The good news in Augusta politics this week is that another potential racial impasse over naming an Augusta public building seems to have been averted.
Augusta Commission member Joe Jackson thought it would be a good idea to ask his colleagues to talk about naming the new sheriff’s administration building after retiring Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength. So Jackson put his proposal on next week’s public safety committee agenda before discussing it with everyone. Even Strength didn’t know. So when the agenda came out last week, commissioners were caught off-guard. Commissioner Bill Lockett said they were moving too fast and that the board needed a protocol for naming public buildings after individuals.
“Protocol?” Jackson snorted. “You don’t need a protocol to wipe your nose, but you do it anyway.”
And Commissioner Corey Johnson, who initially agreed to vote for Jackson’s agenda item, unexpectedly asked him to remove it because members of the local legislative delegation, including Rep. Wayne Howard, said they were moving too fast and needed to slow down and wait for Strength to leave office. At that, Jackson blew a gasket and told Johnson that the real reason they wanted to slow down was racial and that he’d bring it into the open.
“I don’t mind playing the freaking race card because it will show the true colors of this commission because you have six people who love Ronnie Strength,” Jackson said. “If you really want it to be about race, I can make it about race.
“And what has our delegation done for Richmond County except House Bill 277, the transportation act?” Jackson added.
Jackson acknowledged he should have talked to each commissioner about his proposal – and meant to – but didn’t because he went out of town on a family matter.
“But we’re all guilty of putting things on the agenda without consensus,” he said. “For example, Bill Lockett has something on Monday’s agenda about making Veterans Day a paid holiday for city employees. He didn’t call everybody about that.”
Actually, Jackson said, he thought his colleagues would have called and congratulated him for the idea to name the building after Strength. Instead he had to spend hours on the phone Friday calling them. But he now has commitments from a majority, including Commissioner Alvin Mason and Johnson, who wants Jackson’s support for his campaign to be mayor pro tem next year.
“You can’t say anything bad about Ronnie,” Jackson said. “He has touched so many lives, including the lives of every commissioner in one way or another.”
A PACKAGE DEAL OR NO DEAL: Rumor has it that City Administrator Fred Russell and Procurement Director Geri Sams will be fired at the Dec. 18 commission meeting, but don’t believe it until you see it.
Russell survived two firing attempts last year led by Mason and Lockett. He could be fired at the upcoming last meeting but probably won’t be unless a motion to fire both is made by a black commissioner.
A majority of white commissioners, dissatisfied with Sams, don’t trust their black colleagues to actually vote to fire her or not to hire her back later. They also have questions about what they’ll do with no administrator and four new commissioners coming aboard in January. Commissioner-elect Marion Williams is already lobbying to save Sams’ job and promising to raise a stink because, he says, nobody has shown she’s done anything wrong.
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS RUN AMOK: Russell spoke at the dedication of a historical marker in Augusta on Friday honoring a Civil War general who was instrumental in defeating the Confederacy. The monument, erected by the Georgia Historical Society, honors Union Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, who lived in Augusta as a child. It is one of 150 being erected across the state to tell lesser-known stories of the Civil War.
Gen. Meigs was a staunch Union supporter and quartermaster general. And according to the Arlington National Cemetery Web site, “Some said the war could not have been won without him. His intensity was fueled by a growing hatred of the Confederacy, an emotion that led him to place Arlington National Cemetery on the Virginia estate of the South’s leading general, Robert E. Lee.”
I wondered why Russell got that particular speaking assignment, so I called and he said there was nobody else around at City Hall to do it, which is hardly surprising if you know what I mean.
A-HUNTING HE WILL GO: More than 100 VIPs attended Strength’s retirement reception at Rodger Giles’ beautiful Milledge Road home last week. Hosting the gala were Jim Bennett, Ann Boardman, Clay Boardman, Pete Caye, Superior Court Judge Danny Craig, Jeff Hadden, Joey Hadden, Jim Hull, Pat Johannsen, E.G. Meybohm, Dr. Logan Nalley, Robert Osborne, Chief Judge of the Augusta Judicial Circuit Carlisle Overstreet, Larry Sconyers, Randy Smith, Barry Storey and Donnie Thompson.
Strength said he was honored by the turnout of so many great people. The hosts and guests showed their gratitude to the sheriff for his 36 years of service to the county by presenting him with a customized hunting golf car, complete with gun racks, winch and off-road wheels.
“They couldn’t have given me anything I wanted more,” Strength said. “It was such an honor for so many great people to turn out.”
WILL IT BE EDUCATIONAL, TELL-ALL OR BOTH? Merle Temple, who was sentenced to eight years in federal prison in 2006 for helping former state school Superintendent Linda Schrenko funnel federal money set aside for educational services into her 2002 gubernatorial campaign, is out of prison, married and living in Tupelo, Miss. Temple, who was Schrenko’s deputy superintendent and paramour, is writing a book and expects to be in the Augusta area next spring.
IT’S ABOUT THE CHILDREN AND A CHIMP: It was my good fortune to be invited to the Augusta Partnership for Children Inc.’s dinner Thursday to see Ivy Elam and Brian Mulherin receive this year’s Visionary Awards. It also was my good fortune to be seated beside Mason at the table with Frances and Gen. Robert Cutting, the retired commander of Eisenhower Hospital; David and Meryl Alalof, the chairman of the 2012 Augusta State University fundraising campaign; Estelle and Byron Duncan, the retired director of the Jefferson County Department of Family and Children’s Services; and Corinne and Kitty Curtis, the owners of Platt’s Funeral Home.
Mason said his mother, Hazel Sturdivant, is recovering from shoulder replacement surgery. He also said he’s seriously considering a run for mayor in 2014 and expects to make up his mind early next year.
Award recipient Elam made history in 2010 by becoming the first black female president and market manager for Clear Channel Augusta. Under her leadership Clear Channel won the CCME Market Performance Award in 2011, and Augusta is consistently one of the top five markets in the Southeast Region.
Mulherin has been involved in too many community endeavors to name and has received dozens of awards for his volunteer work, such as the Augusta Exchange Club’s 2011 Golden Deeds award. His signature sense of humor was on display when he went up to receive his award Thursday.
“One day a police officer in Atlanta found a little chimpanzee on the street, so he took it by the hand and walked it into the station house and up to the desk sergeant and said, ‘I found this chimpanzee on the street. What should I do with him?’ The desk sergeant said, ‘Take him to the zoo.’
“The next day the policeman came in still holding the chimpanzee’s hand, and the desk sergeant said, ‘I thought I told you to take that chimpanzee to the zoo.’ The policeman said, ‘I did, and we had such a good time, this afternoon we’re going to Six Flags.’ ”