, “Don’t talk to anybody unless I say you can.”
The way it’s supposed to work is that before anybody can talk to the media, they must undergo training with Beasley on media relations and interview techniques.
Contacts with the media initiated by staff, including editorial submissions and letters to the editor, will be screened by Beasley. And before anybody releases any information through social media sites, they must notify Beasley in advance “so that any necessary coordination can be arranged.”
Beasley also lists four “procedures” employees are to follow when contacted for information by anybody from the media, bloggers or social media sites.All interviews will be prearranged, “not performed by way of an ‘ambush’ or other surprise visit.”
And in case a reporter shows up, Beasley lists six steps employees should follow, including telling the reporter they’re busy and not prepared for an interview.
Even if they’re not busy? So now the only time anybody can expect to get any unsanitized news about the city will be when it rains hard and the sewage overflows into folks’ yards in south Augusta. There’s no way to make that smell better.
They Get You Coming and Going: Although former Augusta University President Ricardo Azziz resigned in January 2015, he was the highest-paid University System of Georgia employee in 2016, according to an article by James Salzer in Thursday’s edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Azziz made $1.735 million last fiscal year, Salzer reports. You will recall that in 2012, Azziz got the Georgia Board of Regents to approve “Georgia Regents University” as the new name for Augusta’s consolidated Augusta State University/Georgia Health Sciences University.
Alumni, students and the citizenry at large were outraged that “Augusta” was not in the name, although a supposed nationwide survey had it at the top of the list. A “Save the A” campaign was launched, and signs to that effect started popping up in yards everywhere. It took three years, but the Board of Regents changed the name to Augusta University in September 2015.
Azziz has not been on the system’s payroll since last fall, when he began working for the State University of New York as chief officer of academic health and hospital affairs, according to Salzer’s article.
A university president’s job is one that keeps on giving.You have to pay them a lot to get them, and you have to pay them a lot to get them to leave. Also on the list of 10 top-paid Augusta University employees in 2016 were:
Cargill Herley Alleyne, neurosurgeon and department chairman, $1.04 million (My doctor and worth every penny.)
M.K. Kamath, professor, section chief of surgery, $835,292 (Ernie’s doctor and worth every penny.)
Haroon Choudri, neurosurgery professor, $776,487
Brooks Allen Keel, president, $765,558
David Hunter, department chairman, $690,253
Peter Buckley, dean, $677,942.
Art for Art’s Sake: During a public input session for streetscape work on Greene, Telfair and Fifth streets downtown last week, Gary Warner, project manager for Atlanta landscape architecture firm Cooper Carry, presented drawings that included an “underpass art plaza” at the Gordon Highway underpass.
The Calhoun Expressway could also be transformed into an underpass art plaza.
Warner said California artists have taken over underpasses and made them “sacred places.” International artists send their art to be displayed for a year or two.
Obviously, anything that would work in Los Angeles would work in Augusta.
And they could even hire local if they can find the guy who spray-painted graffiti on five Washington Road businesses last week.
Pick Me! Me! Me! No Me: Gov. Nathan Deal will swear in District Attorney Ashley Wright as a Superior Court judge Monday afternoon. The ceremony is set for 3 p.m. in the north wing of the state Capitol.
Wright is replacing Judge J. David Roper. Deal will appoint an attorney to serve out Wright’s term as district attorney.
Applications must be submitted by Feb. 10. Applications can be obtained through the governor’s executive legal assistant, Rhonda C. Barnes, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (404) 651-7715.
Attorneys said to be interested in replacing Wright are Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine; Charles “Chuck” Evans, former Richmond County solicitor general; and former Juvenile Court Judge Pamela Doumar.
Following Politics Down A Rabbit Hole: Political gadfly Al Gray called Friday to wish me a belated happy new year and to say how much he’s been laughing at politics, near and far, up there in the pine woods of Lincoln County.
It was a blustery morning in the woods where his beagle, Lilly, was running rabbits, and soon the phone line got blustery, too.
Al started telling me about a lot of shady political deals he’s investigated over time, the details of which I could not follow because they involved both Augusta and Columbia County, and one story ran into another with no apparent beginning or end. In an effort to narrow the focus, I asked him to say what he wanted to say in 25 words or less, but he couldn’t do it.
So I finally said, “Al, I can’t follow all of this because I’m not a financial analyst like you are and not as smart, either. So why don’t you write it all down and have it published in serial form?”
“I don’t want to get sued,” he said, to which I replied, “Neither do I.”
He did say something very amusing though:
“The old line about secrets never leaving Las Vegas and the Augusta maelstrom of outrageous politics brought to mind that ‘What happens in Augusta they hoped would stay in Augusta, and it should.’ But now the world will know because the town masters invited Cyber Commandos into their midst! Happy 2017 to all in Augusta, and may the Farce no longer be with you.”
City Ink thanks Chronicle Staff Writer Susan McCord for her contribution to this week’s column.