Rap sheet no barrier to job with city



This week, we're going to talk about criminal records and how you can get a job with the city of Augusta if you have a long one.

All you need is a state or local elected official or department director as your sponsor. Then the folks in the Marble Palace and the department where you'll soon be happily employed go blind and can't see a rap sheet -- even if it's three pages long -- so they sign the forms, after which they lose their memories.

There's no doubt in my mind that city meter reader Troy Curry -- who was arrested a week ago with police saying they caught him selling crack cocaine from his Augusta Utilities truck -- had someone greasing the skids for him.

He went through the city's hiring process twice: the first time when he applied for and got a laborer's job in 2006, the second when he applied for the meter reader's job.

It was all right there in his file -- on second thought, it might have been hidden away in a drawer by someone turning a blind eye. Anyway, it was all there somewhere: the rap sheet detailing more than 20 arrests and 11 convictions from 1986 to 2005 for theft, forgery, cocaine possession with intent to distribute, and so forth.

Not surprisingly, the city doesn't have a written policy on hiring people with criminal records, which is most convenient when they hire a career criminal and he relapses, as some parolees in a city program did a few years ago.

In 2006, the city was putting probationers to work at recreation centers throughout Richmond County until one of the ex-cons got arrested for leaving a known drug house on Greene Street. About the same time, another parolee working at the Aquatics Center forced a teenage girl into a broom closet and groped her. That ended that program.

WAS IT COINCIDENCE Or Divine Justice? By the way, someone called last week to ask whether I knew who Curry was. I said the name had sounded familiar, but I couldn't find him in The Chronicle's archives.

The caller reminded me that Curry was the state's star witness against him last year, when an overzealous state Board of Pardons and Paroles administration and the attorney general's office, with an ax to grind, pushed for our neighbor Josh Stephens and fellow parole officer Terry Yelverton to be prosecuted.

Two years prior, the officers had chased Curry down when he sped away on a bicycle after they asked him to stop in a known drug area. An official from pardons and paroles interviewed Curry in jail -- he was waiting to go to prison after being convicted of another cocaine possession with intent to distribute charge.

Of course, Curry would still be in jail if he'd served the sentences he'd been given in Richmond County Superior Court.

Curry was arrested and charged with selling crack Friday a week ago, exactly one year to the day after Stephens and Yelverton were exonerated by Superior Court Judge Jim Blanchard , who wisely saw that the prosecutors were on a witch hunt.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: In 2005, Robert DeMello ran for the District 1 seat on the Augusta Commission, and someone leaked his criminal record showing 36 misdemeanor citations.

Now, DeMello and two other men have been indicted on federal charges that they conspired to defraud a Waynesboro bank and other financial institutions by submitting fake appraisals for mortgage loan applications.

When he ran for the commission, DeMello went after the wrong job. He should have applied for a job in the Augusta Utilities Department.

A HOT TOPIC: Augusta Commission members approved a new agility test for Augusta firefighters last week and, while they were at it, directed Human Resources Director Rod Powell to come back with a plan for requiring everyone in the department to get with the program eventually. The move toward a more fit force would include annual medical exams for everyone, a laudable plan with a failed history.

Five years ago, the fire department received a federal grant of more than $250,000, part of which was used to buy exercise equipment for fire stations and pay for firefighters' medical exams, said Charles Masters , a former president of the Augusta Professional Firefighters.

Soon, however, so many firefighters were out on medical leave that they had trouble getting enough to man the stations, and overtime went through the roof.

Shortly thereafter, Chief Howard "Bubba" Willis returned about $100,000 of the grant, and that was the end of that.

The latest talk about fitness and medical exams has upset the older firefighters from the pre-consolidation Richmond County Fire Department because, if they were to be forced out for being unfit before they could get Social Security, they could end up standing in the welfare line after 30 years of service to Augusta.

"This city is obligated to the men that have given their whole life to this city," Masters said.

GOOD FOR HER: Mayoral candidate Lori Davis is getting a lot of credit for last week's crackdown by narcotics deputies that resulted in 236 arrests or citations. Some folks say the noise she's made about crime in Harrisburg prompted certain elected officials to try to defuse her main campaign issue.

LIKE BEES TO HONEY: Everybody running for office in Augusta this year, and a few running for state jobs, flocked to the Richmond County Committee for Good Government's annual barbecue Thursday and hovered around the front door to glad-hand all comers.

State Sen. J.B. Powell , a candidate for agriculture commissioner, was there and said he'd called Commissioner Jimmy Smith earlier that day, and a woman answered. He knew she was not Smith's wife, Beth. So J.B. asked who he was talking to, and the woman asked him whom he was calling.

"I said, 'Jimmy Smith.' And she said, 'Well, this is his cell phone, and we were wondering whose it was. He left it on a table here when he came in today.'

"He'd left his phone in Wendy's," Powell said. "I told her to call him and tell him I wanted a $100 reward for finding his phone."

Smith said J.B. finding the phone was "the worst thing that could have happened."

"I won't ever live that down," he said. "He has done told everybody. He has wore me out. Everybody at Good Government knew about it."

Bob Beckham was also at the barbecue and said his brother Herb was in University Hospital with "a little infection around his heart."

We wish Herb a speedy recovery.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS -- NOTHING BETTER FOR A POLITICIAN: Augusta commissioners held their third dinner meeting of the year at Mi Rancho restaurant downtown Thursday, and Matt Aitken 's beautiful wife, Melissa , and equally beautiful little daughter, Cecilia, walked in toward the end with a cake ablaze with candles to celebrate his birthday.

Cecilia had decorated the cake herself and helped blow out the candles.

I didn't ask how old Matt is because I knew he'd ask me the same thing.

OH, WHAT A RELIEF IT IS: Commissioners did something right when they hired Powell as human resources director. For the first time in 15 years, visitors to the office are greeted by a friendly person at the desk, and Powell makes public records accessible to the public. Somehow a real professional slipped through the cracks and was hired.



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